The Way I Like My Rejections – Guest Post

I am so excited to welcome my friend Lara Schiffbauer for my first-ever guest post here on Seeking the Inner Ancient. It’s so appropriate, as Lara and I have a growing history of shared firsts. She was this blog’s first-ever commenter. Then she conducted an interview of this humble writer for her wonderful blog, Motivation for Creation–a first for both interviewer and subject.

Lara  is a talented writer I first met via Writer Unboxed. She and I bonded over our mutual love of Star Wars, and we have since been sharing the road toward publication together, which leads me to her topic for the day. It’s one I’m all too familiar with, and I couldn’t be more delighted by her views and advice on a subject we, as writers, all face.

Take it away, Lara:

This summer I entered the dubious country of Queryland.  I finished my manuscript on May 30th, and crossed the threshold into the world of query letters, synopses and rejections, oh my!

Queryland isn’t exactly a warm, fuzzy place.  Nor is it totally unknown to me.  I started submitting short stories about two years ago, and amassed quite a few rejections before I got some acceptances.  I’ve been querying my novel for a month, and now have four or five rejections under my belt.

Over time, I’ve realized certain rejections are preferable to me, and certain rejections aren’t.  I also realized I’m only at the start of Rejection Trail for my novel, and I better come up with a method to handle all the stress without becoming suicidal (joking!)

Three Ways I Like My Rejections

Quick – The first rejection I ever got, I received less than twenty-four hours after I submitted my story, Bear Hug.  I later submitted to an audio short story book publication which took eight months to reject it .  I learned that quick is better.  A quick rejection allows me to move on, and hopefully get the story to a person who thinks it’s as cool as I do.  The only downside is that you can rack up the rejections faster, too!

Friendly –This is where I like the magazine rejections better.  I don’t know if they had any less submissions than the agents I’ve sent my query to, but three of the rejections for Bear Hug wrote back really nice, encouraging (albeit short) comments.  It was like using a doe-skin glove to slap my face rather than a chain mail gauntlet.

 Do No Harm – At the very least, I prefer my rejections in the form of a form letter.  I know that sounds odd, but the alternative can be evil.  I’ve read stories of scathing rejections.  That kind of nonsense is cruel and unhelpful.

Three Ways I Don’t Like My Rejections

Ganging Up – It doesn’t matter if I’ve sent queries/submissions out months apart, they will inevitably end up back in my e-mail box on the same day, or insanely close to each other.  This has happened frequently enough that last week when I got one rejection on Tuesday, I asked my husband if he wanted to take bets on which day the second would come in.  I was surprised it waited until Thursday.

Well-intentioned Mean Stuff – I have a friend who received a rejection from an agent who, after telling my friend what she liked about the story, told her to “bone up on your grammar.”  My friend does not have a grammar problem.  I believe the agent was trying to be helpful, but it didn’t end up helpful at all.  The upside?  If nothing else, the whole interaction let my friend know that she didn’t want to work with that agent, anyway.

Bad Timing – No, there is no good time to receive a rejection, but there are definitely times that are worse than others.  Remember that rejection I received on Thursday?  It came about ten minutes after I had just had a fabulous plotting session for my next novel.  I was flying high on creativity, and thinking “Yes! I can do this writing thing.”  I didn’t even get a full evening of feeling competent before the rejection came in.  Please, please, please, gentle rejection, give me a chance to feel some pleasure before the pain!

So What’s a Writer to Do?

I have identified three things I do that help me get my brain straightened around and remember a rejection is not the end of the world.  Really.

Exercise – There are two reasons why I think exercise helps.  The first is the endorphins, as well as the serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline, which are released and work together to make us feel happy and have happy, creative thoughts.  The other reason is because by exercising we can burn off the frustration we feel with each and every rejection.  Or, am I the only one who gets frustrated?

Chocolate (or some coma inducing junk food of your choice) –  I have long reacted to stress by eating.  When my date for the senior prom ditched me a week before the event, I ate a half-gallon of cherry nut ice cream in about a half-hour flat.  What I have learned over the years is moderation.  Put a limit on how much you can indulge yourself, and then go for it, if you want.  It’s called comfort food for a reason.  Sometimes we just need Hersheys to kiss the boo-boo on our writer egos.

Write, damn it! – There is no substitute.  Kurt Vonnegut says it best.  “You must stay drunk on writing so reality can’t bite you in the ass.”  That’s the version I live by.  Reality, and rejection, can be a nasty you-know-what.  Writing is a magic pill that takes me out of myself and my insecure feelings, and plops me into a place full of witches, angels and happy endings.  It’s a much more preferable place to be.

