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Turning Rejection Into Inspiration #ShareYourRejection
Written by
She Writes
September 2018
Written by
She Writes
September 2018

This past week, some of your favorite bestselling authors went on record to talk about their worst rejections and the difficulties they faced during the publishing process. From Roxane Gay to Jennifer Weiner and more, these renowned authors have faced some very difficult rejections.

Roxane Gay 











Tomi Adeyemi








Allison Winn Scotch






Jennifer Weiner






Akwaeke Emezi












More rejection stories from talented authors: 

Cardyn Brooks on one editor's feedback to her organic integration of ethnicity into her cast of characters in Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure:

"Dodging Eros is extremely well-written. I can't remember ever reading a book that has come to us "cleaner." You've obviously worked hard, made connections, had beta readers and did everything right... 

I also find the lack of revealing to the reader that some of the main characters are African American is very problematic. Readers will hate this. They want to be able to feel like they can identify and relate to the characters and want to make pictures in their minds. This is not a racial issue - books with people of color and interracial couples sell well, but people like to KNOW. They don't like to feel tricked.

My first thought was, What the...?! 

So not describing my black characters with bright pink gums, wide noses and not comparing their skin tones to a sliding scale of food and drink means I’m hiding their blackness like a shameful secret? Because if a character isn't explicitly labeled as black or brown, then they're assumed to be Anglo (unless their language and circumstances are coded in stereotypical ways)?   

The persistence of the white-default in mainstream publishing endures to the detriment of inclusive casts of characters who represent members of marginalized communities in ways that feel authentic, relevant and respectful to the diversity within those populations beyond the entrenched distortions of stereotypes, caricatures and fetishes.  

That publisher and I parted ways soon after this exchange."


Last week I received a rejection slip that spiraled me into the fetal position, stealing my breath away. It had been such a great day with my students, and months since I had sent off that essay in question, the one about the death of my daughter – that I was caught in a gut response by the quick change of my mood. It made me nauseous. And then I remembered:

-I am a writer.

-I have grit.

-This isn’t personal.

-This might hurt, but it will also help.

-The editor’s note was handwritten, for God’s sake. Cherish it.

Why does my mind go into an automatic whirlwind of self-doubt every time a rejection slip arrives? I’m not alone. Writer friends have reported similar responses. We all know that rejection slips are part of the business of getting published, so why is it that one rejection carries more weight than a glowing acceptance? I once heard another writer say that an acceptance always cancels out the rejections. Not for me. I guess haven’t learned how to do that yet.

Sure, I have my “important” list of seven memorized, the one I’ve laminated to my brain when I see one of those responses in my mailbox:

1. This is just one person’s opinion.

2. If a rejection cuts to the core, consider it carefully (especially if the story receives similar responses by several lit mags).

3. Make sure I know what a publication is looking for.

4. Trust my gut in knowing how to proceed.

5. Discover the language of rejection slips. (There’s a secret code in an editor’s message, which can mean anything from adoration to lousy timing to disgust.)

6. Print out Brevity.com’s fabulous “Form Rejection Decoder Thingy” (a ‘cootie-catcher’ game) and have fun.

7. Paper the wall with the best rejections. (I’m working on papering a window frame.)

Brin Miller

My story is a very unlikely story.  In fact, my life was upended one terrible night in 2011 when I learned that my teenage stepson had been sexually abusing our two daughters. My marriage, already crumbling and unable to sustain itself, broke for the final time. My husband’s son had severely abused our daughters. But against all odds, my husband and I, along with their daughters, are able to learn resilience, forgiveness, strength and courage. Miraculously, and our marriage began to heal.

Buried Saints is a fast and raw memoir of forgiveness and resilience solely from a mother’s perspective. A perspective never told. It is a revelatory look into a family, through the eyes of my pain, deeply destroyed by deceit. Mostly, it is a truly astonishing story about the intense, unpredictable love that grew out of this tragic situation. The reader feels the failure deeply so they can embrace the true miracle behind the healing. 

After the book had been edited, I sheepishly asked a few select people in the publishing industry to help direct me. My Aunt being one of them. 

She said, “I didn’t really want so much detail about your marriage -- It would be enough to just say the marriage was rocky and that you’d both been, well, burned before.

