How to Process a Rejection Letter

 Today’s guest post is by Antwan Crump. 

You’ve done it! You’ve toiled over the illuminated white screen of your computer for weeks, months, years, or even decades. You’ve done the work. You’ve done the study. You’ve taken the advice. You’ve literally done everything in your power to complete that novel of yours.

This one isn’t like the others. You’re seasoned now—poised to take the literary world by storm. You’ve sent out query letters and curriculum vitae to strangers and “connections” alike.

You lay your head down and despite your sweaty palms, trembling fingers, and clicking teeth you manage to exhale and think, Job well done.

You may not believe it, but there have been hundreds and thousands of authors that have experienced those same exact things. The feelings of doubt and uncertainty hold sway. They’ve pushed through—as you have—and gotten the work done anyway.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the next part of this story goes the same as well for the majority. That is of course, the rejection letter.

It’s a natural part of any medium in which creatives flock for glory, fame, or any other bevy of motivations. There’s a glass ceiling there. A filter to stop all those who dare attempt to grow beyond it. It’s a barrier that forces the strong to prove themselves and the weak to rebuild or perish.

It’s rejection—cold, hard, unremorseful, rejection. And it’s necessary.

What Does My Rejection Mean?

We’ve all grown up with same general idea of what rejection is. As children, we learn that it’s essentially the result of not being good enough, fast enough, smart enough, or just plain not enough.

Though this understanding of the word is accurate to some degree, it becomes necessary to loosen its grip on your psyche once you delve into any creative medium.

Writing in particular is an art from in which the lines of good and bad are virtually indiscernible from one another. It then becomes necessary to analyze: Why was I rejected? What did I do wrong? Was it me? Was it the work? Was it the market? Was it just bad luck?

Simple or not, these are all valid questions to ask. We must remember that the literary world is a murky one at best. Unlike a sport or physical activity, it’s never really about the best or the brightest—so much as it is about the most popular, well-connected, or market savvy.

I’m sure that you can think of a great book that didn’t necessarily dominate the sales, as well as you could alternatively think of a horrible book that sellers couldn’t keep on the shelves.

So, you see, it’s not so much about quality of the work as it is about preparation and strategy. We must propel ourselves to a certain level before we can kick back and let the work do the walking. We must become the architects of our own path beyond the page.

So . . .

Q: What does my rejection mean?

A: In reality, it’s little more than a comment on your strategy. When I’d received them, I was naturally upset. After a few more, I grew numb to them. After more still, I got the point. Take your work back to the drawing board. Ensure that it’s perfect. THEN, check your strategy. Is it solid? Is it sensible? How’s your following? How’s your reach? What can be improved?

Take your losses with a grain of salt and learn to use them as a motivator for improvement. If you’re lucky enough to receive extensive feedback in any area, take the advice into account and try again. Try until you have nothing left, and then try beyond that.

Your rejection means what you allow it to. Perfect the work. Perfect the strategy.

What’s My Next Move after I’ve Been Rejected?

Naturally, I’d say that (after succumbing to whatever emotion accompanies your disappointment), you should head back to the drawing board—as I’ve previously stated. Here you’ll likely find yourself one of two things, either humbled or infuriated. As inconsequential as these things may seem—they do tend to become the differentiating factors between writers who thrive and those who do not.

A humbled writer is much more likely to slow down and take the time to reorganize his affairs—some even go so far as to tear the work down completely. Though this may not be necessary in every case, it shows the commitment that the writer has and the strength in his resolve. Sooner or later, success will find him in some form—if only for his persistence.

Whereas, the writer who becomes infuriated often becomes irrational and nonsensical. We’ve all met (or been) that Icarus type—arrogantly flying toward the sun without adaptation and ignorance toward the dangers of being burned. It’s a tough thing to watch, and once that person realizes it, it’s a literal waste of time.

Q: What’s my next move after I’ve been rejected?

A: As fickle as the industry may be, they will never intentionally turn down a slam dunk. Rather than trying to convince the publishers that you’re Michael Jordan, become Michael Jordon. Make your work irrefutable. Make your presence undeniable. Take the option of “no” away from them.

Work toward that goal every day, and never allow anything to cloud that mission. Practice, makes better—a rejection is an opportunity to achieve that. Get a group, get an editor, get feedback: do whatever is necessary and then get back on the court. The world becomes open to your growth.

Does a Rejection Mean That I Should Quit?

The short answer is “no.” A rejection letter should not be cause for you to quit. However, it should spark the flame for doubling down on your work ethic and pushing you beyond heights that even you yourself may not have imagined you could hit.

Writing is one of those special mediums that give us diamonds. The only way to make a diamond is by piling on inconceivable amounts of pressure. After a while, the useless debris breaks away, the insides harden, the stone becomes a brilliant gem—capable of withstanding most anything. In this scenario, you are the diamond, and rejection is the pressure. Let it mold you. Don’t let it break you.

Q: Does a rejection mean that I should quit?

A: No. A rejection letter is a bet between you and your doubts that you will quit. Whichever side wins that bet is entirely in your control.

The great Stephen King once said in his—now legendary—book On Writing: “By the time I was fourteen, the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

As a writer, you’ll find that rejections are about as natural as air and the spacebar. Take your rejection letters for what they are—a call and opportunity for you to improve, try harder, or simply continue to persist.

With that in mind, go forth and be great.

Antwan Crump is a novelist, screenwriter, blogger, and all around good guy who resides in Lancaster, California. His latest anthology, Red Matter: A Collection of Things, is currently available exclusively on Amazon. For more from Antwan, you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Thanks for this. We writers can’t hear too much about the value of persisting in the face of what appears to be failure (but is actually just part of our journey).

    I find that I experience both anger and humbleness in the face of rejection, especially when detailed comments or a critique accompany the rejection. The key for me is to allow the anger to run its course and then get back to being humble. I find it impossible to be humble without first releasing the raw emotion. Then I can put myself back together and get back to the work at hand: revision, editing, resubmitting.

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