How to Handle Rejection

Come sit with me for just a moment. I want to share a few letters I received back in 1997.  I won’t divulge the entirety of each letter, but just the most important parts.

Dear Sharon…(Sharon was handwritten in blue ink, filling in a blank.  The blue ink of my name on the black ink of the typed form letter seemed to mock me). After a review by one or more of our editorial staff, regret that we are unable at this time to accept your proposal. We do appreciate the trust you placed in us in submitting your material to …and we thank you again for your interest… 

Dear Sharon: Thank you for…the opportunity to consider your proposed book. We apologize for the length of time it has taken us to respond…We read through your proposal and noticed your ability to take the seemingly everyday activities and events of life and turn them into meaningful applications for spiritual growth…Yet the decision reached by our reviewers is that we would not be able to publish this book with success…

Dear Mrs. Jaynes: Thanks for the chance to review your proposal. After carefully reviewing the manuscript proposal and evaluating its potential for our publishing program, we have decided not to accept it for publication. 

Dear Sharon: Thank you for letting us review your manuscript. Although we appreciate your work, we must decline the opportunity to publish it…

Dear Sharon: (followed by friendly paragraph)…Your proposal arrived, and it has been given a careful review. Or should I say, it has been through the gauntlet…I truly hate to disappoint, but this particular project did not receive the “go ahead.” Please use this “rejection” letter for papering the cat box and keep on trying to get published…Thank you for giving us the privilege of reviewing your work. (This was the nicest rejection letter ever!)

OK, I think that’s enough. There were five more rejection letters added to the folder, but I think you get the idea. However, before you pull out the tissue on my behalf and say, “That poor girl,” I want you to know something. 

In 2021 I released my 25th book with Thomas Nelson, When You Don’t Like Your Story: What if Your Worst Chapters Could Become Your Greatest Victories

What made me keep going in light of so much rejection? It was more than determination. It was more than hardheadedness. It was more than naivety. The reason I didn’t give up was a refusal to give up on my God-given calling. I saw the “no” as a “not yet.”

Someone once told me that the difference between a writer and a published author is that the published author didn’t give up. As you embark on this writing journey, let’s talk about what to do if or when you receive a rejection letter.

A Rejection Letter is Not a Dead End…Unless You Allow It to Be

Don’t see a rejection letter as a roadblock or a deadhead end. Think of it more like a cul-de-sac where you get to the end of that road, and you just swing around and keep going. 

Remember this: many great first-time authors were rejected in the beginning.

  • Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were rejected 134 times for their book, Chicken Soup for the Soul
  • John Grisham was rejected by 16 publishers for his first book, which was later published.
  • E.E. Cummings was rejected by 14 publishers
  • Madeline L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) was rejected by 26 publishers
  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers for her Harry Potter series.

Even though I admit, I’ve never read Harry Potter, I love what Rowling said about rejection. “‘I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.’” Rowling has sold over 450 million books and is worth more than $1 billion. 

These are not faith-based books, but worth remembering. 

When I was receiving my first batch of rejection letters, Lysa TerKeurst and I were in the beginning stages of developing Proverbs 31 Ministries together. She sent out her proposals and received her rejection letters the same time I did. 25 years later, she’s been on the New York Best Sellers List at least five times. That just makes me smile.

A Rejection Letter is Not a Rejection of You Personally 

It’s easy to think of the rejection of our work as a rejection of us personally. Think about this…the person writing the rejection letter doesn’t even know you. The publisher doesn’t even know you. So why in the world do we think, “They don’t like me!” The truth is, they don’t even know me.

It is the enemy of our soul, the devil himself, who takes what we see as failure and tells us that we are a failure. That is simply not true. Don’t monogram failure on your sleeve or sew the label in the back of your shirt. You are a dearly loved child of God who is chosen, redeemed, gifted, anointed, and appointed for good works. You are equipped by God, enveloped by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

If you receive a rejection letter from a publisher, you are still a dearly loved child of God that is chosen, redeemed, gifted, anointed, and appointed for good works. You are still equipped by God, enveloped by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We should never allow a rejection letter to define or confine us. Even if we face rejection of our work along this journey, we are not facing rejection of our worth. Don’t allow the enemy to tell you otherwise. 

