Posted On July 28, 2014 by Print This Post

Dealing with Rejection by Tessa Shapcott

Welcome back to regular contributor Tessa Shapcott. Today we’re going to learn how to deal with rejection – if you’re a writer, you know it’s something you’re going to have to face one day!

Tessa Shapcott

You’ve spent weeks and months, maybe even years, writing your romance novel. You send it off to an agent, publisher or writing competition with hopes high and fingers crossed. You wait for weeks and months (maybe even years) to hear back and…you receive a rejection.

Having your book or sample chapters returned can be frustrating, painful, disillusioning—but it’s something that happens to every writer at some point in her/his career. It’s comforting to know there are many successful authors who received countless rejections before they were finally offered a book deal: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was turned down an incredible thirty-eight times before it was published, Carrie by Stephen King got thirty rejections and JK Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone twelve. As an editor, I have to tell you the honest truth is that getting rejected is something you should expect and prepare yourself for if you want to be a published writer. And as a published writer, I confess that I, too, have had a book turned down.

So how do you cope with rejection and equip yourself to move you and your writing on? I’d like to offer you some tips and thoughts gleaned from editing and writing myself that can take some of the sting out of it.

o       Don’t take it personally!   Make professional and positive, not personal your motto. Punch your pillow privately by all means, but publicly be graceful and remind yourself that publishing is a business, and getting published or rejected happens because a business decision is made.

o       Get some perspective! The cliché is true: time is a great healer, and giving yourself space can be extremely useful in not only letting the hurt subside, but also for working out calmly what went wrong. So why not put your manuscript to one side for a while and allow yourself to process the experience before getting back in the saddle and starting to write again?

o       Be pragmatic! Publishing is highly competitive. Publishers see thousands of submissions, and they cater to specific niches and audience demands. Ask yourself if a change of strategy is needed in order for you and your work to stand out from the crowd, or target book work more successfully.

o       Be accepting of criticism! I suggest taking a two-pronged approach here. Firstly, it really helps to be your own best critic and take a long, hard look at your writing; make a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and work out what you can do more or less of. In my experience, there are usually just one or two flaws that keep on cropping up and prevent a writer from succeeding (mine is writing heroes who are too alpha and unsympathetic). It can help to divide your writing up into key areas—for example, characterization, plot, dialogue and pacing—and ask yourself questions about each, such as, ‘Am I a writer who uses a lot of narrative to tell the story and not enough dialogue?’

Secondly, if an editor has given you advice with your rejection, do your best to take it on the chin and work through her/his points. Also, seek out professional appraisals whenever you can—one of the best thing about the romance writing world is that there is an abundance of events such as conferences and courses, where you can get an industry opinion on how you’re doing. Do take the opportunity to pitch to agents and publishers whenever it arises.

o       Be prepared to improve and keep learning! A good author never stops assimilating new knowledge or working on their writing. I’ve already mentioned the importance of professional feedback. Go back and educate yourself further about the market too: nail down the requirements you have to meet in order to satisfy a publisher or genre. And don’t forget the value of studying other writers, published and aspiring. Read their work with a technical eye to observe how they make characters grow, plot events happen and build semi-climaxes and climaxes. Listen to them talking about their writing and how they’re making or have made their way towards the goal of publication, and the leaps and pitfalls they had along the way. The experience of others can often deliver to you your own aha moment!

o       Find your writing voice! This is really important. Ask yourself if you’ve truly been writing as yourself and from the heart, or might you have been doing what you feel a publisher wants? Sure, you have to target yourself towards a genre. But also think about how you can connect with the passion in yourself and pour it on to the page. Be sure that you aren’t resorting to clichés, but instead bringing something unique to the party. Identify your own personal style of communicating—do you have a certain way of telling stories to your friends and family, or observing others or events? Do you have a favourite vocabulary? How can you infuse your main characters with the essence of you?

o       Be open! Invite others to join you on your journey to getting published. Join a writing chapter, group or class; get yourself a critique partner whose opinion you value and with whom you can share; join a loop and become a beta reader, and maybe get some feedback in return. You’ll find countless other stories of rejection out there and will find acceptance, advice, camaraderie and support, rather than suffering alone.

o       Be discerning!   Avoid the braggarts, those who compete and those who like to put others down to make themselves feel bigger or better! All creative businesses attract their share of the negative and the naysayers. But their truth is nobody’s but their own. Yours is different, and you have the power to shape your future. Surround yourself with positive professional people!


