Misery loves company, and there are few things a struggling writer enjoys more than basking in a famous rejection letter.
We’ve all gone to pages like Famous Author Rejection Letters and 30 Famous Authors Whose Works Were Rejected Repeatedly, where we can make ourselves feel better by reading about the experiences of other rejects through the ages—modern authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, and historical greats like Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and Anne Frank.
And what about those of us who spend a lot of time reading the rejection letters of our peers, or other writers we follow online?
We frequent sites like Duotrope Digest’s Recent Responses, Literary Rejections on Display and RejectionWiki to see who else is being rejected, and by whom. We’re desperate to know whether our own letters are form rejections, tiered rejections, or personal ones. We want to know how many people are rejected, and how many are accepted.
But is reading rejection letters of famous authors and fellow writers actually helpful, or is it a waste of time and a potential roadblock to our development?
Pros of Studying Writing Rejection Letters:
- They can help you understand that absolutely all writers face rejection—even multi-published ones
- They can give you hope for the future when you’re experiencing nothing but rejections
- They can reinforce the idea that all writing is subjective and you can’t please everyone at once
Cons of Studying Writing Rejection Letters:
- In the case of famous rejections, they may give you a false sense of hope in a manuscript that might just not be ready yet
- They can be just another mode of procrastination when you could be practising your craft
- Numbers are often exaggerated as people repost them, so you can never be sure if the number of rejections a famous author is said to have received is correct
Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer to this question, but I’m quite interested to learn the opinions of other writers, both new and advanced.
And now for a personal rejection…
As if by design, just a few hours after I finished writing this post I received a rejection letter from One Story, which said:
Thank you for sending us [title].
This story was passed around to all of the editors. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come to a consensus, but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.
We look forward to reading more.
As much as I tried desperately not to read too much into it, I couldn’t help but search Google to see if it was a form letter.
It appears that,”This story was passed around to all of the editors. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come to a consensus,” is personalized and “we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else,” is part of a higher-tiered rejection (as in, not the standard rejection letter, but a form letter nonetheless).
Of course, one can never be totally sure, but I am sure of two other things:
- No matter under which circumstances my story was rejected, it was still rejected.
- I’ll be sure to submit to them again in the future.
What do you think?
- Should we spend time researching, studying, and comparing our own rejection letters to our peers’ letters or to famous author rejections?
- What other pros and cons can you add to this list?
- What’s the most confusing or frustrating rejection letter you’ve ever received or read?
Join the discussion
I think it’s maybe a case of everything in moderation. Your pros and cons are all spot on but to really avoid the damaging effects (being distracted, getting false hope), I think we should always go in reading them with these different things in mind and with an air to learn from them and re-kindle our own energy and enthusiasm and then we should stop reading. Because too much of anything is usually a bad thing.
All things in moderation, right? I think they can be helpful in some ways, but the time we spend agonizing over the particulars can be just a form of procrastination. Thanks!
Jim Hamlett says
While it can be comforting to be reminded of the rejection of other folk’s writing (esp. famous ones), the time spent “researching, studying,…” would be better spent on improving our craft.
All the pros of studying rejection letters have been exhausted. I’d be interested to see what some of the other readers of this post have to say. Perhaps there’s one pro that hasn’t seen the light of day. You’ve already pointed out the most important con: giving a writer false hope for their manuscript, which may need further work.
The most interesting rejection I received came from a male editor who told me, “While I like your story, I can’t sell anything to my committee that doesn’t have a female protagonist.” Mine, of course, was male. All of the other rejections followed a form.
The most important thing I’ve learned in the ten plus years I’ve been plowing this field is that the publishing industry is extremely fickle, and like everything else about this craft, highly subjective. Self publishing is becoming more and more acceptable as an alternative route for writers anxious to get their writing before the public.
But it’s a very trying route (as I’m learning). If rejection letters take the steam out of you, then think twice about self publishing. The “silence” can be just as daunting as any rejection letter. Still, I’m convinced it was the right path for me at this time. Those who have read my novel are very encouraging (and many are not family or friends). Their encouragement keeps me going.
Rejection’s never fun, Jim, but it’s good to see that you’re still convinced you’re on the right path for you. All the best!
Reading them doesn’t hurt. Clutching them does.
Ashley Prince says
I have not had a rejection letter because I have not actually sent anything for publication. I think your pros and cons really hit on the spot though.
One of the things I dread about turning in my manuscript, once I”m actually done of course, is the rejection letter. I just have this feeling that it’s not what’s “in”. If that makes sense.
