On Handling Rejection

14 Nov

Fact: Everyone gets rejected at some point in their life.

Fact: Rejection stings.

Fact: Some people need to think before responding to said rejection.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen many a rejection letter. I’ve gotten them myself when querying, or applying for internships and jobs. I’ve also written them in regards to all sorts of submissions. And you know what? Neither is enjoyable. Nobody likes to open their email to find a pile of rejection letters that have stacked up over the course of a few hours’ sleep. Also not enjoyable? Having to tell someone their work isn’t right for you. I like to think I’m a nice person, so I really hate having to tell people their material isn’t good. You have to be honest, but as we all know, the truth can sometimes hurt, and nobody wants to be the one doing the hurting.

Here’s the thing, though. In my time working in publishing, I’ve seen many an author act before they took the time to think things through. It’s resulted in some incredibly embarrassing emails on their part, and frustration on mine. And every other intern/assistant/agent/editor out there, for that matter.

So here’s what I propose — some handy dandy step-by-step instructions on how to handle that rejection letter.

1. Open letter.

2. Read letter.

3. Re-read letter.


5. Take a deep breath.

6. Go do something else. Preferably something non-literary. Like mudding. Or watching mindless hours of television (British, preferably).

7. Re-read letter again.


9. Cross off magazine/journal/agent/editor from your list.

10. Move on.

If you didn’t catch my subtle hints, I’d suggest not responding to rejection letters. Make a note on your chart that someone passed and move on. The worst thing you can do is to write a response that’s mean-spirited, condescending, judgmental, and angry. You’re giving the person you queried yet another reason why they shouldn’t work with you, not to mention the fact that you’re giving yourself a bad name. People talk, and if you make a big deal out of one lousy rejection letter, it’s fairly likely that other people are going to hear about it and won’t be so interested in working with you. Publishing’s a relatively small community, and trust me, word gets around.

The only time it’s really acceptable to respond is to send a quick note thanking the person for their time, especially if you met them in person, they gave personalized feedback, or you were referred to them by someone else (ie: one of their clients). Aside from that, it’s best to just move on. A lot of agents have interns who handle their email, so chances are they may not see that response you send anyway. Unless it falls under the category of majorly unprofessional, in which case I can guarantee they’ll see it.

So, when it comes to professionalism, the bottom line is you need to maintain it at all times. Even when you’d rather not, it’s always best to think before you speak.


A former agency intern and lit mag manager, Sammy Bina is now the literary assistant at N.S. Bienstock in New York City. In her free time she’s busy rewriting her YA novel DON’T MAKE A SCENE. She tweets a bunch and has a new blog, which you can visit here.


7 Responses to “On Handling Rejection”

  1. Cindy November 14, 2011 at 11:22 AM #

    Mmm, I thought it’s always more professional to send a letter/email back, thanking the agent for his or her time, suggestions for improvement (I wouldn’t recommend this one, but you never know…), or at least trying to keep in touch for the future. That way, no bridges are burned and when you try querying again, at least you left off on a good note.

    • Sammy Bina November 14, 2011 at 9:46 PM #

      Always send a thank-you after interviews, but as far as queries go, there really isn’t a point. Agent inboxes are always flooded, so adding to that mess isn’t really helpful. Unless they took time to personally tell you what to work on, or, as I said, they represent someone who referred you, it’s best to just leave rejection well enough alone.

  2. AuthorVanessa November 14, 2011 at 11:46 AM #


    Just received my bajillionth rejection letter. It was from Geist Magazine, a mag I adore, so I couldn’t really feel too badly for their rejection. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been rejected by them. I did get a letter to the editor published…this took a bit of the sting off all the rejections! In any case, I’ve never responded to a rejection letter…but I have written many poems born out of the feelings that rejections have caused. I’ve submitted them, and guess what – they got rejected as well. And so the cycle continues. I can cover more than one room’s walls with all my rejections. Apparently, for me, it’s the whole house I’ll have to cover before I get some poetry published! The thing is…I don’t give up. I can’t. I submit less these days…but it’s because I’m working on other projects…I don’t have time to submit and pull my focus away from my novel. It’s NaNoWriMo after all…
    Anyway, you’re right. A non-response is the best response one can give. Or…if one must – respond but don’t send…

    • Sammy Bina November 14, 2011 at 9:47 PM #

      Don’t worry, you’re not the only one getting rejected at least! I’ve been turned down loads of times, and so has everyone else here! At least there’s camaraderie in that 😉

  3. Vanessa Di Gregorio November 14, 2011 at 3:13 PM #

    Hear hear Sammy!

    • Sammy Bina November 14, 2011 at 9:47 PM #

      High five!

  4. Leonicka (@leonicka) November 14, 2011 at 11:16 PM #

    I think you should say it one more time in case anyone missed. Seriously. This is SUCH important advice

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