A few weeks ago I received a rejection letter from a publisher. This wasn’t the first rejection letter I’d received (far from it), nor was it different from any of the other rejection letters I’ve been sent or seen posted by other writers.
There was the usual, it’s not you, it’s me, and the non-committal we can’t tell you anything specific, which I’ve learned to skim and not take to heart, but this one got to me.
Maybe it was the fact I waited 1 year, 3 months and 23 days for it. Or maybe it was that the letter was such an impersonal form rejection that had no name at the bottom, even though I’d had two email conversations with the same specific editor at the publishing company during that 15-month wait. Or maybe it was that it had been a long time between rejections and I was coming off a rough couple of months in my personal life. Whichever way you look at it, I went through some emotions after this email pinged my inbox: the 5 stages of rejection letter grief.
Stage One – Upset
I was upset, as you generally are when you get an email that doesn’t have the news you were hoping for. It’s unfortunate that those days always seem to coincide with the decision to give up chocolate, but it happens, and it’s important to acknowledge that upset and to have that chocolate if you need to. You also need to do anything else that is going to help you feel the upset so that you can move on from it. Vent to a friend, delete the email, or print it out and tear it up. Anything that will see you process the upset, and go through to the next stage.
Stage Two – Anger
Some people go through this stage, some people don’t, but if you do, it’s important to remember not to let your anger get the best of you. This is where venting comes back into it. Rant to anyone who will listen, but don’t be tempted to write back to the publisher and tell them that they are the one who made a mistake or that they will regret passing on what is sure to be a bestseller one day. As much as you think that will make you feel better, it won’t. You need to cool off, go for a walk to get more chocolate and don’t send any response that is fueled by anger. It does no one any good. When you’re ready to deal with your emotions, it’s time to go to stage three.
Stage Three – Therapeutic Writing
For something you can’t find in the empty wrappers of one chocolate bar (or three), try what writers do best and write. It can be a journal entry about what you feel, or you can do what I did this one and only time after a rejection, and write your response to the parts of the letter that upset you the most. Mine went a little something like this…
Regrettably, we can’t be more specific (or specific at all).
Thank you again for the opportunity to consider your manuscript, and for your patience in awaiting our (ridiculously long) response.
…even though your work is intriguing (we’ll give you a positive line but keep it non-specific and general so we don’t lead you astray with any clue AT ALL as to what we really thought of your work).
…unfortunately we have decided not to pursue it further (and we won’t tell you why, not even a hint, so you can go ahead and wonder about it for the rest of your life instead).
Please don’t be discouraged (you will be, but us asking you not to be will let us sleep at night).
…our very best wishes in placing your work elsewhere (anywhere but here, but who knows, because you probably gave up after this).
Childish? Yes, but I would never have sent this to that publisher and writing what I really thought of their generic response helped me to reach the next stage.
Stage Four – Acceptance
It might not feel right to you, and this submission might have been the one you really wanted, the agent that was perfect, or the publisher that you thought would help elevate your book to the standard you know it deserves, but it hasn’t worked out that way. And as much as it hurts to realize that they’ve already forgotten about your submission, you need to do that too. Accept that this particular MS with this particular publisher just isn’t happening, and then you can ease into the final stage.
Stage Five – Moving On
You might not have gotten any feedback as to why your book was rejected. And you may still be stumbling in the dark, wanting to fix what isn’t working, but not knowing how. That is what you need to move on to. Revise the manuscript if you think that’ll help, or dive headfirst into getting your next submission files ready. Just move to the next publisher on your list and have faith that each “No” is a step closer to a “Yes”. It’s all you can do in an industry full of rejection. That, and keeping your chocolate well stocked.
— K.M. Allan