How do you handle rejections?

 Lara Schiffbauer is a writer, licensed clinical social worker, mother of two, wife of one, and a stubborn optimist.  She loves Star Wars, Lego people, science, everyday magic and to laugh.  You can find Lara on Twitter at @LASbauer, or at her blog,  Motivation for Creation.

47 comments on “The Way I Like My Rejections – Guest Post

  1. kimbullock says:

    Great advice as I prepare to enter Queryland. (Gulp!)


  2. Normandie says:

    I’ve been moving about in Queryland for years. (Too, too many.) Oh, I had some early successes, including two agents over the years, but those publisher rejections always came at the moment I least wanted them. I got to the point where I said, fine, if I only write for an audience of one, no biggie. I’ll write. I can’t not, so I might as well look at it positively, right? I didn’t want to change my stories to fit some imagined idea of what would sell, so there we sat.

    As more and more of my agent’s clients sold to publishers, I wanted to duck, hoping he wouldn’t notice the stack of no-thank-yous that had come my way. Chocolate? Yep. Exercise. Yep. Prayer. Yep. Positive lectures to this rejected self? Yep.

    Finally, someone wanted one of my books. It seems, when the time was right, that more than one someone wanted it. My smile widened. Maybe, just maybe, all those accumulated stories lining my hard drive will find wings, too.

    Take heart. Very few writers sell right away. And if they do, then we can just wish them well and hang together under the banner of Encouragers in the Land of Queries.


    • Applause for persevering, and sticking to the stories of your heart, Normandie! Thanks for lighting the way with a hardwon success story! Wishing you the best moving forward! And thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting!


    • Oh my gosh! You just spoke to my heart! I’ve been struggling this week with thoughts like “what if I’m good-enough, but I still don’t get any takers because my story is just too different.” If I’m not up to snuff, I can get better, but when it’s out of my control… I get a little anxious. Thanks for the story of inspiration.


      • Normandie says:

        Lara, my first agent sent my work to some big NY houses. They came back with rejections like, “Too sweet for our market.” I could have told her that — I’m not big on detailed sex scenes. I’ve had submissions sent to markets that said, “Um, not sweet enough, not this enough, not that enough, too this, too that. No one wants to read about some woman who sails. Or about folk who bop around to foreign lands.” (Why not, I’d like to know?) My favorite recent comment? “Protagonist too much the victim.” Well, hello! Of course, she was. That was the whole point of that story–her life was a disaster until she figured out how to change it and climb out of victim-hood into strength.

        So, we write the stories that are in us. If they sell, great. If they don’t, we still had to write them, didn’t we? Because if we try to write someone else’s story, we’ll fail to live up to the best we can be.

        I love that you’re concentrating on the things that can be improved. I have a critique partner who is brutal, but every time she makes suggestions, they improve the work. She’s my first line of defense. I have other readers who look for errors, but she’s the one who smacks it to me. I can’t tell you how grateful I am when she points me to a fixable path.

        While we’re getting those rejections, let’s hone our craft and then hone it some more!


      • Normandie – I couldn’t find a new repy to your comment, so if this comes out above, I apologize. Now, I said all that just to say “Yep, let’s hone that craft and write more stories!”


  3. deedetarsio says:

    As a stubborn pessimist (Holla, Vaughn!) I like my rejections straight up. (Followed by a chaser kick in the pants to keep moving forward!) Thanks for the post!


  4. ddfalvo says:

    What a delight to wake this AM and find a new post combining two of my favorite “Tribe” members– it’s a double treat with sage advice. I love Star Wars, too– woohoo! 😛

    Queryland scares the hell out of me. My untried ms feels like a safety net I’m loathe to move from when I read about the rejections/intolerant agents, etc. other authors experience. I really appreciate your solid advice, Lara! And it’s helpful to know we are not alone in how this process makes us feel.

    And, oh yes– exercise is so wonderful for unstopping creativity, exorcising the demons and just feeling good. I make notes at the gym, which helps me waste those resting minutes between sets, where I’m otherwise bored. Of course I get odd looks– peeps think I’m a texting freak, I suppose.

    God bless your queries with much success, my friend. 😀 I’m so looking for to published books from both Vaughn and Lara.


    • Yay, another Star Wars afficionado! I shoulda known, D! Really, people take note of your texting of notes to yourself? I’m sort of glad. Seems like everywhere I look now, people are tilting their heads to some screen. I’m glad your head-tilting is for such an worthy reason.

      As far as I’m concerned, you’re on this road with us (even if you’re not quite ready to tread into Q-land just yet), and I’m glad for the company! Thanks, Denise!


