Realities of Rejection

This week an unpublished writer wrote and asked, “What will it take for me to get published? I’m willing to get rejected 20 times.”  On one hand the attitude is pretty healthy to understand that rejection is a part of the writing life.  Some people think they have a fantastic book idea and present their idea once or twice, then give up.  From my experience, it often takes more than 20 times to find someone to publish your magazine idea or your book idea, what about the next time?

Some people get frustrated with the process of traditional publishing, so they publish and promote their own book.  Many of them are poorly produced and struggle to get these self-published products into the marketplace. Others have the writing skills, know how to get their book edited and properly launched into the marketplace.  For an example of this type of response, here’s part of an email I received yesterday from my friend, Bob Bly: “In 1988, Richard Armstrong was a young freelance copywriter who charged about $2,500 for a direct-mail package. A few years later, he was one of the highest paid copywriters in the business, routinely charging $22,500 per package. What made the difference?  It wasn’t royalties.  It wasn’t inflation.  It wasn’t because Richard suddenly became a better copywriter.  It happened because of one little change Richard made in how he MANAGED his business.  It was a tiny tweak in policy that YOU can make today.  (And by the way, it applies not just to copywriters, but to any kind of consultant or marketing professional.)  To celebrate the publication of his new novel – God Doesn’t Shoot Craps (a novel about a direct-mail Copywriter!) – Richard is giving away an instant PDF download of his special report, “Make More Money By Writing Less.” To download your complimentary copy, please go to: and click on the navigation bar that says, “GIFT FOR COPYWRITERS.”

I’ve not seen this book but I was intrigued enough to order one. It will be an interesting experiment for me. I’m not the only one who ordered this self-published book—especially if you look at the Amazon ranking (currently below 300). Anyway, some of you might be interested in taking advantage of the free report (which is another reason I included it here).

Kitchen Privileges coverI began thinking about this process of rejection again when several weeks ago I read this quotation in Publisher’s Weekly from bestselling author, Mary Higgins Clark, “I knew I wanted to be a writer as a child. The first thing I wrote was a poem, when I was seven., It’s pretty bad, but my mother thought it was beautiful and made me recite it for everyone who came in. I’m sure the captive audience was ready to shoot me, but that kind of encouragement nurtures a budding talent. From the time I was seven, I also kept diaries. I can read them now and look back at what I was like at different ages. I still keep diaries; they are a great help to my novels. No one has seen them—they are locked in a trunk.” OK—that was interesting about her writing—but here’s the sentence that caught my attention: “It took Clark six years and 40 rejection slips before she sold a short story to Extension magazine in 1956 for $100.”  See the persistence and the time involved—and when it happened. Today Mary Higgins Clark continues as one of the bestselling novelist. It’s something to keep in mind for your own experience in this business. Some time ago, I read Higgins Clark’s memoir, Kitchen Privileges. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of this bestselling writer.

My stack of submissions for Howard Books fiction has grown rather tall. Over the next day or two I’m hopeful to whittle it back to a more manageable number.  Each day when I receive these submissions, I open them and process each one. I’ve made some initial decisions but I haven’t communicated with the author. These rejection notices need to be logged then mailed. I’m not eager to do it but it’s a necessary part of the process.  While I have no eagerness to do it, I know  in some small way, I’m bringing these writers the realities of rejection. They might not like my response—but at least I respond.

5 Responses to “Realities of Rejection”

  1. Richard Mabry Says:

    Two comments, Terry. The first is an expression of appreciation for your efforts in plowing through a huge pile of submissions when you know you will only be able to choose six or eight (if that many). We know that rejection is a way of life for a writer. But some of us forget that having to issue those rejections can’t be easy for editors if they have any feelings. I appreciate your saying in your own rejection letters (and yes, I have samples in my files) that you hate getting or sending form letters. But it’s nice that you occasionally add a few specific words to one. Even that takes time and effort.

    The second comment is a thanks for your ongoing teaching of “life lessons” to aspiring writers through this blog.

  2. Richard Says:

    hey, terry, thanks for mentioning “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps” on your site. the offer, by the way, applies to all of your readers who come to my site: … also have some great gambling premiums for free, too. one little thing, though, the book wasn’t self-published. it was published by Sourcebooks, a medium-size independent publisher out of Chicago, best known for its reference books (“The U.S. News & World Report Guide to Colleges” for example). They do about five or six novels per year, and they decided to make mine one of ’em.

  3. Terry Whalin Says:

    Hello Richard and Richard,

    Thank you for the comments and kind words. I appreciate it.

    Thank you Richard for clarifying about Sourcebooks. I make no claims to be familiar with all of the publishing of the world. I stand corrected in that Sourcebooks is a traditional publishing situation. Congratulations on how well your novel is doing in the marketplace.


  4. Michelle Pendergrass Says:

    I think the part of Mary Higgins Clark’s quote that interested me the most was that she read her poem to everyone, it was bad, and she kept going.

    I don’t think the issue is rejection, it is the writer’s attitude about rejection. As an editor, you are not rejecting ME. You are rejecting my story.

    Yes, it is always interesting to see that a well-respected author had to get a number of rejection slips and waited years to be published, I think the lesson lies in the fact that these people keep going.

    I liken it to the fact that I am a mother. Just because you don’t agree with my mothering style doesn’t make me less of a mother and it certainly doesn’t stop me from being a mother. I don’t just pack it all up and quit because several people told me it was wrong to let my child self-wean or homeschool. I am still a mother, no matter what you say.

    And, get this…I am still a writer no matter what anyone thinks. If you don’t like my writing style, that doesn’t mean I’m not less of a writer and it will certainly not stop me from being a writer. And I’m not packing up my toys to go home because you don’t like my story. I am still a writer, no matter what anyone says.

  5. T. E.George Says:

    I’ve just finished reading your book, Book Proposals That Sell. In fact, you are considering a query of mine at this time. One chapter in your book suggests the need to have several projects in the pipeline at the same time. Does this apply to fiction as well? I have three compelted novels but have only been pitching one. Thanks again for the great advice in your book.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: