If you’re a writer without a rejection letter, you’re doing something wrong

image By Ned Hickson

I’d like to open this week’s post on writing tips by sharing a few passages from the many rejection letters I’ve received from publishers over the years:

“You are a gifted wordsmith. Try somewhere else.”
(Were they saying I was overqualified?)

“We don’t publish new authors.”
(If all publishing houses felt that way, there wouldn’t be any new material since The Book of Genesis)

“We were close to accepting your submission but decided to pass. Good luck.”
(That made me feel so much better. Like that time I got that HILARIOUS winning lottery ticket that was fake.)

“Very good. Keep trying.”
(With what? Better stationary?)

“As Mr. Hefner’s attorney, I’ve been asked to order you to stop writing the girls. You’re only 14 and it’s creepy.”
(Oops! Wrong kind of rejection letter.)

I could go on and on with rejection letters, but it won’t change the fact that, even at age 14, I had a certain level of maturity which I think the Bunnies could recognize and…

I did it again, didn’t I? Sorry! Where was I?

Oh yeah: rejection.

I really do have a cabinet drawer at work full of rejection letters from newspaper editors and publishing houses. Many are for my column when I was first starting out. Others are in response to a murder mystery I wrote back in the late 1990s.

Here is my collection of rejection letter, which my "thumbs down" is pointing to.

Here is my collection of rejection letter, which my “thumbs down” is pointing to.

And one is from Miss October 1978.

In spite of the negative connotation a rejection letter conjures up in the mind of most authors — fine, every author — don’t overlook the more important aspects of what it represents.

To begin with, it means you’ve completed a written work. Given a choice between writing a 500-word essay or being tased in the buttocks, the average person would rather drop their pants than pick up a pen. The fact that you aren’t rubbing a bruised rear means you are a writer (Depending on your genre, of course). No number of rejection letters changes that. Regardless of whether its a 400-page novel or an 800-word opinion piece, you have honed and polished your words to the point you are ready to send it out to the world, either in the form of sample chapters, a query, or by pushing the “publish” button on your blog or website. And make no mistake: The “comments” section on your social media site is just another form of “acceptance” or “rejection” notices.

It’s also important to remember that actually receiving a rejection letter, by email or otherwise, means an editor or publisher thought enough of your work to take the time to respond. Even if it’s a letter saying “No thanks, we’ve already committed to publishing a book on Hobbit erotica, but keep shopping this around,” it says something about your writing ability. And maybe the need for professional help — and I don’t mean from an agent. Bottom line: Most editors and publishers are like us, overworked and understaffed. Sending a letter or email takes time and effort. It’s more than just a rejection; it’s also a compliment.

Occasionally, you may even receive some suggestions or advice in your rejection letter, such as “Blowing up the world and having everyone die at the end seemed excessive. I’d suggest finding a more satisfying end to your children’s book.” Keep in mind that I’m not saying you have to agree with any suggestions you’re given. Hey, it’s your novel, short story or magazine article, and you will always reserve the right to have the final word on how it appears in print. I’m just pointing out that if an editor or publisher was engaged enough in your submission to offer some insight, it’s quite a compliment. On that same note, if you keep receiving the same suggestion from different publishers, be willing to at least consider the idea of having “Sally” and “Stubs the Legless Gopher” steal a rocket and depart from Earth before it is reduced to space dust.

Lastly, don’t discard your rejection letters. Keep them somewhere safe as a reminder of your commitment as a writer — and eventually as testimony to what it took to get to where you are. As a father, I’ve shown all my kids my rejection file at some point. When they didn’t make the team; when they were turned down for the dance; when they didn’t get the grade they expected; after I’ve had too much to drink and go on a crying jag about why my mystery novel still hasn’t been published…

You get the idea. We’ve all heard the saying about how you can’t get to where you’re going unless you know where you came from. Or maybe I just made that up. Regardless, rejection letters are as much an indicator of that journey as seeing your work in print. It means you have sacrificed, persevered and believed in yourself. Possibly even threatened to run over an editor or two.

