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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Psych 101: Rejection

About two weeks ago, I got two rejections in a single day. One was from a dream agent and it was a FORM rejection. But I was simply too busy to let it bother me. Whatever. Deadline dead ahead. 

Then a friend spoke about a similar pair of rejection that really shook her. She’s an amazing CNF writer and has had work in places I would never dream of approaching. But the rejections flattened her. 

Both of our responses made me wonder. Why do writers react to rejection the way we do? I turned to psychology for answers about how we react and what can be done about it. 

Why It Hurts 

For answers as to why rejection hurts, we need to look to the past. Early humans, without ferocious teeth or claws or the ability to run really fast, survived because they were part of a group of other humans. Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb explains that rejection was BAD and humans developed a response, for their own good, that made them want to avoid it. 

We are hardwired to react and to hate the way it feels. What about the variety of responses? 

How we as individuals react is rooted in infancy and the attachments we formed. Psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps explained that people who had secure attachment styles grow up seeing ourselves as worthy. Those with an insecure attachment style are more . . . insecure. 

Not that this means you will never be impacted or that you will always be impacted. Because there are things you can do to help you deal with rejection. 

When Rejection Happens 

First things first, acknowledge what you are feeling. Go ahead and be angry, sad, bewildered, or shocked. Feel, observe and identify your feelings. This may take a day or two but that’s okay. 

Once you’ve identified your feelings, move into self-care. Psychologists warned that this doesn’t mean self-medicating with alcohol, chocolate, or other sweets. Empty calories are never a good long-term plan. 

Instead, do something that centers you. For some people this might involve running or meditation. Do things that make you feel calm and serene. I walk, do yoga, and knit. 

Moving Forward 

Once you’ve had time to process the feelings and are in a better space, take another look at your query, pitch or manuscript. Is it the best it could possibly be? Don’t just come back with “of course it is!” There’s bound to be one section that is especially strong. Now find the weakest section. What can you do to make it as good as your best section? 

Perhaps the work really is as strong as it can be. If so, make sure that the agents or publishers you targeted were the best possible fit. Look at other markets and see if you can find one that is similar but even better for your work. 

The Big Picture 

As you prepare yourself for the next round of submissions, consider why you are pursuing publication. What does it mean to you? Look at the amount of effort you’ve already put into it. Writing, rewriting, and completing a manuscript is a big deal. Not everyone can pull it off. But you’ve done it. 

In part, how we respond to rejection is hardwired. But we can work through it when it happens. And we can make sure our work is top notch and our markets are the best possible fit. Have your self-care routines in place and then hit send.

Acceptance or rejection, your fellow WOW writers will be gathered round when the responses come. And a caring community? A highly recommended way to stay centered. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on July 5, 2021).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.
Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 5, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  July 5, 2021). 


  1. Sue--I know you've gotten rejected, but you've also been published--so many books and markets--so you know how to bounce back when rejection comes.

    Thanks for the advice. I thought chocolate was a win-win--it makes me a bigger writer, and gives me that sugar high. Never mind the inevitable crash.

    Oh well. I will try something other than chocolate...

    And conratulations on your next book. It's just around the corner, I'm sure.

  2. Sioux,
    You know I'm not going to say NO to chocolate. But I read about people packing on pounds over weeks of binging.

    Sometimes a rejection really bothers me. And the agent rejection might have if I hadn't found out about not getting the grant immediately after. I'd been waiting months to hear back. Having them hit on the same day just cracked me up. What are the chances?


  3. This is interesting information regarding the connection to attachment styles. I'd definitely say I have insecure attachment tendencies! I find that I'm more put off by rejections that say something I don't agree with (such as, "teens aren't interested in books about ghost stories," or "this book isn't marketable") rather than a generic form letter. I bet we would learn a lot about ourselves by journaling our feelings right after specific rejections!

  4. Renee,
    Okay, that's funny. I would also say that I have an insecure attachment style BUT the examples you gave? They would annoy me but not bring me down. I'd know I wouldn't really have a good fit with this person.

    But how we react to rejections? Total ink blot test.

  5. Sue, rejections always suck. Even when we'v literally had 100s of them. Your article is excellent and one every writer should read.
    Onward and upward!!

  6. Sue, this was a great post. I will remember these tips every time I get a rejection, and I'm sure you'll get two acceptances in a day instead of rejections very soon.

  7. Stephanie,
    Well, you and I have seen each other through a dozen or more than really stung. Between us, we could probably paper a house in rejections if they still came on paper!

    I would love to get two acceptances in one day! I'm glad you found it helpful.

  8. I had to look up attachment styles, and it's so interesting! I'm not sure which one I am, but I know I try to avoid rejection by going for publications that I'm pretty sure will accept my work. Aka low-hanging fruit. I've only received one personal rejection this past year and it was super thoughtful and I really appreciated it because the essay had made the shortlist in several contests but never made it all the way. When the editor shared her thoughts on why, I was like, duh, of course.

    Oh man, to get two rejections in one day sucks, but I bet you'll get an acceptance soon!

    I have two writer friends who put their work right back out there within an hour of getting rejected. I think that may be the best type of self care because I've noticed I tend to just sit on a rejected piece for a long time and never submit it again because I think it needs work. Then I lose interest in revising it because I already have so many times. So I think yeah, working on it is great if you can, but also just getting it back out there is key.

    Awesome post, Sue! And dang, 27 published books, now? You're incredible! :)

  9. Angela,
    Once you've made a piece as strong as you can, I think your friends have the right attitude. Get it back out there NOW. Because, you're right, the longer you let it sit . . . it sits . . . and sits . . . and sits some more.


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