Therapy for Writers: Overcoming the Rejection Letter

Following on from last week’s blog, where literary agent Mark Gottlieb answered some questions on ‘Why did I get a no?’, I wanted to discuss a situation any writer that is seeking a traditional publishing deal is going to face — rejection. We hear it’s a part of the publishing journey, and we think we’re prepared for it, that our skin is thick enough.

But when that email arrives in your inbox, it still stings every time. Some so much you need self-care-with-wine-and-chocolate types of intervention. And what’s worse, the longer you do this, the more submissions you make, the more likely you are to receive them.

And those little cuts can accumulate. Eventually some of us will end up experiencing disillusionment and discouragement…wondering if the universe it trying to tell us something.

Why does it hurt so much? Mostly because this is important to us. We care, deeply and viscerally. We’re in this industry to share our words and pages, because we want to succeed. We want that acceptance because it gives us validation, physical proof that our hopes and dreams can come true. But it also hurts because rejection can push our deepest insecurity buttons…

So what do we do about it?

As a psychologist I talk to my clients about this strategy, and as writer I’ve used it myself — it’s called the Responsibility Pie. The Responsibility Pie helps because it encourages us to rethink our assumptions. It’s a tool based on cognitive therapy and it uses the pie chart to re-frame, in graphic form, how we think about things, especially when we are blaming ourselves.

Step 1

Identify the automatic thought/s that comes to your mind when you’ve just received a rejection. If you’re anything like me it will include statements like;

‘I knew it, my writing isn’t good enough’

‘Who was I kidding? I don’t have what it takes to succeed in this industry’

‘Yep, not good enough…’

Step 2

Now, I want you to come up with a list of alternative explanations for getting that no – as many as you can think of. Brainstorm all the reasons that the publisher rejected the opportunity to publish your manuscript, or worse, never got back to you. I did this with a couple of writer friends, and this is what we came up with.

  • Publishing trends – there’s an ever-evolving list of genres that are considered ‘popular’ or ‘struggling’. My soon-to-be-released book, a young adult paranormal romance, I discovered fell in the second category (after I wrote it).
  • We have a flooded market – last I heard there were 5 million eBooks on Amazon, which means it’s highly competitive. EVERY box has to be ticked for THAT PARTICULAR READER to move your manuscript onto the next stage.
  • You’re still developing certain skills — we all have strengths and weaknesses in any job we do. Maybe you tell and don’t show, maybe you show and don’t tell…Maybe you included too much backstory in the opening scene, maybe you had a saggy middle, maybe your ending was anticlimactic. You might tend to cliché characters, or have too many characters, or forgettable characters. Maybe the book’s in first person…or third person…
  • The agent or publishers personal preference – JK Rowling and her multi-gazillion dollar Harry Potter series had 12 rejections, John Grisham had 28 rejections for A Time To Kill, whilst Agatha Christie spent 5 years submitting to publishers. That’s a lot of people that missed a lot of talent (and career-making, money-making opportunities). Personal taste of the editor or agent plays a factor. Writing is art, and art is highly subjective.
  • It’s a highly competitive market — with thousands of submissions editors and agents are able to be picky. They are far more likely to invest their budget on a book that is ‘safe’ (e.g. on a book that doesn’t straddle genres or break the mould when it comes to writing style, plot structure or industry standards), and on an author that increases their chances of selling (e.g. and author that has a positive track record of other book sales or an established platform they can instantly sell to).
  • You had a bad day – you missed something in the submission guidelines or this is your twentieth submission and you forgot to change the name of who you’ve addressed the email to.
  • Timing – the agent/publisher has already filled all their slots or they just acquired a similar title.
  • Whether the agent/publisher has had their morning coffee – or maybe they did, and it was terrible/they burnt their tongue/it had milk and they’re lactose intolerant. We all have good days and bad days, days where we make good choices, and days where we miss something we shouldn’t have. Agents and publishers are human too.

Step 3

This one is a bit tricky in this context, but I think it’s well worth the exercise. Assign each factor that you think played a part in your ‘no’ letter a rough percentage (0% being not at all responsible, 100% being totally responsible). Most of these you’ll have no idea of the true value, so be willing to hold this lightly and make an approximation – it’s not meant to be an exact science. The point is really to reflect on the multitude of factors that influence a publishing rejection.

Step 4

Finally, use the percentages to draw a pie chart. You can do this freehand or use a program like Microsoft Excel to do this quickly.

Now that you’ve spent time seriously considering alternative explanations, how much stock do you put in your original automatic thought? Moreover, by considering other factors implicated in the situation, does the sting of rejection hurt a little less? And lastly, do you feel more empowered to write and submit again?

What’s your thoughts? What other reasons did you come up with for receiving a rejection? Did this article help with a recent rejection, or the accumulation of rejections, you’ve experienced in your journey to publication? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week,






  1. A very thoughtful post, Tamar. Timely too, given I’m currently querying agents and the rejections have started to arrive in my email inbox. It’s hard to brush it off and keep moving forward but getting published is not an easy road and it’s one i’m willing to travel. Congrats on the early reviews on your novel!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Lauren, they can hit hard no matter when. My next book is doing the rounds and I’ve already received a few. I figured it can be useful to remember it’s not always a reflection of your writing. Keep trying, it was worth it for me 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Chris, the no-news always feels like you’re not worth their time, whilst the rejection following a request is harder because you have further to fall. What a way to develop your resilience huh?

      Liked by 1 person

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