    • I’m a little afraid to reply, because I started a comment and now have no idea where it went! Every time I send a query/submission, I take a deep breath before I hit the enter key. It is scary, especially when it’s most likely going to end up with a “no thanks.” Unfortunately, it’s part of the game to be played if we want to go with traditional publishing. I’ve noticed after a few, my anxiety raises, and after a few more, I become kind of numb…and stubborn! It’s getting to the numb spot that’s uncomfortable!

      I’ve read your writing – you’re good! I am sure good things will happen for you. Something else I try to tell myself is that it’s not necessarily because I suck that they reject my ms. It’s not personal. It’s just the way it is. That’s why the quick ones are best!

      I love that you take notes at the gym! That’s dedication, both ways!


  5. Thank you, Vaughn, for letting me come and visit! It’s always fun to get to meet new people.


    • My pleasure, Lara! 🙂 I hope everyone takes a minute to go check out Lara’s wonderful blog, via the links above. She’s miles ahead of me in the blogging department, so I appreciate everything she’s done for me–interview, guest post, numerous mentions, et al. 🙂


  6. Queryland is definitely a terrifying place. Lara, I’m with you — chocolate and exercise (not necessarily in that order) are essential! Thanks for the good advice! (And with a seven-year-old boy in the house, I’m just starting the Star Wars experience…)


    • I sort of envy you, seeing Star Wars through fresh eyes. It’s a classic myth at its core. I went on the day the first one opened (I think I was fifteen) not knowing how much it would affect the rest of my life (I’m not obsessed or anything 😉 ). Thanks, Liz!


    • My boys are 5 and 6, but we’ve been Star Wars obsessed for at least a year now. It’s gotten so bad I’ve begun limiting how many times we can watch the movies a week. 🙂 They really like the Clone Wars cartoon, too!

      Thanks for stopping by!


  7. Nicole L. Bates says:

    What a great post Lara! I have been racking up the rejections for a while now and I agree on the quick and friendly points. There is nothing worse than waiting for weeks upon weeks for yet another “No thanks”, unless it’s a really nasty version of no thanks (which I fortunately haven’t encountered yet). I think the only thing to do is keep on keepin’ on. Best of luck to you!


    • Querying is one of those activities not for the fainthearted. It’s great to have support in community, though! I agree, there isn’t much else to do but continue and keep looking. I got the most rejections on Bear Hug, but I eventually found a place that was looking for stories just like it. Was it a huge magazine? No, but at least people are getting to read it and enjoy it, which is why I wrote it! Good luck to you, too!


      • I love the assumption behind you advice to keep on keepin’ on, Nicole. I implies none of us are just going to crawl under a rock. Having our tribe to boost us every once in a while is all we need. We’re not quitters! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  8. I love your perspective, Lara! I remember my first rejection. I think I was eleven. Highlights magazine sent a kind note, and already a big Stephen King fan, I stuck it on a nail and the collection began. I was a feisty kid and that kid would kick my butt every now and again when I eat a pint of Rocky Road and skip the run. 😉

    Lara, you and Vaughn rock! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


    • I didn’t collect my first writing rejection until I was in my late forties, so you’ve got one up on me. Coincidentally, my first was also Highlights Magazine. 😉

      No, you rock! Well, you and Lara! 🙂 Thanks, Tonia!


    • We all rock! 😀 I’m impressed with your tenacity, Tonia! Now that I think about it, I got my first ever rejections for some poetry I wrote in high school. I threw them away and then decided to not do that again! The next round started in my very late thirties, but I’m better equipped to handle it, I think. 🙂

      Is your Rocky Road preference the kind with marshmallows, or the marshmallow swirl? I really have to stay away from ice cream. Too much ends up gone in too little amount of time!


  9. When I got my first rejection on my query, I felt as if I’d gone through a necessary rite of passage. “Now, that’s done. Move on.” I guess I held on to a little bit of that. I remind myself that it’s all just business. It’s not personal. I hate when the rejections come in groups — and they always do — but however they come, I just keep writing. What else is a writer going to do? 🙂


    • Isn’t that the funniest thing how they group up? I read on someone else’s blog that it happens to them, too. It’s so weird that it’s apparently universal. I agree – not personal… Just keep writing, just keep writing…


    • I like that thought–a rite of passage. I received my first query rejection in 22 minutes. Granted, it was the worst query letter ever written, but still, I remain awed by that swiftness. It sort of shocked me into being more cautious, so I’m actually grateful.

