How to ride the waves of rejection without getting dunked

by Kylie Orr
09 February 2018

Like most writers, I’ve had enough rejection emails to wallpaper my toilet walls. Even though I’ve been freelancing for 10 years, rejection never gets easier but I’ve learned that moving on from it does. I’ve also come to appreciate a ‘no’ from an editor, because it sure beats the silence of no response at all!

Author, columnist and social commentator Kerri Sackville has been writing professionally for 15 years and has become adept at distinguishing between rejections. “There are good rejections (‘This is great but sadly I don’t think it’s going to work for us’) and bad rejections (‘I really don’t think this has legs’). A good rejection can leave you disappointed, but not bruised. A bad rejection can be soul destroying.”

Food, health and lifestyle writer Lindy Alexander is another freelancer who has had her fair share of rejection and agrees that a “bad” rejection can be devastating. “I would feel quite crushed when I would receive a no to a pitch. I always felt slightly embarrassed because my idea hadn’t hit the mark.” Over her six years of freelancing, Lindy has reframed rejection as a learning opportunity. “When an editor gets back to me to say they’re not interested in a story, I see it as the start of a conversation.” Lindy responds to declined pitches asking what the editor is specifically looking for and then caters her next pitch with that in mind.

Even though we know rejection is part of the freelancing gig, there’s no denying it can dent your ego. Here are some reminders and coping strategies that may help.

1.     Rejection is not personal

Writing calls for putting yourself out there. It may be in the form of pitching a personal opinion article, or a topic you’re passionate about. It may be in a creative writing space, where you paint the page with your soul and hope someone feels it the way you do.

When the rejection hits your inbox, it’s difficult not to feel YOU have been rejected. It’s not your personality being assessed here. It’s not necessarily a rejection of your writing, either (unless you’re sloppy or unprofessional). There are so many reasons for rejection, and most editors don’t have the time for explanations or detailed feedback.

2.     Self-belief is paramount

It sounds new-age to harp on about self-belief, but I’m certain it’s what separates the successful freelancers from those who give up.

After years of practice, I finally understand the importance of editing my self-talk. ‘Imposter syndrome’ can run rife and rejection feeds the feelings of inadequacy as a writer, so be kind to yourself. I remind myself that a rejection doesn’t define my writing success, it merely hones my craft.

Lindy keeps herself pepped up after rejections by looking over emails from editors “where they’ve praised my writing and that makes me feel a little better.”

3.     Surround yourself with people who believe in you, even when you don’t.

When your self-belief takes a dive, hang with people who think you are pretty alright.

Freelancing is a particularly brutal vocation. There are limited avenues for positive feedback of your work and without performance appraisals or bosses telling you how awesome you are, there’s only you, and the jobs you win.

Real-life colleagues and friends are vital for providing reality checks and offering support when you are feeling particularly dejected.

4.     Get outside, mix up your day, be proactive

I find proactivity is better than reactivity. If my inbox is awash with rejections, I change my environment by:

  • Going for a walk, rather than sitting in those draining, grey feelings;
  • Listening to podcasts (on writing, on crime stories, on parenting, whatever distracts my mind at the time);
  • Breathing a different angle into discarded ideas;
  • People-watching from the café while eating something full of chocolate.

Lindy’s response to rejection is to allow herself the disappointment but then to get on with it. “I often refine the pitch and send it elsewhere until it gets picked up.” Kerri also gives herself “time to feel the feelings” and then she concentrates on the future, “the next idea, the next article, the next project.”

What if you keep receiving rejections? You may need to reassess, as Kerri says, “Consider all the feedback and try to figure out what is going wrong. Make sure you understand the publication you are pitching to. And wait till you have a strong idea before trying again.”

How do you handle rejection from editors and clients? Does it topple you, or have you got a thick skin?

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4 responses on "How to ride the waves of rejection without getting dunked"

  1. Rachel Smith says:

    Thanks for this piece, Kylie – and for getting Lindy and Kerri’s input. You’re so right that putting yourself out there as a freelancer again and again (often daily for many of us) CAN be soul-destroying and you really do need to develop a thick skin and somehow learn to separate yourself personally from what is actually a professional rejection. That takes practice (I reckon).

    I’d be interested to hear – at what point do you and other freelancers STOP pitching to an editor who just keeps rejecting your ideas? Or doesn’t answer at all? Do you keep trying or do you have a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy?

    1. Kylie orr says:

      Yes, good question. I guess it’s a balance thing. I don’t usually get a spate of rejections in a row. In the early days of pitching, I would move between different outlets so I could share the rejection around (!) but I usually had some accepted pitches in the mix so it dulled the pain of the ‘no’ emails.

      There are some editors who actually just never respond. They are the ones I don’t pursue. I figure if my idea was good enough to get over the line, they would have contacted me within a reasonable timeframe and if they don’t have the time (or professional decency) to let me know it was unsuitable, then I will never be able to gel or grow with them as a writer.

      It’d be nice if email pitches could get a thumbs up ‘like’ button so editors could confirm they’d seen it and read it and were going to think about it and get back to you, without actually having to write all that. Might be equally good if there was a ‘no thanks’ button so we could refine and move on!

      1. Rachel Smith says:

        Like buttons and no thanks buttons! That is a great idea. Gap in the market haha 🙂

  2. I took it oh so personally for the first few years… and then came about realising I am not a fly on the wall of the ed’s office, I am not a mindreader, and I don’t know what stories are already ‘in the bag’, commissioned, scheduled etc. So much easier with that insight.

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