RU Writers – how have you handled the rejection – my personal favorite is margaritas!

Join us tomorrow for author Linda George and learn how to write stronger!


Bio: Tessa Shapcott is a freelance editor, consultant and writes as Joanne Walsh for Entangled Indulgence and Tule Publishing. She can be contacted at, or at

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13 Responses to “Dealing with Rejection by Tessa Shapcott”

  1. Hi, Tessa! I’ve been a professional writer for more than 30 years and I certainly racked up more rejections than I ever wanted! But a lot of those rejections were my fault and well-deserved. I was an elementary teacher. “Of course I can write! Of course editors are going to love what I send them!” But they didn’t, because I was writing the way I’d written as a student and as a teacher. My writing wasn’t geared toward a commercial market. I was rejected because of my own arrogance!

    Then I “went to school” to learn how to write commercially. I read dozens of how-to-write books. I attended dozens of writers’ conferences. I learned to choose a publisher–and a line–BEFORE writing the book, then target the book to that publisher and line. The result was my first book sale.

    Until then, I must confess, my writing wasn’t good enough to sell as commercial fiction! Until I realized that, I railed at rejection instead of taking it as a challenge to improve my writing.

    Yes, there are a dozen reasons for rejection. But the only reason that will help the writer move forward is to assume “The writing wasn’t good enough.” My advice to aspiring writers is to use rejection–and lose it!

    Thanks for your excellent advice, and for sharing with writers!

    Posted by Linda George | July 28, 2014, 8:32 am
  2. Morning Tessa!

    Oh I’m a bad one for rejection….I wail, beat at my chest, woe is me, I’ll never write again!! Several margaritas and several days later I start to process what they were saying. Usually a string of swear words is inserted here a time or two. =) Eventually I either accept and rewrite or call them demons and leave the writing as it was. lol…drama queen, that’s me.

    Thanks for your lovely list – maybe next rejection I’ll control myself a bit better! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 28, 2014, 9:43 am
  3. I got rejected this morning. They just said they didn’t think it was a good fit for them. I signed about 10 times and put it in my rejection folder. I am going to keep trying. I have been a self-publised author for the last 5 years, but now I want to do something different and try to get an agent who can help get me a deal. I have to keep trying.

    Posted by Krystol Diggs | July 28, 2014, 10:17 am
  4. Thanks for a great post! I think I’ve learned to accept rejection – what’s harder is figuring out how to fix the problems that got the stories rejected. It’s an uphill battle, but no one ever said writing was easy. 😉

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 28, 2014, 11:09 am
    • You’re welcome, Becke. Maybe it’s worth getting a professional eye on your work? Just a couple of observations from someone in the business may well set you on the road to success.

      Posted by Tessa Shapcott | July 28, 2014, 3:20 pm
  5. Becke, my first suggestion for figuring out problems would be to put your plot into the Hero’s Journey. It’ll tell you right away if you have structure/plot problems and you’ll know where you need to “fill plot holes” or move events so your plot fits that incredible “outline.” The best book on the Hero’s Journey is THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler.

    Posted by Linda George | July 28, 2014, 11:25 am
  6. Hi Tessa,

    As painful as rejection can be, I think it helps you become a better writer. I’d rather hear it from an agent, editor, or crit partner than a reader who writes a scathing review.

    Thanks for another keeper post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 28, 2014, 5:03 pm
  7. Thanks, Tessa.

    Tomorrow, my article, “Five Ways to Make Good Writing Great” will be here on Romance University. I’m looking forward to comments as astute and useful as the ones today! I’ve really enjoyed participating in this discussion. Hoping for a good one tomorrow, too. 🙂

    Posted by Linda George | July 28, 2014, 5:28 pm


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