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OPINION: You’re looking at rejection all wrong

Why literary rejection is anything but bad news

Illustration of a trash can overflowing with rejection notices. “We regret to inform you” is a discouraging sentence, but with the right mindset it can become positive. // Illustration by Sam Fozard

“We regret to inform you that your story just isn’t the right fit for us.” As a writer, I rejoice and celebrate in the wake of this declaration. 

I feel blasphemous saying this. I’ve received more than enough of these rejections, and every time, I get that heart-dropping disappointment I’m sure everyone else shares. 

But all writers should pause to take a moment to appreciate the opportunity a rejection provides. Every writer will face rejection – no matter where they are in their career.

Even the king of horror struggled in the beginning.

In “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” Stephen King wrote, “by the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not), the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Rejection is so common in writing that the fear of it can begin before the writing process starts.

Ava DeVries is a creative writing major at Western Washington University, but it took more than declaring to get there – and declaring wasn’t easy.

“I was hesitant to become a creative writing major,” DeVries said. “I was scared of committing to a major that I knew I would have to be vulnerable in.”

DeVries’ concerns are valid ones. Showing your writing to another breathing human is like placing your heart in their palm. But receiving that criticism is an amazing way to grow.

“I had to push past that. If I actually want to become a better writer, then I’m going to have to hear some critical feedback,” DeVries said.

After several rejections, DeVries recently sold her first short story to Broken Antler Magazine.

Rejection is a step forward because it is proof that your work will be out there soon. A writer should cherish their rejections and hold them up like trophies.

I kept all my rejection notices until I got tired of printing the emails. I’ll be honest – I do this entirely to imitate King. Still, I have a folder dedicated to rejections. 

Tim Donahue, Western creative writing alumnus and author of “The James Gang,” turned his rejections into lessons.

Donahue had trouble in the beginning. Editors have seen it all, weeding through bottomless submissions piles. So Donahue was writing what he thought editors would publish, not what he wanted.

“That’s a good lesson rejection gives you,” Donahue said. “Unless it’s specific to you, and unless you’re the only person who can write this, they’ve already seen it.”

I wholeheartedly believe that literary rejection is positive, but that doesn’t mean rejection feels good. It hurts. While a writer can grow numb to it, there will always be that sting whittling away at your resolve.

“Rejection means a writer is producing work and sending them out in hopes to reach out to their readers,” said Ali Ünal, facilitator for Manastash Literary Journal, via email. 

Publication might be a writer’s end goal, but it is impossible to go directly from step A to step Z. It isn’t as simple as walking from A to B, either. You’ll make progress, then hit a roadblock and stumble backwards.

I was ecstatic when I first sold my first story. A couple months later I sold my second piece. It was the best news of my life. In my mind, I’d just solved rent and groceries. Ridiculous, I know. 

Half a year followed with rejection after rejection, and when I opened my third acceptance letter I was greeted with “no monetary payment.”

The publication journey isn’t a straight stairway to the top.

“This just isn’t the right fit for us,” is such a demoralizing claim. 

However, “rejection is rarely a direct reflection on the quality of your work,” said Summer Barnett, poetry editor for Jeopardy Magazine.

Take your rejections, learn from them, keep writing and continue submitting. Prove rejections wrong.

John Oakes

John Oakes (he/him) is an opinions reporter for The Front this quarter. In his free time, he writes fiction and not much else. You can find his work in Etherea Magazine as well as other venues. You can reach him at

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