Has Rejection Turned You Into Someone You’re Not?

“Don’t allow your wounds to transform you into someone you are not.” —Paulo Coelho

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, I hear a story (second hand) about writers who have been wounded by my feedback. These stories reach me many years after the feedback has been given.

Every single time, while I usually remember the writer in question, I have forgotten what I said, or what the project was about.

I often like to advise writers: Don’t take rejection personally. When you seek commercial publication, you have to switch mindsets. You have to see your writing as a product. You’re entering into a business transaction.

Of course, that’s very easy for me to say. I’m not the one being rejected. That said, I’ve had my share of professional, business-based rejection, too. It gets easier the more you experience it. And when you work on the inside of a publishing house, and you see how decisions get made day to day, you realize there’s nothing about it that any author ought to take seriously.

I wish I could tell those writers, the ones who carry wounds from words I uttered years ago, that what I said was not meant to be taken seriously. It was said as part of my business day, and sometimes I forget there could be a person allowing my words to carry a weight they shouldn’t have.

If you’re carrying around a rejection burden, I hope you’ll reflect on whether or not the person who rejected you is still thinking about it, or could even recall the rejection. If they’re not likely to be carrying a burden, then why do you keep it around for yourself?

For additional inspiration: multiple versions of Two Monks Carry a Woman


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Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Writing Advice.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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35 Comments on "Has Rejection Turned You Into Someone You’re Not?"

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melitasmilovic

This is great advice. I was just thinking today how rejection has made me tougher and better at taking criticism. It has taken a long time for me to learn not to take rejection or criticism personally. As you say, it’s about the work/product. I think understanding this has made me a better writer and a happier person.

Darrelyn Saloom

Great post and reminder, Jane. I’ve also always loved the Two Monks Carry a Woman story. 

James Scott Bell

I love what Ron Goulart said. “Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

RFOP

Jane,
Thanks so much for your advice. It’s all quite valid. I think what people should remember with writing is that it’s a highly saturated market. It’s not as simple as write something… submit it… get published. It takes work and perseverance. Rejection is all part of the game.
Thanks!
Lexi

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Heather

This is such great advice. Even when you do have several books published, you can still face rejection. So this is even more important to remember (as well as when you get those nasty reviews or emails from complaining readers).

Heather

This is such great advice. Even when you do have several books published, you can still face rejection. So this is even more important to remember (as well as when you get those nasty reviews or emails from complaining readers).

Steven Cordero

Conceptually good advice, and writers most certainly must not wallow in the pain of rejection, but there’s no comparison between what an agent feels when rejecting a query/submission and the what the writer feels when rejected. Agents have zero invested in what she rejects so, of course, she is not going to carry a burden.  How could she? If she did then the agent would be an emotional wreck after sending out her dozens of rejection emails a week.

Kelly Andrews

Of course it’s unhealthy for writers to wallow in rejection, but there is a big imbalance in the impact of each rejection on either party.

In the time that it takes a writer to draft and revise a single novel, an agent may reject thousands of queries. No wonder the rejection means more to the writer — if his novel is rejected, he can write another in six months or a year. The agent need only wait a day to have a whole new selection of queries to flip through.

Steven Cordero

Conceptually good advice, and writers most certainly must not wallow in the pain of rejection, but there’s no comparison between what an agent feels when rejecting a query/submission and the what the writer feels when rejected. Agents have zero invested in what she rejects so, of course, she is not going to carry a burden.  How could she? If she did then the agent would be an emotional wreck after sending out her dozens of rejection emails a week.

Steven Cordero

Conceptually good advice, and writers most certainly must not wallow in the pain of rejection, but there’s no comparison between what an agent feels when rejecting a query/submission and what the writer feels when rejected. An agent has nothing invested in what she rejects so, of course, she is not going to carry a burden.  How could she? If she did then the agent would be an emotional wreck after sending out her dozens of rejection emails a week.

Steven Cordero

Conceptually good advice, and writers most certainly must not wallow in the pain of rejection, but there’s no comparison between what an agent feels when rejecting a query/submission and what the writer feels when rejected. An agent has nothing invested in what she rejects so, of course, she is not going to carry a burden.  How could she? If she did then the agent would be an emotional wreck after sending out her dozens of rejection emails a week.

Bob Mayer

I just hit #2 overall on Nook with a book that a couple of editors rejected saying they didn’t know how they could market it.  Guess someone was wrong.

Anonymous
I received a rejection email last night and my first thought was to just delete it. Then I decided to take a punt on replying. I sent thanks for the email (at least she was decent enough to contact me) and asked if there was any feedback she could give. She emailed back a couple of minutes later to say that my pitch was fine but that it wasn’t really her genre. That pulled me up short, because it made me realise my pitch was actually flawed – I had sent it to her because based on her other clients… Read more »
Jen Nipps
When I first started submitting, I took rejection personally. Now, I like to move on to “onward and upward” as quickly as possible. That wasn’t the place for that piece? OK. Let’s move on. Now… That said, sometimes it can take a while to get to that point depending on the importance I’ve placed on said submission. For example, if/when one of my novel submission (that’s currently pending) comes back, I’ll give it a day, max. More likely, I’ll get over it in an hour. The other one that’s out (that has been revised as requested a few times now),… Read more »
Karen Adams
The way writers react to rejection has turned me into someone I’m not. I offer very little in the way of help or advice anymore. Case in point: Bob Mayer’s comment here. The editors said they couldn’t market it and passed and now he’s hooting that he proved them “wrong.” How so? They might still not know how to market it in a way that makes sense for their house. I see this kind of small-minded nastiness every single day. “Not right for us” does not mean “a stinking pile of unpublishable crap.” It’s a writers’s choice to hear it that way, and to react accordingly. The last time I tried to “help” a writer, to suggest changes I… Read more »
Jefferson Hansen

Heck, this is good advice for all of life. I have at times carried around guilt for something I did to a person for years, only to find out that he or she doesn’t even remember it. Carrying excess emotional weight is very human, but it’s burdensome.

Irving Podolsky
As you and Karen Adams pointed out, rejection isn’t fun for agents and teachers either. I am not an agent, but I know they must follow guidelines within their agencies and their connections to the publishing houses. They also are readers in private life and have preferences for style and subject matter. You just can’t get around that in the fiction world. So when as agent rejects a query, it’s usually about falling outside the guidelines. And when an agent rejects a partial read or the whole MS, it’s usually because personal taste and world views don’t line up with… Read more »
Patricia Gligor

Good advice, Jane. Through the years, I’ve learned not to take rejection personally. In a perfect world, every agent, editor and publisher that I send my work to would rejoice and be glad to receive – and publish it. We all know that we don’t live in a perfect world.

Chris Blake

Thanks , Jane. You’re right on target. It’s easy for writers to get jaded and cynical. Focus instead on the advice given, whether it’s from your writers’ group or an agent. I’ve met with agents and submitted my work to agents. I’ve always been rejected but in my experience, agents are generous with their advice and feedback. It’s best not to be bitter, but to focus on improving your work.

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[…] morning, two blog posts written by highly respected agents have given me pause. On her blog, Jane Friedman (Google+, Twitter) advises authors not to take rejection personally. Rachelle […]

Jorge Montero

Spot on Jane, carrying around that burden is useless. This may surprise some but, I am looking forward to my first rejection. The worst that can happen is that I learn and grow from it. Like I say, If you are not failing and learning from it, you are not setting the bar high enough to succeed.

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