Valley Voices

How to reject rejection? Focus on what you can control

Bonnie Hearn Hill teaches a writing class with author/screenwriter Christopher Poe.
Bonnie Hearn Hill teaches a writing class with author/screenwriter Christopher Poe. Contributed by Bonnie Hearn Hill

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

This quote, attributed to Samuel Johnson, is a harsh rejection, but when you’re a writer, anything but an acceptance is harsh.

My friend, published author Phyllis Brotherton, recently posted this on Facebook: “Very polite rejection today… Onward and upward!” Phyllis is a gifted writer, yet despite the onward-and-upwardness of her post, she reminded me of how discouraging even the most tepid rejection can be.

We write because, on some level, we want to be heard, understood, maybe loved. A rejection says, “You’re not good enough. Stop kidding yourself. Just give up.” After receiving that message, the last thing an author wants to do is send out more queries. However, in writing as in life, we need to focus on what we can control, not what we can’t.

When I led the group that became known as the Tuesday Night Writers, I held a rejection contest each session, and the most rejected writer won a free class. Funny thing, but that person also published. To collect many rejection slips, you must send out many submissions, which gives a publisher a chance to actually consider your work.

Back then in the days of snail mail, writers had to provide the publisher with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) in which to return our manuscripts. One night after work, I rove home in the rain only to find one of the dreaded envelopes propped against my front door.

How humiliating, I thought. My neighbors had probably already seen the pathetic, soaked symbol of yet one more failure. Although I was tempted to throw it in the trash, I knew I had to read every miserable word. Inside was a book contract and a note from the publisher. Yes, he had used my stamped envelope to offer me a book deal.

Around that time, I was submitting to magazines, and I realized if I sent to 10 of them, I would place the manuscript. At a writing conference, I heard someone talk about the Rule of 12 – the belief that if you have 12 queries or manuscripts in the mail, you’ll sell something.

When one comes back, replace it immediately, so that you always have 12 out there. If you don’t send it out, they can’t reject it, but they can’t accept it either. As I thought about the Rule of 12, I realized the concept had already worked for me even though I thought it was the Rule of 10.

Later, I used the same approach to find a literary agent. No multiple submissions accepted? No problem. I just didn’t mention in my query that I was submitting to every agent on the planet. If I waited for one to respond before moving onto the next, I’d be about 150 years old before I found representation.

A relationship with a literary agent is like a romantic relationship; the first one seldom works. Finally, I had written a novel I thought would find an audience, and when I didn’t hear back from the agent who had requested it, I queried others. In September, I signed with my dream agent.

The following January, she negotiated a six-book deal for me. After I had deposited my advance check, I received a rejection from the first agent who had requested the book two years before. Let me tell you, that rejection did not hurt one bit!

We’re told we should not take rejection personally. Let me ask you, though. You wrote this essay, story or book out of your heart and soul. Now, a professional is rejecting it – and you’re not supposed to take it personally?

Better, I think, to remind yourself that not everyone is going to like what you have to say, and that’s just fine. If you don’t offend someone, you’re probably doing it wrong, and you’re probably not being honest enough.

Finally, remind yourself of the No. 1 rule of writing – BIC – butt in chair. The more you create and the more you submit, the less you’ll be bothered by rejection.

I agree with Richard Bach: “You are never given a dream without being given the power to make it true.” Only you can make it true. Onward and inward.

Bonnie Hearn Hill mentors many writers from all over the world. Her 17 th novel, “I Wish You Missed Me,” was published in January. “The River Below,” a suspense novel set on Fresno’s San Joaquin River, will publish in September, and a film based on an earlier novel is in pre-production. Once a month, she discusses books on KMPH Channel 26 “Great Day Book Club.” She can be reached at www. and