How to Handle Manuscript Rejection

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Getting rejected is an inevitable part of the publishing process. Even the most successful authors have faced their fair share of rejections early on.

J.K. Rowling‘s first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times before acceptance. Stephen King piled up so many rejection slips that he stuck them onto a spike and kept it on his desk as motivation. Facing rejection is a rite of passage for any writer determined to get their work out there.

Similarly, rejections in journal publishing happen all the time. Reputable journals reject as much as 95 percent of manuscripts submitted.

How to handle manuscript rejection

That being said, getting the dreaded rejection letter or email is never easy. It can sting no matter how prepared you think you are. As an unpublished author trying to break into the industry, you must be resilient in the face of rejection and see it as part of the journey, not the final destination.

This introduction will cover the harsh reality of rejection in publishing and provide some encouraging stories from established authors who have been in your shoes.

Manuscript Rejections in the Publishing Industry

Let’s start with the cold, hard truth – most manuscripts submitted to agents and editors get rejected. Dealing with rejection is inevitable if you want to get published.

Even excellent manuscripts can be turned down due to a variety of factors like the publisher’s needs at that time, personal preferences of the editor, or lack of space in their catalog. The low acceptance rates can feel disheartening, but you have to persist.

Here are some stories from successful authors who powered through early rejections:

  • The first Harry Potter book was rejected a dozen times. One publisher even advised J.K. Rowling, the author, to get a day job since she could not make money from children’s books.
  • Margaret Mitchell received almost 40 rejections for Gone With the Wind before finding a publisher.
  • Stephen King’s first novel Carrie (The Long Walk was King’s first novel, but Carrie was first published), was rejected 30 times. He was so discouraged that he threw the manuscript in the trash. Luckily, his wife retrieved it.
  • John Grisham‘s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers.
  • Dr. Seuss’ first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times.

As you can see, rejection is ubiquitous, even among successful writers. But the most important thing is persistence and believing in your work. Now let’s explore the reasons behind rejections and how not to take them personally.

Understanding the “Why” Behind Rejections

Understanding why manuscripts get rejected can help writers develop resilience and learn from the experience.

Reasons Manuscripts Get Rejected

There are many reasons a publisher might reject a manuscript, including:

  • The manuscript didn’t fit that publisher’s list or audience well.
  • The publisher had too many similar manuscripts or books already.
  • There were issues with the writing quality, story, characters, or structure.
  • The manuscript topic has fallen out of favor in the current market.
  • The publisher didn’t connect with the author’s voice or style.

Often a rejection is not a judgment of the manuscript’s merit but rather a reflection of that particular publisher’s needs and preferences at the time of submission.

Rejections are not Always a Reflection of the Writer’s Ability

You must recognize that rejection does not necessarily mean your work is poor or unworthy of publication. Even excellent manuscripts are always rejected for reasons outside the writer’s control. Some examples:

  • The publisher recently accepted a similar submission.
  • The editor who would have championed the book has left.
  • The publisher is cutting back their list for financial reasons.
  • The genre is oversaturated in the current market.

The reasons above have nothing to do with the writer’s talents. Rejection is often just part of the process on the road to publication. By understanding this, writers can avoid linking self-worth to rejections and instead focus on improving their craft.

Emotional Impact: How to Handle Manuscript Rejection

Getting rejected can be a deeply painful experience for writers. After pouring your heart and soul into your manuscript, receiving a curt rejection letter can make you feel your work isn’t valued or good enough. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings rather than suppress them.

Some common emotions writers experience after being rejected include disappointment, sadness, anger, and even depression in severe cases. It’s easy to take rejections personally and start doubting your writing abilities. Constant rejection may chip away at your confidence and self-esteem over time if you don’t develop resilience.

Here are some tips for dealing with the inevitable rejections you’ll face as a writer:

  • Let yourself feel the emotions rather than bottling them up. Talk to supportive friends and family about how you feel.
  • Don’t dwell on rejections excessively. Then, take a day or two to process the emotions and refocus on the next steps.
  • Avoid negative self-talk like “I’m not good enough.” Rejections reflect on the marketability of your work, not your talent.
  • Remember that even the most successful authors have been rejected numerous times.
  • Take a break from writing for a few days to recharge.
  • Don’t take critical feedback personally. Use it to strengthen your writing.
  • Have faith in your abilities, even if publishers don’t yet. Persistence is key.

With the right mindset, you can view rejections as opportunities for growth rather than soul-crushing defeats. Letting go of disappointment quickly and focusing on improving your craft will serve you well on the author’s journey. If rejections continue to take an emotional toll, seek encouragement from other writers in your shoes.

While rejection stings, don’t let it distort your sense of self-worth. You have a unique voice and story to share with the world. With concerted effort and resilience, you can achieve your publishing dreams.

Learning from Rejection: Turning Negatives into Positives

Facing rejection is an inevitable part of the writing and publishing process. But while rejection can sting, it also presents valuable growth opportunities. With the right mindset, writers can use rejection to strengthen their work and skills.

Using Manuscript Rejection as a Learning Opportunity

Rather than viewing rejection as a commentary on your ability or the quality of your manuscript, try to approach it as constructive feedback. Ask yourself:

  • What specific issues did the editor or agent cite in the rejection letter? Look for patterns across multiple rejections.
  • How can you improve your manuscript to address these concerns? Rejection letters often provide insight into how you can refine your work.
  • Did the rejection stem from subjective reasons like the editor’s personal tastes? If so, find a better-suited market.

