The Gift of Rejection

I’ve written ideas for humorous greeting cards for more than twenty years. Acceptance letters from Hallmark, American Greetings and other greeting card companies always brightened my day. My heart skipped a beat whenever I saw an envelope from one of them in the mail. It was exciting to rip it open and find out which of my card ideas had been accepted.

The rejection letters? I liked them too. They provided a constant source of inspiration. If the editor rejected all of my ideas, I’d get even more determined to brainstorm even better ideas that he or she couldn’t resist. Either response—home run or strikeout—inspired me to step my game up.

It’s a head-scratcher to me why virtually every writer I know sinks into the dark depths of despair at the slightest hint of rejection. What a waste of time, energy and productivity! Is your goal to become better at your craft or do you just want people to fawn over you and tell you how wonderful you are? If you want unconditional love, get a dog. If you want to become a great writer, then rejection, especially when its accompanied by constructve criticism, is manna from heaven.

Allow me to present Exhibit A: my first book, The Big Book of Small Business, which I coauthored with Tom Gegax, founder of the Tires Plus chain of stores. After an intense year of writing, rewriting and even more rewriting, we proudly sent off our baby to our agent, who fired it off to ten publishers. The verdict? No one was remotely interested. What’s more, a few of the publishers referred to the quality of the writing as “average.”

I admit I was taken aback. I thought my writing was tight and professional. After consulting with our agent and a number of smart, savvy professionals in his network, Tom concluded that we needed to chuck our masterpiece out the window and start over. He also brought in a hired gun—his son Trent, a senior writer at Newsweek. After completing each chapter, I’d e-mail it to Trent for his corrections.

Every chapter came back from Trent awash in red ink. Here I had tweaked and tightened every chapter until it sparkled and Trent was heavily revising virtually every line. Was I taken aback? Yes, for thirty seconds. But then I regained my equilibrium and started reviewing his changes. Sentence after sentence, page after page, Trent was right on. I saw how changing just one or two worlds and deleting others brought each sentence to life. I was fascinated, and determined to learn how to “Trenterize” my work to bring it up as close as I could to his level.

The next year and a half were grueling. But with a great team effort, we crossed the finish line and produced a book we were enormously proud of. Better yet, I emerged from the experience a much better writer. Working with Trent was akin to earning a master’s in tight, precise writing.

Working on that book confirmed my belief that rejection and constructive criticism are gifts. Without them, I would have continued to bask in complacency and wouldn’t be half the writer I am today.

The secret? Don’t take rejection personally! Editors aren’t rejecting you as a person. They don’t even know you. All they can see are the words on the pages in front of them. So get over yourself and let rejection spur reflection. Never forget this: It’s all about the work, it’s not about you!

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2 Responses to “The Gift of Rejection”

  1. mel Says:


    I can fondly remember all of my submitted articles to our high school paper which were always awash with red ink not to mention several pages marked with “omit this”. But I really learned a lot from it and for that I’m grateful.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Absolutely, Mel. If you got nothing but praise, you wouldn’t have learned and become a better writer.

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