• The Five Stages of Rejection

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in ABCs of Writing     Comments 4 comments

    Stage One: A Mistake (Shock and Denial)

    The editor/literary agent clearly screwed up and sent you the wrong letter. All you need to do is wait for the mistake to be fixed. Or maybe you should call and let them know they’ve made an egregious mistake. After all, what does a literary agent do besides read manuscripts all day? It’s completely plausible–in fact, likely–that your story slipped into the reject pile by accident.

    Stage Two: The World Isn’t Ready (Guilt)

    Your story is perfect as-is, but you sent it out too soon. The world is not ready for your words. Someday it will be.

    Stage Three: Blame the Editor/Agent (Anger and Bargaining)

    The editor/agent has horrible taste. Clearly. So why would you want to be in their stupid magazine/anthology/book or be represented by them anyway? Nothing you read on their website was really anything like your work. Or maybe the editor/agent didn’t even read your submission. They probably pawned it off on some hack intern who wouldn’t know a good story any more than animals can read English.

    Stage Four: Take it Personally (also known as Depression)

    The editor/agent hates you. It’s not your idea that stinks. It’s you. You should go take a shower, I can smell you through the internet. Foul.

    Stage Five: The Story Wasn’t Ready (Acceptance)

    It’s not the editor/agent’s fault. It’s not the world’s fault. But most importantly, it’s not your fault. Sure it’s your story, but you’ve got to cut the apron strings at some point. You know now that it’s not quite ready, but that doesn’t mean one day it won’t be. Hopefully the rejection letter came back with some kind of indication why your story didn’t make the cut. But if it didn’t (which is more likely the case), you’re creative. I’ve got faith that you can find a way to revise your story. (Or enlist the help of the lovely WriteByNight.) One day you’ll send it out and get an acceptance letter back. Who knows, it might even be in this next round.

    Rejection hurts and sucks, but it is a part of the writing process. Revising your story is one way to deal with rejection, and it’s a good way. But to help get you from Stage One to Stage Five a little faster, look at reasons why you might have been rejected.

    • Did you do the research before you submitted your work? Duotrope can be great for sussing out what literary magazines and presses are looking for. Use QueryTracker to get info on literary agents (like who they have represented in the past and who they currently represent).
    • Did you properly format your submission/query?
    • Did you send it during the appropriate time?


    Answering these questions will lead you to the weaknesses in your query technique. Once found, you can strengthen them and hopefully send your freshly revised work to an acceptance letter.

    Do these stages fit your experiences, WriteByNighters? Anyone brave enough to share a particularly jarring rejection?


    Jacqui Bryant’s love for reading, ability to create adventure, and general curiosity for all things unconventional in life may outweigh her ability to write well. But she hopes not. 

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    Very helpful links! The worst is when you don’t hear back from someone (had that happen with some poetry I submitted to a lit. magazine). I felt pretty indignant, like “Wow, I wasn’t even worth a rejection slip to you!”

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I’m really embarrassed about this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. In my early days as a writer, when I was just desperate to get my work out there, I would scour Craigslist for submission opportunities. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as long as you do your research to ensure that the outfit advertising is legit. I didn’t do my research and ended up sending a short story into the ether, never to hear back, and when I inquired months later at the university with which this publication had claimed affiliation, I learned that no one at… Read more »

    Jose Skinner

    Some years ago I got my manuscript back from a magazine in the 8 x 11 manila SASE I had sent with the ms. (That was back in the days when pride required that I get the actual pages back rather than have the magazine dump them in the recycling bin.) Always, of course, a rejection slip would be in there as well. I didn’t open the envelope for several days and was well into Stage 3 when I decided to do so and behold the wretched slip, which was no doubt printed smearily on bile-green paper as befitted a… Read more »

    […] [ED: cf. Jacqui Bryant's "The Five Stages of Rejection"] […]

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