Rejection is something every writer needs to face.
As someone who has received at least 100 rejections over my 20+ year writing career, I’ve come to recognize that some rejections are better than others. Some can make you feel like you should quit writing, while others can inspire you to work even harder. Looking back over my old rejections, I’ve come to realize first, that rejections have changed over the years (snail mail submissions and rejections are rare these days!) and second, the ones that hurt the most were the ones that pointed out the (many) flaws in my writing.
Here are 6 different types of rejections in the order of worst to best.
All of the images are from real rejections I have received.
1. The absolute rejection.
Let’s start with the worst: the rejection that tears your writing into a thousand bleeding pieces, the rejection that makes you believe (if only a few moments) that you have no business being a writer and how dare you even think you could do this for a living. This is the rejection that, once you’ve recovered from having your heart ripped out of your chest, makes you seething mad and wonder how someone this awful could be one of the gatekeepers in the writing community.
Luckily, the absolute rejections don’t happen very often. I distinctly remember one rejection for a short story I submitted as a teenager that ranted about my story sounding like a teenager had written it. Unfortunately, I must have burned it because I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Let’s just say that these rejections don’t happen often because most agents and editors are professional people who know it’s better to send a form rejection than to crush a young writer’s hopes and dreams.
If you’d like to read some soul-crushing rejections sent to authors who later made it big, check out Other People’s Rejection Letters: Relationship enders, career killers, and 150 other letters you’ll be glad you didn’t receive edited by Bill Shapiro.
2. The postcard.
There is no way to feel less special than to receive a pre-printed postcard rejection. You feel like you’re not even worth a full sheet of paper and an envelope, never mind a signature. The postcard makes you acutely aware of all the unpaid interns who probably addressed and sent these postcards out, and makes you wonder if the editor or agent to whom you addressed your query or submission even read it.
Luckily, with most agents and publishing companies moving toward online submissions, the postcard rejection is very rare these days. Maybe receiving one now would make you feel special.
3. The form rejection.
It’s no secret that agents and editors must use form rejections in order to save time. The postcard is also a form rejection, but what I’m talking about is a letter so terse that you are discouraged from submitting again, with so much vagueness that you aren’t sure they actually did carefully evaluate your work.
Often the form letter apologizes for itself. As in, “We’d like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter.” Bonus points for the “Dear Author” heading.
4. The checklist.
Like the postcard, the checklist might be another relic of the pre-online days. However, you know someone actually read your work, because they have checked off all the boxes relating to why they are rejecting it. With luck you might get a handwritten note or signature at the bottom.
Yeah, this one hurt.
5. The slightly encouraging rejection.
After receiving some of the above, the slightly encouraging rejection feels like a giant step in the right direction. These kinds of rejections are always addressed to you personally, and have a brief comment about your writing. A few examples from my pile of rejections:
“You write well, but I’m afraid this is not quite right for us.”
“Though I thought the plot was intriguing, the narrative didn’t grab me as much as I would have hoped”
“I do like the writing, but just not quite sure about the theme”
“There was much here that I admired and enjoyed, but I am not enthusiastic enough to feel I am the best agent for this”
The slightly encouraging rejections feel pretty good, even if they are often their own sort of form rejection.
6. The personal rejection.
My favorite kind of rejection, where there’s a compliment and a solid reason why you’re being rejected, and sometimes even an offer to submit again with another project. These rejections let you know that yes, there are agents and editors out there actually reading your work and give you hope that one day you will get published!
Rejections can hurt, but knowing that there are different levels can really help your morale! Have you received any of the rejections on this list? Or a rejection NOT on this list? Do tell!