Published Authors! How did you put up with the rejection slips?

How many rejection slips did you get before you published your first short story or book? How did you put up with it without getting discouraged?

I’m a frustrated writer and have begun to amass a pile of rejection slips from publishers of the genre of stories that I write. One editor even told me that they are so piled up with scripts, that they take only the best. It seems that since word processing has become a mainstay of computers, everyone and his brother is now a writer and trying to get published!

Should I get an agent? How much does one cost? Are they worth it? Should I just keep plugging along? I’ve gotten friendly encouragement, like editors wanting to see more of my work and some critiquing my MS, but that is as far as I have gotten.

HELP wanted please! All of these rejection slips make it hard to keep on writing.

My first book was a travel guide to China, and I went through only a couple of publishers before getting accepted. But that was a specialty market with only a few players and not many books.

I now write a lot for ibank related trade publications, but again that is a specialty. I know some of the editors personally, and then picked up more from word of mouth.

Curious what other people think of this idea but have you ever thought about self publishing? It doesn’t cost that much to print up your own novel, and you will probably get more people to look at your work if you show a copy of your first novel.

It’s a matter of attitude. Very early on, I set up a goal: I planned to get 100 rejection slips. If I didn’t sell by then, I’d go for a thousand. Each rejection slip brings you nearer to your first sale. Mine came after about a year and a half and 30 rejections.

When you have something rejected, you should already know where you’re going to send it next. Print out a new copy and send it there the next day. There have been plenty of times when I thought, “Gee, I wish that editor would reject me so I can send it off somewhere else.”

Remember: They’re not rejecting you. They’re rejecting pieces of paper with ink on it.

Depends. Are you writing novels or screenplays? Then you should look for an agent. If you’re writing short stories or poems, no legitimate agent is going to take you on – they don’t make enough money, plus you don’t need an agent since there’s nothing to negotiate.

Remember, thougn, never, under any circumstances whatsoever, pay money to an agent. Agents take a cut out of what the publisher pays you; a legimate agent never asks you for money. If one does, stay away!
Meanwhile, keep writing. Start something new the day you send one thing off. You get better with practice, so practice your writing skills by writing more.

You can find out the basics for getting an agent in my article at That entire site ( )has invaluable advice for the beginning writer.

And, yes, you should keep plugging along. What if you quit one story short of your first sale? Follow Heinlein’s five rules (See Rob Sawyer’s discussion of them at )

Won’t work. Self-publishing doesn’t count; it’s a sign of your ability to pay, not your writing talent. And the chance of a self-published book will be taken on by a publisher is less than the chance that your manuscript will be accepted. The former happens about once a decade; the latter, several times a month.

Yikes—I have enough rejection slips to paper my apartment with. About, hmmm, 25 publishers rejected my first book before I got a publisher. My favorite was from People magazine: I heard they had a wrtting position open, so I sent them some of my clips. They wrote back, “Your writing style is not really appropriate for People magazine.” I had that one framed!

Can’t add anything to RealityChuck’s excellent advice on agents. I don;t have one and have gotten along OK.

Well, take heart from something I learned in the world of academic publishing.

A few years ago I did a research study on the content of reviewers’ comments in one of the leading journals in my field. The authors’ and the reviewers’ identities weren’t important to the study (and they are kept anonymous from one another during the review process), but in the course of going through the files and having to keep records, I couldn’t help but see who many of the submitters were. The thing was, even the people who were TOPS in our field, who had won every award possible, who had published books that were on every scholars’ bookshelf, who were revered by colleagues at conferences… even they got bad reviews. And recommendations that an article not be published. And even the ones that were accepted had substantial changes that were demanded. It wasn’t so much that there were problems with their work (although in many cases their work was improved by the suggestions), it was that at some basic level there is real subjectivity in editing and reviewing.

It was really eye-opening. Even good writers (and good scholars) get rejected. Or heavily edited. I dunno where you find the tenacity to keep going, but that seems to be the key.

And every book I’ve ever loved has always had someone who loathed it. No doubt it’s doubly hard in the pre-published stage when publishers are biased towards rejection.

Hemingway,I’m told, used to pile them in stacks on the bar. He and another writer (whose name I’ve forgotten) would have contests to see whose stack was bigger.

Stephen King, according to his book On Writing, used to spindle them on a nail pounded into the wall/roof.

Me, I just file them away.

