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Can Literary Rejection Be a Good Thing?

It happened to Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl 15 times

Twilight author Stephanie Meyers endured it 14 times

Even Harry Potter—everybody’s favorite child wizard—experienced it 10 times

What’s the magic experience I’m talking about? The cold slap of literary rejection. 

Yep, each of these massive, category-killing bestsellers was at one time turned down by agent after agent; editor after editor.  

(Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this whole book business is hilariously subjective.) 

 Just as any athlete has to learn be a good loser, and no aspiring actor gets called back to every single role, authors-on-the-rise must be prepared to be politely refused—often, many times. It’s part of the dance. And it can be part of the fun, if you can believe it.  

Rejection…fun? Are you kidding? Nope

There are actual ways to turn the bitter lemon of a rejection into lemonade.  

Here are three of my favorite ways to turn that rejection frown upside down. 

#1: Set yourself a goal to receive at least 25 rejections in the next 6 months. 

You heard me: Invite the universe to reject you over and over. Why? Because the more you’re willing to be rejected, the more you’re actually trying. And the more often you try, the more likely your proposal or manuscript will land on the desk of someone who’s been looking for a book just like yoursSo don’t be afraid to game-ify the process. Print out your spreadsheet of agents and indie publishers, and stick on a gold star every time you send out a query. Let your friends and family know you’ve got a goal, and you’re not going to stop until you’ve accumulated a whole pile o’ rejects. Then, start practicing hitting “Send.” Regardless whether you land a publisher, reaching your submission goal will give you the delicious feeling of success.  

#2: Mine your rejection letters for their gold. 

Back in my corporate days, whenever I was “doing rejections”—closing the door of my office and diving into the pile of “no’s” that had accumulated on my desk—I made it a practice to include at least one thing that seemed to be working about the book, and to offer honest feedback on what wasn’t working. Now, not every editor or agent is going to have the time or inclination to do the same, but some will. When you do get words of praise or critiquetreat them as the precious commodity that they are. While it can be easy to dismiss them because they come with a “no” attached, keep in mind that whoever has written them is part of the secret universe you want to be in. You may not agree with what they have to say, but the information is worth considering carefully. So ponder the nuggets you get, let them marinate, and then decide whether they resonate with you and bear implementation. For a deeper dive around how to digest feedback, check out this blog where I explain it all. 

#3: Use rejection to take yourself less seriously. 

I know one author who got so many rejections she decided to take up decoupage: She printed off the letters she’d received and proudly used them to recover an ugly old table and stools. I haven’t stayed in touch so don’t know what happened to her publishing aspirations, but her good sense of humor has never left me. Authors get rejected—that’s all there is to itLearning how to laugh along the way means there’s always a reason to smileSo why not meet rejection with good humor? Whether you parlay yours into a craft project, use them to perfect the art of making paper airplanes, or turn the whole experience into a monologue worthy of “The Moth” doesn’t really matter. Turning that frown upside down will not hurt your chances of publication, and will greatly increase your chances of achieving the goal of becoming a happier and more well-adjusted person. What have you got to lose?