The 7 Stages of Literary Rejection

A writer goes through a lot of emotions when that rejection letter shows up in his or her inbox, and it occurred to me these emotions are similar to those involved with grieving or loss (more or less). I’m sure you’ve all heard of the seven stages of grieving (the Kübler-Ross model, I believe), and I’ve seen the model used for everything from breakups to business deals, so why not rejection letters. So here are the seven stages of rejection, as this writer sees it, anyway.

1) Shock

What the actual fuck?! A rejection? But “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” was perfect for Monkey Junkies Quarterly!

I think this feeling is truer for new writers. I’m certainly not all that surprised when I get a rejection letter these days. Still, I can remember my first few rejections, and I do recall being a bit shocked that one submission didn’t equal one acceptance. Crazy, right?

2) Denial

So what if Monkey Junkies Quarterly is a totally rad professional market I’ve been trying to crack for the better part of a decade. Who cares that they just sent me my thirty-seventh form rejection? Whatevs.

Rejection hurts. So, of course, the first thing you tell yourself is that it doesn’t. You know, cuz you’re a tough, salty writer with skin thicker than alligator ass. And that’s what I’ll tell you if you ask me how I’m feeling right after a rejection (sometimes it’s even true). Usually, I take my denial with a healthy dose of distraction: video games, binge-watching documentaries about dinosaurs, anything that takes my mind off my writerly woes for a while.

3) Anger

It’s bullshit, man. I’ve read the stories in Monkey Junkies Quarterly and “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is way, way better than the crap they’re actually buying.

Remember when I said rejection hurts? Well it’s only natural that sometimes you react to pain with anger. It happens to the best of us, and as long as that anger doesn’t travel beyond the fleshy confines of your noggin, say in the form of a reply to a rejection letter, it’s perfectly natural to get a little pissed off from time to time. Just remember, a rejection isn’t a personal attack on you or your work.

4) Bargaining

Well, if I completely change the first half of the story, make the moon monkeys moon gorillas, and then add a subplot about their mole-people allies, I might have a better shot at acceptance next time.

For me, this stage of the rejection cycle invariably makes me want to tinker with the story. Sometimes this is the right reaction, especially when I’ve been given solid feedback I agree with. The danger here is to tinker too soon, like when you’ve only received a couple of form rejections that don’t tell you anything useful. There are plenty of good reasons to revise a story, but doing it as knee-jerk reaction to a rejection isn’t one of them.

5) Guilt/Anxiety

Fuck, “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” wasn’t ready for submission. Why in the world did I send it out? If I’d only spent another month defining the motivations of Mofo, the Master Moon Monkey, I might have had a chance.

This one is similar to the bargaining stage, but instead of doing something potentially constructive (like revising the story), I usually just wallow in anxiety and focus on all the things that must be wrong with the story. This stage usually passes quickly for me because, hey, the good stuff is in the next stage.

6) Depression

“Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is fucking terrible, and I’m a terrible writer. My dream to be the premier author of lunar-based simian fiction was just a pipe dream. Who was I kidding?

If you’re a writer, then I’d put money on the fact that you’ve dealt with depression at some point in your life. Rejection can trigger depression like nobody’s business, especially if you haven’t sold a piece yet or if a particular piece you like gets rejected a bunch of times. Again, I think this a pretty natural way to feel, and for me, the best way to get over it is to commiserate with my writer pals, read good reviews of my work, and maybe, you know, write an entire blog about rejection.

7) Acceptance

You know, now that I look at it again, “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is actually pretty fucking rad. My alpha readers loved it, right? Hey, looks like All About Apes is open for submissions again . . .

Yep, like all things, this too shall pass. After the sting of rejection fades, and you look at the story again, more often than not, you’ll see what needs fixing. Or, maybe it’s fine as is, and you just need to find the right market for it. If it’s a good story, it will find a home eventually. That said, sometimes the acceptance stage of rejection is the realization that the story or even your writing needs more work, and that’s okay too. The point is to take the whole rejection thing in stride, keep working on your craft, and to realize you are absolutely not alone when it comes to getting kicked in the skull by the ol’ rejection roundhouse.

Got a different take on the seven stages? Tell me about it in the comments.

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