Monday, 6 December 2021

REJECTION! How to Find the Upside and Create Even Better Work by Natascha Biebow


You’ve all heard them – the stories of how famous authors got hundreds of rejections before they got their book deal (and maybe even got rich).


And you’ve probably heard all the usual advice about how to deal with rejection:

- listen to feedback – join a critique group, cogitate those nuggets that a ‘nice’ rejection letter wings back to you and be prepared to revise.

- take a break and do something different; put your manuscript away for a while so that you can look at it again with fresh eyes.

- practise your craft – bum on seat, keep learning from other writers and take a course or do some mentoring if you can.

- listen to your gut – you know your story and sometimes you have to go right back to the beginning to find it.

- shelve your book; work on another project; always keep trying something new.


And . . . here’s the biggie:

Have courage and patience. Develop a thick skin!

Sounds easy on paper, right? But . . . 

. . .  rejections are hurtful. They sting. They seem like they are a failing on our part, as if they were a measure of our success and worth as authors. Rejections feel like something we should perhaps brush under the carpet. It’s much nicer to talk about good news . . . or the weather.

Even though they are so numerous and common – an everyday part of making it as a writer, really – we find it hard to TALK OPENLY about rejections.

But rejection is actually so commonplace that it should be a NORMAL part of being a writer, or indeed any creative. What if it were ‘normal’ to be rejected, something to be EXPECTED and that we shared more openly?

Rejection is, after all, really a bi-product of learning our craft – it means we’re taking risks and innovating!

If we never failed, we wouldn’t learn what we were good at. It would be difficult to keep improving and produce the best possible work. And, given that we’re creating for young readers, this is means we should be constantly stretching ourselves to make books that are worthy of our audience.

In her book THE REJECTION THAT CHANGED MY LIFE, Jessica Bacal shares some tips for reframing rejection that I’ve found helpful:

- Taking a leaf out of Professor Patricia Linville’s theory of ‘self-complexity’, which is the “phenomenon of having more than one ’self-aspect’, or definition of ourselves”, Bacal suggests considering rejection as just ONE part of your life, and instead focusing on other parts of your life about which you feel positive.

To do this, you can make a list of the things that you CAN do well. For fun, I had a go making a list of all the things I am good at that I wouldn’t put in my cover letter:

Bacal also suggests looking to psychologist Dr Kristin Neff’s theory of ‘self-compassion’ for inspiration. It has three parts:

1. First, acknowledge rejection – allow yourself to feel the pain of rejection and process all the emotions you need to feel.

2. Talk to yourself about the rejection as you would a friend and do something to make yourself feel better. Watch something funny, eat a cookie, binge watch your favourite TV show, share a laugh. Be compassionate towards yourself. Be KIND!
3. THEN normalize the rejection as part of a universal experience – we all experience rejections in life. Yes, make it normal. And, here’s the key:

If you can be part of a group connected in your suffering, this can really help! Having a writing community, such as SCBWI, can be key to helping you to deal with and move past rejection.

This rang true for me, certainly!

If rejection is the new normal for working writers, it will help us to build the emotional stamina to continue to create even better work. If we practise being rejected by failing often, it becomes easier to push ourselves to keep creating and becomes less crushing each time we get a ‘no’.  


In the words of novelist Barabara Kingsolver:


This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”


It’s important keep rejection in proportion.

Celebrating small wins and being kind is definitely helpful. But I’ve also begun to consider that maybe rejection can actually help me become more creative, because it means I’m constantly having to pivot, re-consider my work, and think outside the box.


Rejection is not some scary THING out there. It’s just an ordinary, normal part of being a writer. It just means NO, not this and not yet.


YOU have the power to make it into a YES by being prepared to work at your craft. No one said being a writer was easy. Still, I am visualizing that YES!


Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at


Ali Oxtoby said...

Loved your 'Dear Editor' letter Natascha. I'm going to write my own!

Gill James said...

Yes, absolutely agree with all of that. I always reedit anyway between rejections. This isn't saying the work wasn't the best it could be when I sent it out. It most certainly was. But we move on. Writers move on. What the world wants/ needs moves on.
Healthy attitude from writing friend:she calls them "rewrites".