Rejection letters can hurt, Ashley, but believe it or not, you’ll get to the point where you relish the ‘positive rejections.’ You know, the ones where they encourage you send more or write a personal note about what they liked and what they didn’t.
florence fois says
I don’t think it is productive to research rejections or to try to second guess as to “why” your story or novel was rejected. If there is critical advise, I read it carefully. If it’s a “thanks but no thanks” I go on to the next step. There are too many variables we cannot ferret out, so why spend the time? It could be that publisher or agent is not looking for what you wrote … and while some are kind enough to state this fact … spending more time researching the publisher or agent makes more sense than researching a rejection. You are a talented writer so just keep writing and sending and you’ll get where you want to be 🙂
” If there is critical advise, I read it carefully. If it’s a “thanks but no thanks” I go on to the next step. There are too many variables we cannot ferret out, so why spend the time?”
Couldn’t have put it better myself! And thanks for your encouragement 🙂
Ruth Greenwood says
It’s heartening to read the rejection letters of the later successful…and to gain from specific criticisms. However, the bulk of rejection letters are not that helpful, since most are either generic rejections because the work is not good enough or it does not fit what is needed.
As for rejection of the famous, I was rereading a songwriter forum I belong to…in which an already successful songwriter posted that his song would be the next single of a top artist. And then he posted that the record co. decided NOT to release his song as the next single. Weeks or months later, they changed their mind and DID release his song, which then debuted at the highest position of any single in any genre on the Billboard Top 100 since 1990. But they almost DIDN’T release it at all.
It’s definitely a tricky business out there—not just writing, but all manner of creative business. Like you say, there are never guarantees of success. I agree that the bulk of rejection letters are not very helpful, since they tend to be generic.
I submited my story to The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasty.
The editor returned my story with a rejection letter. He wrote that my tale
did not capture his interest. I would like to know if others writers of this site
have received smiliar letttes. And tell me if the editor was speaking for himself
or was he speaking for the readers of this magazine. How would he know if
others would dislike my story.?
I guess when it comes to being the editor of a magazine, you have to use your best judgement as to what your audience likes and doesn’t like. And with so much competition to get into these magazines, your work really has to stand out to be chosen. Don’t give up, just keep writing and polishing and submitting!
Do you mean the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF)? The editor there is Gordon Van Gelder, and I’ve gotten responses like that. When he says “didn’t capture his interest” he means that your story didn’t even make the first cut. Not close. GVG likes to send out personalized rejection letters, and a “didn’t capture my interest” is the equivalent of what at another magazine would be a printed rejection form.
A friend of mine got a note from GVG saying, “I liked the story, but it’s not right for the magazine.” She was very proud at getting such a note from one of the genre’s toughest editors, but it was also frustrating. A note that lists specific problems with your story means that you might be on the right track, and you should be encouraged. A note that lists specific ways you could fix the story means that the editor wouldn’t mind seeing a revised version of the story. (Often, they will tell you, “I would like to see a revision.”) It doesn’t mean he’s going to buy it, but it means he’s interested.
I’ll echo Suzannah and say that the editor is representing the magazine, and its readers. The editor has his own personal taste and a personal vision for the magazine. People who like the same stuff he likes are going to like the magazine.
Sherry Roberts says
Read the rejection letter once then put it away. Don’t give it any more of your energy. Save that for writing. A friend once said to me: Rejection is protection, baby. That may be true in love and writing. Maybe the universe has bigger and better plans for you.
Thank you for your insights, Sherry! I agree, our energy is much better spent elsewhere, but sometimes it’s a case of I-just-can’t-help-myself!
Christy Farmer says
Like the others are saying, any form of rejection can indeed hurt, that is what makes us human. However, in my humble opinion, I do *not* think it is a good idea to compare rejection slips against those of friends.
Otherwise…I am agreeing with Florence. If it is constructive advice…writers I think would be wise to listen. If it is a standard rejection form letter, move on, and even more important, keep writing! 🙂
Best of luck to you 🙂
TB Botts says
I’ve had several rejection letters for magazine articles I had written. I have a difficult time sitting down to write an article for submission as it is. While I don’t take the rejection personally, I find myself wondering if it’s worth the time to keep submitting articles in hopes I’ll write something that will be accepted. Time is a valuable asset and I hate the idea of looking back and thinking that I wasted something that is in such short supply. Thankyou for your insight into rejection letters. It’s encouraging.
Veronica Young says
This one, I’ve never considered:
■In the case of famous rejections, they may give you a false sense of hope in a manuscript that might just not be ready yet.
After submitting my first manuscript to nearly 8 publishers, all, except 2, have rejected it. I know it needs further development – I want to make sure it’s the best it can be, but I know to keep this whole process in perspective, because even publishers don’t always know what they’re doing!
Carrie Schmeck says
When I get a rejection and plan to send the query to another market, I do a quick review of my original letter. Usually I find ways to improve it. Beyond that, I think studying rejection letters puts our mind on the wrong goal. I’d rather read successful letters to see what worked. And to get anything more than a “no thank you” is a good day in Rejection Land, in my opinion.