My Rejection Collection

My very first children's book rejection letter. Ah, memories!

A few years back, an aspiring writer acquaintance of mine decided to share his feelings with me. Just that afternoon he had received a rejection letter and he was, to put it mildly, miffed. The editors at the publishing house were stupid, he said. And someday he would show them just how stupid they were. He would keep this rejection letter and file it away. Then he would rub that letter in their stupid, stupid faces when he was a big success.

My first thought upon hearing this monologue was, “Should such an angry, spiteful person really be writing for children?”

I decided not to share that particular thought, though. Instead, I told him that I, too, keep a careful list of every rejection I ever received ­– which is true. (What I didn’t tell him was that my list exists for professional reasons rather than personal ones. I use it to avoid accidentally sending an editor a manuscript she has already rejected.)

On another occasion, I listened to another aspiring writer explain her state of mind upon receiving her own rejection letter. Her emotions ran the gamut from self-pity to self-loathing.

My first reaction to her was, “Why is this person writing at all? It’s killing her.” And, yes, I kept this thought to myself, too.

While both of these writers’ reactions were outwardly quite different, they were similar in two significant ways: First, their responses were strongly emotional, which ­is exhausting. (My philosophy is, if you must to do something to exhaust yourself, at least let it work your core.) Second, both writers found it necessary to understand and articulate the reason why they were rejected.

There can be hundreds of reasons why your story gets rejected, so fretting about why, in my view, is a big ol’ waste of time. That said, if you must have an explanation to put a painful rejection behind you, my advice is to refrain from blaming either the editor or yourself (which, as I mentioned earlier, will prompt strong emotions, is exhausting, and does not count as exercise). Instead, choose a reason that involves math: The odds are against you.

Never forget that thousands of wannabes are vying for maybe a dozen available slots on a publisher’s list. There’s a reasonable chance that you’ll never get the brass ring, no matter how good you are. It stinks, but it’s true. The best part about using this particular rejection explanation is that it is – at least on some level – always correct.

So now that you have your reason, get back to work. ‘Cause there’s no chance you’ll ever get published if you don’t write and send stuff out. Being dogged is the only way to tilt the odds a bit more in your favor.

For the purpose of this post, I did something I had never done before ­– count up all the children’s book rejections on my list. I once heard that Dr. Seuss accumulated as many as 43 rejections before his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published. That’s a good number, but I knew I had it beat. I guessed that my rejection total would be around 75.

I wasn’t even close. It was 114.

But wait, it gets better. I once received a rejection a day for three consecutive days – an event I found so impressive that I had to mention it on Facebook. “Never before,” I wrote, “have I been so successful at failing.” My friends offered me hearty congratulations on my achievement. A few of them even encouraged me to beat this record. (I did not disappoint; a few months later I got three rejections in two days. So WOO!)

Needless to say, if I got upset every time one of those letters arrived, I would have given up this writing thing a long time ago.

This September, I will officially be a Published Author. It is my sincere hope that this fact will help me get my second book accepted a bit faster than the first one. But if it doesn’t, I won’t fret over it; fretting is exhausting and I really should be working on my abs.

10 Replies to “My Rejection Collection”

  1. Thank you for this post, I, like your friends mentioned above, have run the gamut of reactions to the rejection letters (my favorite part by the way, is that they ask for the self-addressed envelope with which to SEND you the rejection — I know, I know, thousands of rejections, that publishing house can’t be expected to pay for each rejection letter – but hey, there’s this new thing called email…). I am NOT keeping the letters, though I have an excel doc keeping track of those who are not interested for the same reasons you outline above – professional. I read something the other day on a blog where the author said he took it upon himself that for every rejection letter he received, he sent out TWO new query letters. I am taking that to heart — you can’t complain about not getting published unless you can say that you’ve exhausted every avenue.

    1. I never minded investing in a SASE. The only thing that bugs me about the process is when publishers will not acknowledge your manuscript unless they’re interested in publishing it. This trend, I’ve found, is becoming increasingly popular. At least with the rejection letter system, you can be certain that someone has opened your package and reviewed what you sent; in the latter case, who knows? Your package, at least in theory, could be delivered to the recycle pile unopened.

      I do wish more publishers permitted submissions via email. (For one thing, it would save me a ton on postage.) I’ve seen a little movement in that direction, but it’s tentative and is mostly adopted by smaller publishers.

      I love, love, love your two queries for every rejection plan, by the way. I can’t think of a better way to turn disappointing news into something constructive.

      1. Can’t take credit for that I’m afraid, like I said, I read it in a blog post, which I have since been searching for in order to give the original writer credit! Will post when I find it!

  2. I love this post! I’m about to start querying and I’m so afraid of the rejection letters. You’ve got a great outlook on the whole process. If you went through 114 of them first, it gives me hope that eventually I’ll make it. Congratulations on getting published! XD


    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Erin!

      What I found interesting about rejection letters is how little they affected me after I had gotten a few. Before I decided to try my hand at children’s books, I directed most of my freelance efforts on theatre. My first rejections arrived when I was fresh out of college, so I was well over the stigma by my early 20s.

      So get those queries out; the sooner you start, the sooner you can get over your fears. Go get ‘em!

  3. I’ve never gotten rejection letters because my publishing deal went a lot differently than most. Still, what I got was more like a defeat letter when the results of the local literary awards were posted in the newspaper. Curiously enough, I went through /two/ of the writer reactions you described above, often at the same time like it was some kind of manic depressive breakdown.

    Ultimately, I realized that I had no control of what people though of my work. I could only focus on the quality of it, so I did. It’s been a long but rewarding process!

  4. So refreshing to see a writer take each rejection in stride and not let it get them down. As an aspiring writer I hope to take your calm approach to my future filled with rejection! All it takes is one yes, right?

    1. I’m glad you liked the post, SJP! The key is not to take the rejection personally. My submitted story might be deeply personal, but my story’s rejection never is.

      Good luck with your writing career, my friend! Don’t be a stranger!

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