You know, on second thought, I might get rid of those letters. Just in case.

imageNed Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

24 thoughts on “If you’re a writer without a rejection letter, you’re doing something wrong

  1. I still have the rejection letters I got when I was a high-schooler trying to get short stories published (and one from the estate of the author whose book I was trying to turn into a script). I stumbled across them the other day and they were such a great motivator. In the years that have passed I had forgotten how much I tried to put myself out there, and now that I’m gearing up again it’s a comfort to know I’ve already done this. Back then my work just wasn’t quite right — but they took time to give me feedback (there are actual, handwritten notes on some of the form rejections). And I have re-read some of that work, my writing has vastly improved since then… which is a very nice thing to realize and help give confidence in starting the process again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sometimes past experience is the best motivator, especially when you know how to do it better. The fact that people took the time to write suggestions or encouragement on your “rejections” is great validation. I put my writing aside for a year once, during a really tough period in my life. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find that spark again when I was ready. I discovered there wasn’t only a spark waiting, but a base of warm embers ready to be stoked.

      Get stoked 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m just not this way. I hear people say to save your rejection letters, or talk about the pile of them they have. Not me. I toss ’em, put them behind me, and move on. I mean, you know, I read them first, if they’re not form letters. But I don’t want all that negative mojo hanging around.

    My favorite rejection came via the absence of a letter. An editor told me she loved my book and was looking forward to working with me. Never heard from her again, and she didn’t respond to email when I gently inquired. To this day I don’t know if she changed her mind, quit, or died.

    I may not have a stellar career as an indie, but I’m glad to have my future in my own hands now. Not that trad pub is bad for everyone. But it was (or would have been) bad for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m with you, Karen. Only Ned can make rejection this funny, and teach us something at the same time. I’m probably mid-way between him and Jen, but since I’m ONLY self-published, this isn’t something I’ve had to deal with. At least not from the pro’s in the trad-pub field. I’ve certainly had Beta readers let me know when I was off base, but that’s what I want them to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I save all my rejection letters in a little folder. I keep telling myself one day I’ll have a bonfire with them, roast marshmallows, make smores… I’ll probably go on keeping them. One day when I’m gone, my grandchildren will find them and say, “Wow… Nana never gave up.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Ned. Funny and informative as only you know how to be. I’m very glad to “see” you here today, too. Thanks for all you’ve been sharing with us. You are really helping this blog to get going! I’m still giggling over this one. When I get to the car dealership for my tune-up, they’re going to think I’m ON something. 😉


      • I don’t think the world is ready for Stoned Granny to make an appearance. Hell, I have enough trouble keeping in touch with reality as it is. Pharmaceuticals of any kind should definitely be kept out of my reach. Anything stronger than baby aspirin would have me skipping down the sidewalk, kissing strangers I meet. (NOT a pretty sight!)

        Liked by 1 person

          • Now I’m forewarned! I’ll be avoiding any suspicious foodstuffs that arrive in my mail. And the term “smoked turkey” is taking on new meaning for me, even as I type.

            I have visions of Stoned Granny and Tommy Chong doing the Geriatric Samba, while Tom Bergeron makes snarky comments, and keeps yelling, “Dave? Dave’s not here!” in the background. (Have you SEEN him on DWTS? He’s so dang funny and cute at 76, in spite of his general…decrepitness…decreptitude? I think he’s going to WIN the stupid competition! Of course, I haven’t watched Monday’s show yet, so he might be gone already.)

            But enough silliness. I’ve got writing to do, after all, and it needs to be more sensible than this! 😀


    • Thanks Sue, and an excellent point! From those rejection notes, we can see the things we’ve improved on or whether the same mistakes are being made. Sort of like those notes I used to get from my seventh-grade teacher… “Study more…” “…Use punctuation…” “…Stop putting tacks in my seat…”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I haven’t sent anything out in quite a while, but in the past I kept all correspondence including rejections. I’ve learned a lot about my writing and how different editors approach it, good or bad, from rereading those responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anytime someone takes time to write advice or a suggestion means it caught their attention, which is a good sign. Reading those comments for what they are, and not just as a rejection, is the right attitude — and one that will eventually pay off.


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