Simon Whaley on why rejection is compulsory.

Simon Whaley is the author of ten non-fiction books, including his latest: The Positively Productive Writer. His first book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human (Hodder & Stoughton) spent 4 weeks on the UK bestseller lists in 2003 and continues to sell today. He’s seen over 400 of his articles published in the UK and America and his short stories have been published in the UK, Ireland and Australia. For more information about Simon, visit his website at

No one dreams of being rejected, do they? But along that journey to publication success, every writer is going to have to cope with rejection at some point. I’m sure there is out there, somewhere, a writer, living or long since dead, who has had every piece they’ve ever written accepted. But are they lucky? I don’t think so. How can you truly appreciate success if you have never experienced that dream-shattering moment of rejection?

I’m writing this at 10am. I’ve been rejected twice today, already. I pitched an article idea to an editor, who said no, and an agent I’d approached a couple of weeks ago with my novel said no, too. Does that make me a failure? No. Because only someone who gets off their rear end and sends out their work can ever have it returned, rejected. When I give talks at writers’ groups, or offer feedback to some of my writing students, I frequently hear of people who dream of being a writer, but they never send anything off. Their argument is that they will never be rejected. Which is true. They won’t. But they won’t ever be published either, will they? Rejection proves you’re a writer.

Rejection is a new opportunity. It’s a time to review your text, or scrutinise the rejection for any helpful clues. I’m fortunate that one of my books has been on the bestseller lists. But that book was rejected four times before it was accepted. And every time it was rejected, it was reviewed, rewritten and then sent off again. I was the one who did all that rewriting. So when it was accepted, it was those previous rejections that helped put the acceptance into perspective. Rejection gives value to acceptance.

I sent a non-fiction book proposal to a publisher. They rejected it, but said they’d be happy to look at any other proposals I had. So I worked hard at coming up with some. In the end, I got two book contracts from them. Another publisher rejected a book proposal saying my subject was too narrow. I broadened it and resubmitted. They accepted it. Frequently, rejection can be the start of a relationship, rather than the end of one.

At last year’s Festival of Writing, the word ‘rejection’ wasn’t hushed under the carpet. It was out there in the open, because it is part and parcel of everyday life for a writer. Rejection is normal. One of the events I went to was a Literary Agent question and answer panel. There, an agent said that they took on one new writer from every 1000 submissions they received. That’s 999 rejections then. Did we all get up at that point and walk out because of that rejection rate? No. Because the agent also demonstrated that, despite the high rejection rate, there was still a chance of success. Rejection only exists because the opportunity of success exists alongside it.

Whenever we create a piece of writing, we simultaneously create dreams that we attach to our prose. We dream of what will happen to our words. When we write a novel, we imagine it securing us an agent, who then obtains a publishing contract, which sees the book published, and then, in our wildest of dreams, watch as our novel knocks Stephen King, Martina Cole or Joanna Trollope off the number one spot in the bestseller lists. So when that rejection slip falls onto our doormat, or into our inbox, it seems like the death knell for that particular dream. But in reality, the dream itself isn’t dead. All that has died is that particular route to success. Our journey to that dream has simply taken us down a dead end. Travellers do not plan on getting lost. But when they do, they don’t give up travelling forever. They simply take time to gather more information and devise a new route. Sometimes, getting lost offers a much more interesting journey. Rejection is a writer’s journey to success.

Rejection isn’t about being a failure. It’s about learning your craft as you strive towards your dreams. I think it’s compulsory for all writers, whatever it is they want to write. Rejection proves you’re a writer. Rejection proves you have dreams. Rejection proves you’re prepared to have a go at turning those dreams into reality.

Nine publishers rejected my latest book, The Positively Productive Writer, before it was accepted. With a title like that, I had to get it published, didn’t I? And that’s my point. I did. I didn’t let those other nine rejections destroy my dreams. Rejection is part of everyday life for a writer. Once you accept that, you can get on with your writing. It’s only by getting on again, that enables you to succeed. I mentioned earlier that I’d been rejected twice today. I have also had a success today too. A short story has been accepted for publication in a national magazine. Looking back through my records, I see it notched up eleven rejections before today’s acceptance. See what I mean? Learn to accept that rejection is part of life and that allows you to focus on the positive. Doing more writing.

So if you want to succeed as a writer, understand one thing: rejection is compulsory.

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  • Pingback: Should Rejection be Compulsory? | Simon Whaley()

  • Great post! Totaly agree.

  • John Taylor

    I fully agree, Simon.
    I know my many rejections have made me a better writer. They’ve also reminded me that writing cannot be a one-way process. Writing without thinking about the reader may be a useful exercise from time to time, and a good idea in a private journal. But anyone who aims to be published needs to find out whether their prose will arouse other people’s interest. Whether those people will engage with the text and let it work with their own imagination. Rejection means that one reader didn’t engage: figuring out why may not always be possible, but it is one more step to acceptance.