Learning From Rejection Letters

Rejection Letters, part 1

Most of us dread rejection letters, right? So consider this...

Imagine offering around a plate of homemade Anzac biscuits at a morning tea. You might have spent all morning baking them, but there will always be a guest who will say, ‘No, thank you.’ 

They might refuse your cooking because they’re on a diet, because they only eat choc chip cookies or because the biscuits look a bit burnt around the edges to them, but either way you’re unlikely to take offence at their refusal.

It’s more likely that, next time you invite your guest to visit, you will remember which biscuits they do like and how they like them cooked.


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So, it is with writing. 

You will offer your writing to a publisher and sometimes they will say, ‘No, thank you.’ Just as with guests, they might turn down your creation because it isn’t what they would prefer or because it doesn’t suit their needs. The refusal isn’t meant to offend, it’s just honest. 

Think through your average day and estimate how many times somebody has responded, ‘No, thank you,’ to an offer you have made.
‘Can I get you a coffee?’
‘Do you need a lift to the station?’
‘Do you need a hand with that?’ 

Or it might be in the form of an acquaintance walking blindly past you, or a child refusing a helping hand. These, or other events like them, can be common occurrences. Rejections we take graciously. 

So, why is it that they, unlike manuscript rejection letters, don’t tempt us to throw ourselves down on the ground, arms and legs flaying, verbally emitting sounds more commonly heard from tempestuous two-year-olds? 

Possibly because we each have such high hopes for our written work. 

Possibly because we put so much of ourselves and our energy into our manuscripts. 

Possibly because we can’t understand how anyone would not see the value in our personal creations. 

But either way we, as writers, we must learn to accept this form of rejection as we would any of the other little knock backs. 

Just as with the guest refusing the Anzac biscuits, we need to respond with a smile and offer our creations to the next person around the table. 

At the same time, making a mental note of why the person before them turned down our offer. 

Accept it, learn from it and move on. 

There is, however, one major advantage when it comes to rejections that writers have over salespeople, religious doorknockers and telemarketers - we are able to accept our ‘No, thankyou’s in the privacy of our own homes. 

Even behind locked doors, away from family and friends if we wish. Only we have to know how well or how badly we deal with the rejection letters. 

I have no doubt that, in any group of writers, if you asked how they first handled (and maybe still do) rejection letters you would be surprised by the responses. It would have to range from the more standard:
‘I hid the letter under a pile of scrap papers.’
‘I swore at the faceless and obviously illiterate publisher.’
‘I jumped up and down on my carefully self addressed, and returned, envelope.’ 

Through the:
‘I screwed up the letter to the size of a magpie’s egg then threw it repeatedly into the recycling bin.’ (An action which is, incidentally, my personal favourite.) 

To the extremes of the:
‘I nailed the offensive letter to a fence and threw month-old tomatoes at it.’
‘I put the letter were it truly belonged, at the bottom of the bird cage.’ 

Then finally the:
‘I built a bonfire, complete with effigy of the editor and burnt him whilst he held his letter.’ 

Some writers even seem to be spurred on by an editor’s letters. Overtaken by the, ‘I’ll show you,’ attitude they are filled with renewed energy to discover a more open-minded publisher. 

As writers, and readers, we all know the power of words and I suggest you try this out for yourself. Instead of using the word ‘rejection,’ when referring to any work sent back to you, try ‘returned’ or something similar. 

The mere change of word seems to soften the blow or in some cases eliminate it all together. It is as if, for many of us, the word rejection comes with built in pain to be inflicted on our self-esteem and self-worth. 

Remember the well quoted story about Edison and his invention, the light bulb. He came up with nearly 2000 ways that the filament wouldn’t work and each discovery brought him closer to discovering the way it would. He didn’t believe in failures any more than writers can believe in rejections. 

It would seem that everyone but the extremely relaxed writer has to find their own way to deal with rejection letters. 

Sadly, returned manuscripts and form rejection letters are as integral a part of being a writer as receiving contracts - especially when starting out. 

Learning to accept them and learn from them is vital; otherwise we may find the dreams of becoming a financially secure freelance writer or author disappearing as quickly as the effigy on a mound of kero-soaked wood. 


Go To Rejection Letters - Part 2

Go To Rejection Letters - Part 


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