If you get too discouraged, pick up a copy of The Experts Speak by Christopher Cerf and some other folks, and open it to the section where they print rejection letters of now-famous writers. They’ve got quirte a section of John Irving’s rejection letters for “The Pension Garzparzer” (written after he was famous, but submitted under an alias). His favorite rejection read something like "Thank you for sending us this story, but we can’t use it. It does nothing interesting with the English language."He used it in his next book.
My own personal favorite rejection was the one that was a form letter, photocopied crooked on the sheet, carelessly folded, and tossed in the envelope without any individual mark. I knew that publisher really cared.

Just keep in mind what editors really are.

People who wanted to be able to write, but can’t so they got jobs ruining other people’s writing.


See the JoI :slight_smile: They ran a great article in the mid 70’s about editors

Orson Scott Card said you need to think that you’re BOTH the best writer in the world and the worst writer in the world. When you’re writing, always consider yourself the best writer in the world. When you’re tearing your first draft to shreads, assume you’re the worst. When you’re sending off the copy to the publisher, know that that story came from the best writer in the world. When you get a rejection slip back, go through and find out what you did wrong as if you were the worst writer. Repeat.

I have 8 rejection slips in a baggie in my dresser drawer. So far I have no professional sales. When I win my first Hugo, I’m paper macheing those slips into a giant mold of a middle finger and sending a picture of it to all those publishers.

Oh, yeah, but have you gotten one that was photocopied, a single sentence and also cut crookedly from a sheet of paper? I figured the agent must’ve gotten six rejection letters per 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.

I don’t know why I found this so funny, but I practially have tears coming from my eyes over this.

I think any friendly encouragement is sign enough to keep plugging away, as most editors truly uninterested in your work will just send out the formula rejection slip and seldom even bother to sign it. Anything other than that is to be taken as A Particularly Good Sign. Think of the amount of work most editors will have to reject in any given week; that they took the time to encourage you personally is not the editor just trying to soften the blow.

As for an agent, it’s worth looking into, especially if your momentum is beginning to flag. However, remember that you may get rejected from as many agents as you have potential publishers, so it might just double your rejection quotient, so consider how well you’ll be able to deal with this if it happens before expending too much time and energy. I think RealityChuck’s example, seeing the rejections as something of a challenge rather than as a point of failure, is a particularly helpful one. It might be an idea to look at widening your scope as to where you are sending your work - have a look online, there’s an incredible amount of publishing opportunites (journals, competitions) available to contact online, usually with submission details/addresses/guidelines. Just search for writer’s resources within your particular genre. For example, Short Story competitions are an effective way of getting your work noticed by publishers and/or agents.

All that said, I am only minimally published, get easy discouraged, and went to bed and sulked for a day the first time I got a rejection letter. And (god help me) I just finished a chapter of a frickin’ novel last week. The lunacy starts again. Argh!

The simple truth is, you have to laugh off your rejection letters. I have enough faith in myself to realize that I will eventually have something in fiction pubished. I just have to keep trying. Perserverance (sp?) matters as much as anything in writing. After all, I’m a frequent freelance writer, and I most recently made the farthest step ever in non-game review work. Dragon Magazine actually asked me to expand on an article I sent them! If they like my revision, that’ll be my first non-review work I’ve done! It’ll also be the first time I’ve written for someone without using a bit of inside help to get my foot in the door.

That being said, I actually find having my work edited before publication worse than rejection letters, even though I keep my mouth shut and accept it as necessary. Of course, I use that as a way to improve my writing: “I’ll keep trying until I have one with minimal edits done to it.”

And it’s all worth it for the one time my editor complimented my work. :slight_smile:

Thanks to all of you who responded but I have been writing on and off for many years and have about 25 rejection letters. Now, I have writers block big time and have been wondering if I really want to continue to write when no one wants anything I have written.

I have turned around rejected scripts, printed out new copies and sent them off to publishers only to have them bounce back rejected. That gets crushing when I think that the script was a GREAT SCRIPT, the best of my art and they bounce it back, telling me to buy a copy of their magazine and read up on what they sell. (I write Science Fiction – and so apparently do about 50,000 other writers.)

I have a new copy of the Writers Market and will be prowling through all of the Sci-fi publishers, but the rejections have just gotten the best of me right now.

I’ve been writing for 5 years and have over 50 rejection letters, all except one of them form rejections, for two novels and a handful of short stories. Yep, it sucks, but I’ll get there. And so will you if you want it bad enough.

Since you write SF, e-mail me. I can give you some suggestions.