Rejection comes at two times: prior to publication and after publication.
Pre-publication rejection comes from agents and publishers saying “no” to our work. It isn’t good enough or “doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” A form of what can feel like rejection also comes from feedback on our work from critique groups, beta readers, and editors.
Post-publication rejection comes from reviews and online (or in-person) criticism of our work. This type of rejection is often the hardest to deal with because it may be mean-spirited or a personal attack.
Here are some ways to deal with rejection and negative feedback:
Accept that Rejection Will Occur: Know that rejection and negative feedback is part of what it is to be a writer. There’s no way to avoid it. The common advice is to develop a thick skin. Yes, that’s true. But how do we go about becoming thick-skinned?
Developing a thick skin isn’t easy, but try focusing on the reasons why you write. What drew you to writing in the first place? What parts of it give you joy or fill you with satisfaction? Hold on to these positive elements of writing when dealing with the hurt of rejection.
Some writers keep a file of positive notes, emails, and other encouraging feedback. When rejection or hurtful comments occur, they spend time reviewing what they’ve saved in their file to offset the negative.
Consider the Source: Look at who is rejecting or criticizing your work. Do they know what they’re talking about? Do they have the expertise to state an informed opinion? Have they even read your piece, or are they rejecting what you wrote based on some external or inconsequential bit of information?
Everyone has a right to state their opinion, but not everyone’s opinion is worth our time to consider it.
Seek to Learn from It: Each rejection or criticism holds the potential for a learning opportunity. Yes, rejection stings. But often there’s something in it we can take hold of and use to improve our writing, whether it’s in this piece or the next. Don’t dismiss these potential tidbits just because they exist within a hurtful rebuke.
Know When to Dismiss It: We should ignore some rejections and criticisms outright. The negativity that fails to address our writing but instead focuses on us as an individual is a personal attack that doesn’t merit our attention. Recognize that the person making this attack has a personal issue they’re dealing with inappropriately. Unfortunately, they chose to direct their problem at you. Dismiss their words and move on.
Limit Your Exposure: Many authors never read the book reviews that readers post online. They face two risks in doing so. One is to believe all the five-star reviews, and the other is to believe all the one-star reviews. Both give us an unbalanced perception of our writing ability or lack thereof. Therefore, don’t read your reviews.
Other authors have an assistant read their reviews. The relay only those comments that may contain relevance to the author.
Of course, pledging to not read reviews and then following through is hard. But the risk of not doing so is too high, with one scathing review—even if unwarranted—possessing the potential to send us into a downward spiral of despair.
Instead of reading reviews, write your next book.
Take Time to Grieve: This bit of advice reminds us to not push aside the pain of rejection but to acknowledge it. Just don’t wallow in it. Some people take a day or two to cool off. Others indulge in a guilty pleasure, such as a bowl of ice cream or chocolate candy bar. Or they may hang out with friends who understand them, love them, and encourage them. Then they resume writing.
Any writer who shares their work with anyone should expect various forms of rejection to occur. Accept this reality as part of writing, but strive to not let it damage you as a writer or as a person. Use it to make you a better writer and a stronger person. Then keep on writing.
Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.