This Week in Rejection!: Talking About Failure

Something a little different, this week. I have no rejection letter to show you.1 Instead, I want to talk a little bit about what lies at the core of This Week in Rejection!:


Every now and then, I get e-mail from folks who seem to misapprehend the purpose of TWiR! They ask me why I’m so negative, why I wallow in my rejections.

Or they ask me why I feel the need to poke fun at the people who’ve rejected my work.

So I thought I would take some time out to talk about why I post these rejection letters every week.

First of all: It’s certainly not negativity! I’m not wallowing in these rejections. These all happened years ago. In some cases, they happened decades ago. This isn’t about me getting a rejection letter in the mail (remember the mail?) and, in a fit of sobbing, righteous indignation, deciding to post the letter. No. This is about mining the past for something that is hopefully useful.

And second of all, God knows it’s not about poking fun at the editors or the publications that turned me down! Hell, no! In almost every instance, I desperately deserved to be rejected. I had it coming. I wasn’t ready. Do I sometimes snark or rib the content or format of a rejection? Sure! It’s been a million years — why not? But with rare exception, I take none of these personally.2

Look, I dredge up my, uh, less-than-successful past every week out of a combination of twisted nostalgia, entertainment, and education. Not necessarily in that order. It is my hope that those of you out there who want to be published someday will learn from my mistakes. That you’ll understand what you’re up against. That you’ll understand the value of a good rejection. That you’ll try again when asked. That — when all else fails — you’ll just laugh.

Failure sucks, yes, but it’s a critical part of your growth. Not just as a writer, but as a human being.

I recently stumbled across a pretty cool blog post about failure.3 In it, David Lee points out the obvious:

Personal failure can be debilitating. It’s like getting your heart broken for the first time. It’s someone telling you that you’re not good enough. It’s about feeling exposed or feeling a deep sense of loss, embarrassment or humiliation.

Right. We all know that already. It’s practically axiomatic. But he also points out the benefits of failure:

You understand that there are times where no matter how hard you try or how hard you work, sometimes you’re not good enough. If success without failure breeds pride, then failure can foster humility, drive and true self-confidence.

And, of course, there’s a very real danger, too:

The flip side is that failure can be so debilitating that people don’t want to experience it again. And some people never are the same once they experience it.

I don’t like being a cheerleader for people who want to be writers. I dislike the tone of “You can do it! Just keep at it! If you believe in yourself, it’ll happen!” that permeates our culture and our authorial subculture. Because you know what? Some people, I’m sorry to say, can’t do it. Some people truly lack the crucial combination of talent and wherewithal and whatever-else that leads to success in their chosen field.

Is this sad? Sure. But the world is full of sad, and this particular flavor is no worse than any other.

We live in an instant gratification society. Which is a really tedious thing to say because we’ve always lived in an instant gratification society. What makes it different and more pernicious today is that we have the means to act on that need for immediate feedback and success. Publisher rejects your work? In the past, you would grind your teeth and try again, and maybe a year later, you would realize what you were doing wrong and fix it and maybe get published then.

But now… Publisher rejects your work? Fuck them. Fuck the whole system. I’ll just put it on my blog. Or on Kindle. Whatever.

Yeah, you get that instant gratification, but you don’t learn a goddamn thing.

I am a vastly better writer today thanks to the fat binder full of rejections in the filing cabinet next to my desk. Each one of those rejections ripped away a piece of my soul and stomped my dreams into the dirt, but each one was also an opportunity for me to get better.4

Today, in the name of self-esteem and self-confidence, we tell children that they are gods. Everyone who plays gets a trophy. Everyone wins and no one loses. But the world isn’t like that. And just because you sweated and bled and wept to write your opus, the world — the publishing industry — does not owe you anything. It does not owe you success or publication or even reading past page ten.

So, I’m not going to tell you, “Keep trying! You’ll make it!” I’m just going to tell you this: Failure — rejection — is not a sign of not getting there.

It’s just a sign of not getting there yet.



  1. That’s not strictly true — I have plenty of them left. I’m just not showing you one this week.
  2. You’ll see one such rare exception at some point, I promise. It’s a doozy…
  3. Go ahead — read the whole thing, if you want. It’s pretty good.
  4. And yes, possibly a couple of them were “undeserved.” Whatever that means. No one deserves to be published. Being published isn’t a right.


  1. Awwww, I love you. Realistic views on the world are nice.

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