Analyzing rejections in this way reveals opportunities for editing and growth. It also helps develop objectivity and a solutions-focused perspective.

Resilience in the Face of Rejection

Building resilience in the face of rejection is crucial to make it through the ups and downs of publishing.

Strategies for Building Resilience

Here are some tips for building resilience when faced with manuscript rejection:

  • Allow yourself to feel disappointed, but don’t let it consume you. Give yourself a day or two to process the rejection, then get back to writing.
  • Surround yourself with a supportive community of fellow writers who can empathize and encourage you when a rejection comes.
  • Celebrate small successes – finishing a draft, getting positive feedback from beta readers, submitting your work, etc.
  • View rejection as an opportunity to improve, not a reflection of your worth as a writer. Ask for feedback you can learn from.
  • Keep persevering and submitting your work to new publishers. Persistence is key.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. It’s often due to subjective factors beyond your control.

The Role of Perseverance

Perseverance in the face of rejection separates successful published authors from those who give up too soon. The path to publication is rarely linear. Expect many rejections, and be prepared to pick yourself back up and keep going. As the saying goes:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

With grit and determination, you can achieve your writing goals. Don’t let rejection derail you. Keep writing, revising, and submitting. Your big break as an author will come if you persevere.

Handling Feedback of Your Rejected Manuscript

If your rejection letter includes any feedback or criticism of your manuscript, really take time to consider it carefully. Feedback isn’t always easy to hear but approach it open-mindedly. Identify any consistent issues mentioned by multiple editors or reviewers – these likely need addressing. For example, you may need to:

  • Develop characters more fully.
  • Strengthen the plot or pacing.
  • Clarify certain sections or scenes.
  • Improve the overall flow and transitions.

Focus on addressing the major issues first before moving on to smaller revisions. You don’t necessarily need to implement every suggestion but do consider each one objectively. Get feedback from other readers, too, if possible.

Knowing When and Where to Resubmit

Before resubmitting elsewhere, ensure you’ve allowed yourself time to make revisions based on the feedback received. It’s generally not advisable to immediately resubmit an unchanged manuscript to another publisher.

Research suitable publishers, agents or journals you wish to submit, and carefully review their guidelines. Make sure your manuscript aligns with their interests and publishing categories before sending. It can also be helpful to get feedback from industry professionals about the best places to submit your revised work.

When resubmitting, don’t take earlier rejections personally. In your cover letter, you can mention that the manuscript was previously submitted elsewhere, but focus on the revisions you’ve made and why you believe your work is now a good fit. Persistence and continually seeking ways to improve your writing are key. With time and effort, you’ll find the right home for your manuscript.

Developing a Healthy Relationship with Rejection

While rejection can sting, it’s important not to take it personally or see it as a reflection of your self-worth. Developing a healthy mindset around rejection is key to building resilience as a writer.

Changing Your Perspective on Rejection: Seeing It as Part of the Process, Not the End Result

It’s easy to view a rejection letter as a failure, but it’s often just a standard part of the publishing journey. Reframe rejection as an expected hurdle along the path to publication rather than a definitive statement about your work. The next editor may love your manuscript!

See each rejection as bringing you closer to an eventual “yes.” With perseverance and a little luck, you’ll find the right publisher at the right time. Don’t let the sting of rejection blur your vision of the future publication and readership your work deserves.

Encouraging a Growth Mindset Towards Rejection in Publishing

Cultivating a growth mindset can help transform rejection from a demoralizing defeat into a valuable learning experience. View rejection letters as an opportunity to improve your craft and strengthen future manuscript submissions.

Rather than just feeling disappointed by a rejection, dig into the specifics. If an editor took the time to write personalized feedback, reflect on how you can refine your plot, characters, pacing, or style based on their critique. If the rejection was a form letter, get objective readers to review your work. Their constructive criticism can help you pinpoint areas needing polishing.

By embracing rejection as a tool for growth—not a rebuke of your talent—you can build resilience and continually evolve as a writer. Each rejection brings you closer to the manuscript, which will ultimately resonate with the right publisher and readership.


The path to publishing success is rarely linear. Rejection and disappointment are inevitable parts of the process, even for the most talented writers. However, how we respond to these setbacks determines whether we achieve our dreams or give up prematurely.

This concludes our guide on handling manuscript rejection. Throughout the various sections, we explored the emotional impact of rejection, strategies for resilience, and practical tips for learning from feedback and improving your work. While rejection stings, it need not derail your writing aspirations if met with a growth mindset and dogged perseverance.

The key is to embrace rejection as part of the journey. Each “no” brings you one step closer to a “yes” if you choose to revise, resubmit, and never lose sight of why you started writing in the first place. Your passion is worth pursuing, regardless of how many detours you encounter.

So take heart. Turn your discouragement into determination. Let your resilience silence the inner critic. And keep chasing your dream, one word at a time. The next acceptance could be just around the corner, but you’ll only get there if you keep going. Your story deserves to be told. So push forward with courage, believe in your voice, and embrace the journey wherever it leads.

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