As a writer, you will never, ever be immune to rejections. Not now, and not twenty years down the line when you’re a veteran of the industry.
It’s human nature to feel hurt when we get rejected. Knowing it’s not personal doesn’t mean we feel like it isn’t, and rejection is one thing that doesn’t seem to fade away with experience. This may sound harsh, but it’s better to accept your humanity than spend your whole career fighting it, right?
As an experienced professional writer, I don’t say any of this lightly, nor do I say it to be patronizing: rejection sucks, but no one owes you anything.
Readers don’t owe you, editors don’t owe you, other writers don’t owe you, and algorithms definitely don’t owe you. Maybe you know this on a conscious level, and maybe you’re someone who would never dream of blaming or criticizing editors or publications for rejecting you.
Too Many Writers See Editors As The Enemy
Recently, I read a well-meant but ultimately unbalanced piece about submitting work to major publications as a new (read: untested) writer.
I enjoyed most of the article, but one section didn’t sit right with me. It called out the editors of “popular publications” for sending form rejections or not giving writers a rejection note at all. This writer and others in the article's comments felt that writers “deserve” feedback for their work.
I get it — really, I do. You spend untold time and effort crafting a piece, researching, thinking, and putting the words down, and then carefully choose the publication you want to have it published in.
In addition to the effort factor, we in the writing community tend to feel like a big network of collaborators much of the time. It’s a feeling unique to our industry and it gives many writers a sense that we’re all in this together.
I love that about us. We still don’t deserve anything from editors or publications. And however they reject us, it’s not their responsibility to hold our hands and make us better writers. It’s simply not their job.
An editor (in the context of a publication’s staff) has one job: to choose which pieces the publication will accept and which they will not.
An editor isn’t there to be your friend, but they also aren’t your enemy. It doesn’t help you to act as if they’re either one.
In Reality, Writers Don’t Have Professional Enemies — And We Should Be Pretty Happy About That
We can argue about market competitiveness all we want, but let’s be honest: when it comes to writing, we don’t have “enemies” or competitors the way other entrepreneurs do.
This is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being a writer in the professional sphere. So why would anyone want to create enemies out of neutral parties like publications or editors?
When we receive a form rejection or radio silence (accompanied by a vague time parameter to gauge our writing’s reception by), it’s hard to remember that those parties are truly neutral. We certainly don’t feel neutral about it.
Perhaps our tendency to blame editors for lack of personalized feedback is simply an expression of our unconscious desire to “soften the blow” of rejection. Still, it ends up becoming entitlement pretty quickly.
Looking for a reason to be mad at the person rejecting you is a temptation many of us give in to unconsciously. I know I’ve done it plenty of times, myself. Still, it isn’t a good look for us when we’re trying to become professionals in an industry that is, in many ways, built on rejection.
You’re a writer. You don’t have enemies…unless you choose to create them. Beware the stories you tell yourself when your feelings are hurt. They can be sneaky.
Rejections Hurt, Every Time — But Mostly They’re Just Practicalities
I think we writers (along with everybody else) are prone to assumptions about our own ability to separate logic from emotion.
If we know rejection is bound to happen and we know it’s not useful to take it personally or react emotionally to it, that must mean we won’t do either, right? As it happens, the human brain is a bit sneakier than that.
Knowing something logically won’t make you immune to feeling a certain way about the experience it represents. No matter what you know about rejections and their place in your writing career, you are wired to feel bad about it.
I’ll let you in on a little secret — editors also feel bad about it, at least in a broad sense of the word. I know this because I work as an editor in multiple capacities, and I still dislike the experience of rejecting a writer’s work.
I have to, though, because that’s my job. And if I could lessen the sting of my own empathy by providing personalized feedback to every writer I reject, I would — but I can’t. It wouldn’t be practical.
Editors have lives just as you do. Think of it this way: imagine if every other writer in your entire network, online and off, expected you to put down your work and give them feedback each time they drafted an article or book.
This is in many ways parallel to the experience of being an editor, especially for heavily trafficked publications. I’d venture to say that almost all of them know exactly what it’s like to be a writer and receive a form rejection, but they also have to work within the parameters of what is practical for themselves and their team.
Accept that rejection is going to hurt — every single time. But try not to put that on the shoulders of editors who are doing their jobs the way they are trained to do them.
Ultimately, Editors Often *Do* Try To Mitigate Rejection — But Writers Don’t Pay Attention To Those Efforts
If you look in the ‘about’ section or ‘write for us’ page of any major publications, you’re bound to find an article describing what they publish, what their standards are, and how to draft something that will match their needs and theme.
Those helpful, actionable articles often have abysmally low viewership levels, considering how many writers submit articles to these same publications.
Editors and their colleagues spend a lot of time drafting, revising, and updating their guidelines and advice articles. I know I’ve spent hours and hours working on mine. They do this because they know they can’t provide personalized feedback to the hundreds and hundreds of writers who will submit work to them every week.
These guidelines and informative pieces are meant to give those writers the same basic benefits as personal feedback, even if it can’t be on the same level a one-on-one session would be.
Even if an editor “only wrote one sentence” for each writer when rejecting a piece, that would become thousands and thousands of words each day. And that’s not even counting the amount of time and thought required to verbalize and explain the feedback within such small parameters.
If writers act entitled, all they're going to get is crickets and disapproval from those of us with more experience — or who moonlight as editors ourselves when we aren’t writing.
If writers accept that rejection is painful, then make an effort to read and absorb guidelines and help-pieces, what they’ll get is perspective, empathy for editors, and a deeper understanding of the publications they’ve chosen to target.
I highly suggest you make yourself one of the latter if you want to find fulfillment in this field of work.
A Final Note On Our Shared Reality
This piece may not be as well-received as some of my others, but I find this writer-editor dynamic one of those experiences that all writers will eventually encounter and come to terms with.
It’s hard to imagine that someone can’t take “just a few seconds” to provide feedback when rejecting your work. Still, is it a grocery store patron’s duty to spend “a few seconds” considering every single brand and company in the aisles before making their purchase?
Seconds add up to minutes, which add up to hours. Editors are tasked with working efficiently — often for no pay, by the way — and with quantities of work we writers tend to vastly underestimate. It isn’t uncommon for them to process hundreds of articles per day as a team.
I won’t tell you not to take rejection personally, because it feels personal — and that’s okay. But please, fellow writers, let’s all try to keep things in perspective.
It’ll make the whole thing a lot more fun.