A Rejection Letter is an Invitation for Refinement

We would all like to think that we sent in our very best work in a proposal; however, if we receive a rejection letter, that is the perfect time to refine our work even further. I have found that the best writing is re-writing. Let the current book title, chapter summaries, and chapters sit in the crockpot of your mind for a bit. (Writing is no place for an Instapot.) Then look for ways to make you work better. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Do you have statements in the book that someone would want to highlight? If a reader stops highlighting, she will stop reading.
  • Do you have sticky statements that sing? If not, pull out a few sentences and use alliteration or contrasts to make the sentences powerful and memorable.
  • If you didn’t the first go around, hire a professional proofreader to read through your material and make corrections. Ask the proofer to use track changes so that you can see the suggestions and learn from them.
  • If you didn’t the first go around, find a content editor to read through the manuscript and make suggestions. Again, ask the editor to use track changes so that you can learn from the suggestions.
  • If possible, ask the editor who sent the rejection letter for suggestions as you move forward.
  • In our current publishing culture, a proposal can be rejected simply because someone doesn’t have a social media platform. If that is the case for you, then learn how to establish a platform such as Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, or YouTube.

Let me give you an example of how that played out in my writing journey. One time I sent in a proposal to a publisher, and it was rejected. I let it sit for a bit, then re-worked the title, the chapter titles, the felt need of the audience, and my promise as the author. I also tweaked the content to make it more compelling. Then I sent it back to the same publisher a few years later and it was accepted. They didn’t even realize it was the same project…just better.

A Rejection Letter is a Challenge to Keep Moving

If you remember the battle plan to take the Promised Land, it was as simple as it was strange. March around the city of Jericho with all the armed men. Do this in silence, once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day, walk around seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. Have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse, and the army will go straight in. Now, that was a strange battle plan. 

God’s infinite ways often don’t make sense in our finite minds. Sometimes you have to be willing to look ridiculous and be radical to live a remarkable life. (That is an example of a sticky statement!) The choices you make when you feel God’s nudge will become the hinges on which your destiny swings. Each individual decision you make, to move forward or to stop is a thread that weaves the tapestry of your life.

But here’s the conundrum: What do you do when all you see is a big wall standing between your promise land and your present situation? When the rejection letter looms and laughs at your dreams? That is the time when you have to decide to keep walking or take a seat.

The men marching had no idea about how many times they had to walk around Jericho, only Joshua knew that fact. They just knew that they were to march. They walked around Jericho for six days, and as far as they could tell, nothing happened. I’m sure it unnerved the people behind the wall, but as far as the walkers could tell, not one brick fell. That feels like a rejection letter to me. I’m doing all I know to do and nothing’s happening!

This is where many give up—when they don’t see any progress. And God says, “Keep walking … by faith.”

The next time you send out a proposal could be lap number seven, but we will never know unless we keep walking. Keep writing. Keep praying. Keep listening. Keep honing our skills.

Right now, the doors are open for Speak Up Growth Groups Registration. What are Speak Up Growth Groups? SpeakUp Growth Groups were born from our very own SpeakUp Conference, the premier conference for speakers and writers to advance their personal or professional ministry.

Growth Groups consist of two levels, Lean In and Learn On. Each group consists of 6-8 participants and a leader who serves as either a discussion facilitator or intensive coach. 

Lean In is our entry-level peer-to-peer mastermind group designed for someone who has never participated in mastermind groups before or has beginning experience. This level walks through a monthly focused topic curriculum together with a group discussion to promote accountability and community. The Zoom meeting lasts 90 minutes and is guided by a discussion facilitator. 

Learn On is our intensive coaching group designed for speakers, writers, and leaders who are pushing forward to the next level of their ministry. These groups also meet and walk through the monthly curriculum together, but in addition to the Lean In material, they also receive 20 minutes of intensive coaching, a bonus sheet of resources that complement the month’s topic, AND a monthly bonus Zoom meeting with Carol Kent, myself, our intensive coaching group leaders and Learn On members.

Registration is open until 11:59 pm EST, August 15, 2021.

We hope you’ll REGISTER NOW!

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