      And I totally get that it’s just business. My wife used to do the hiring for our business, and for my departments, she would take 2-300 resumes, parse those to 20 first interviews, and bring back three to five for me to talk to. It was just business. You’re looking for the best, but by necessity, you’re eliminating those you CAN, just because you can (if that makes sense). It’s part of the process. And I gave that first speedy rejector a lot of reasons to eliminate me. 😉

      Great point, what else are we gonna do? Thanks, Lisa! 🙂


  10. J. P. Cabit says:

    Quick & Friendly are the best. Even a one line, “Thank you, this looks fascinating but we can’t take it right now,” is great. Hey, beating around the bush is great in moderation. The worst one I got basically said, “No thanks,” and nothing else. That hurt.

    Anyway, could definitely relate 🙂


    • Thanks, J.P.! I’ve thought about it from an agent’s perspective, and I guess I can’t blame them for not venturing further than “Not for us.” Because writing is so subjective and what one person likes another may think is trash, it’s probably better to not elaborate. It does leave me a little bewildered. Is it my query? Is it my writing? Is it my story idea? Is it because they don’t want to look at another witch story for as long as they live? I’m struggling to get to the point of not needing to know. Just do my best and hope for the best!


  11. hawleywood40 says:

    We could happily (or as happily as you can get with them, anyway) dine on rejections together, Lara, we like them the same way : )! So agree on the timing thing. One I got just after getting an acceptance for another piece left just a little nick on my day, one I got while at a conference in Colorado when I was already feeling a bit homesick and overwhelmed with new work stuff made me bawl off my mascara in my hotel room. Writing and exercising through them are the best cures for me, although I often have to kick myself in the rear to get going on one or the other after a rejection!


    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I so agree, it can be wrenching, and writing and exercise, as Lara recommends, both work wonders! 🙂


    • Hi, Pam! Thanks for coming over! What conference did you go to in Colorado and when? I went to the Pikes Peak Writer’s conference this April. And yes, it’s totally hard sometimes to get back on the horse, as they say!


  12. I prefer my rejections quick. Though I don’t wait after each submission. Even if the publisher/magazine says they don’t want simultaneous queries. If I have a story or article I want to publish, I submit it all over the place. What publisher in her right mind would expect a writer to wait eight months? Now, that’s cruel. If an editor tells me something I know is not true (like that grammar thing), I just say to self, “She don’t know nothing ’bout no grammar!” and move on.


    • Smart advice, Karen, to submit widely. I agree, eight months is beyond the pale. Thanks so much for adding your wisdom to the conversation! 🙂


    • See, I wish I could ignore that little rule-bound police officer who sits next to my inner critic inside my head who tells me to follow the rules all the time! I’ve gotten better about taking some matters into my own hands, but it’s so hard for me to go against rules!


  13. katmagendie says:

    Good tips here, Lara!

    I haven’t had to do the query thing for a while now but how I did when I was querying – If it was a rejection from someone/some place I really really *thought* I wanted, I’d give myself a certain amount of time to “pout” and eat some junk food and have vodka tonics 😀 Then, back to work!


    • Hi Kat! I’m getting ready to query again, and I love your idea to ‘allow’ myself some junk food and drinks after each rejection. But with my track record, by the time I sell this dang thing I’ll be an overweight lush. 😉 Thanks for stopping by, my friend. I was glad to see that you’re on a roll this morning! Have a great weekend!


      • katmagendie says:

        You have a great weekend, too!

        (some rejections are easy to shrug off – because you didn’t like them all that much anyway – huhn so there *laugh*)


    • Thanks, Kat! I’ve never had a vodka tonic, but I might try it next time (because you know there’ll be a next time!)


      • katmagendie says:

        *laughing* lawd. If you have a porch, “set” on it with the vodka, or some good tea even, and especially if you have a rocker on that porch, and then after you rock awhile, and if you have the smoky mountains to look upon as I do or whatever you have that is nature and lovely, then things zip into perspective.

        Holding a child’s hand does that – if it’s your child or grandchild. Or calling a trusted supporting family member or friend who always says the right thing.


  14. Lara Dunning says:

    I’ve just started entering Queryland on a more regular basis. So far I’ve received two rejections. They were friendly, quick and encouraging. The others have not responded in months and since I don’t know for sure the decision its always looming in my mind.
    I do like form letters too, but if there is a personal touch is more encouraging.


    • First, you’ve got a GREAT name! I always hated the waiting game, because it is an ever-present question “Do they like it or don’t they.” But, it’s good news that you’re getting friendly, encouraging rejections. I hear that is a good indication that you are on the right path. Good luck on your journey through Queryland!


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