I wanted the book to focus on the abuse, on how you handled it and also on how to help children like your stepson –What help is he getting now? The abuse journey brought your family together, paradoxically, and reflection on that is great. But I wanted to hear more reflection from the girls and from your stepson. Tell the story from their sides, too.”

Given this was my story of a broken mom, me, who was burned in the most evil way and the bravery it took to tell my story vs. presenting three perspectives that aren’t mine to tell, it was an incredible let down. It felt as if I was punched in the gut and as if she was trying to deter me from publishing. I thought hard about quitting right there and then. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t represent the perspectives of a 13, four and three-year-old.

Would the world only want to know what the perpetrator was thinking? Was I the invisible person who pieced together the wreckage but needed to stay silent? Worse, was she suggesting I hadn’t done enough for the troubled boy who I had once protected that turned his rage on my daughters, his sisters?

After a few days of prayer and reflection I confided this rejection to a friend who reminded me of the shame, blame and fear that surrounds sexual assault. And most of all the silence!  I was reminded that I can tell the story like no other specifically because I am the mom and most especially because all three kids were under my watch and care.

Their stories aren’t mine to even tell. I can only authentically tell mine. And moms of victims don’t come forward.  I had to push through the pain of the rejection and find my strength to push on. 

Kelly Kittel

Like Water Over The Dam

Three months after my memoir, Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict, was published, I was vacationing at our lake in Maine when I read the first of what today, four years later, comprises a total of three one-star Amazon reviews. Three out of 135, 83% of which have five stars, so hardly worth a second thought, right? Except that, as I said, it was my first, so I chewed on it a bit. Entitled A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Bitterness, the review was written by the wife of my brother-in-law’s college friend, a friend of my husband’s family you could say, since that family no longer includes us in any meaningful way.

Seventeen years before my book was born, our fourth child, Noah, was run over when he was 15 months old by my then 16-year-old niece in my in-law’s driveway. Nine months later, our fifth child, Jonah, was stillborn due to medical error. And by the time I read this one-star review, almost the entirety of my husband’s large family was estranged because his sister, the mother of said niece, had managed to turn almost everyone against us. We, who might have been considered the victims, were conversely treated like the perpetrators as the number of people exiting our lives increased accordingly. As I always say, if it wasn’t my life, I’d never believe it.

Noah’s death was an accident. But the many harmful things heaped upon us afterwards were not, including when this same sister voluntarily testified against us in a subsequent medical malpractice trial for Jonah’s death. “Families are either supportive or they stay out of the way,” our attorney said as we tried to alleviate his mystification, and our own, as to what kind of family we came from. Happily, we prevailed on behalf of Jonah in spite of our family’s efforts to the contrary.

I always say I wrote my memoir to help others and to tell Noah and Jonah’s stories because we knew that many untruths had been told. And we knew this because, otherwise, it made no sense to us that folks like this Amazon reviewer had chosen to remain loyal to our family members who, in our experience, were not only destructive, but cruel. The review read, “Though her [meaning my niece’s] parents tried over and over to help Kelly in the time that followed the accident, at some point they had to protect their own daughter from the damage Kelly was causing by constantly and publically [sic] calling their daughter a murderer.” Ouch. Spelling aside, every word of this particular sentence is not only a grievous falsehood, but I can’t even place that last one in my mouth without cringing.

I took a long walk in the woods, that morning in Maine, and thought of the many replies I could dash off including the one that usually feels the most satisfying, which is a simple “Fuck you.” Of course I never wrote that. I knew it was folly to reply to reviews, especially bad ones. Instead, on that summer day, I leaned on the railing of a bridge suspended over the dam between our lake and the one below. I pondered the review and its final, terrible word. Murderer, I said aloud, shaping each of the three syllables on my tongue, rolling them around and breaking them down. I formed each letter, one by one, then I mentally spit them into the water flowing beneath me, picturing them disappearing over the edge of the waterfall and tumbling against the profusion of boulders punctuating the stream below before swirling on into the next lake and out of my life, forever.

At the end of each Amazon review there’s an option to indicate if the review was helpful or not. And if it weren’t for algorithms, I might have indicated that, yes, indeed, this review was helpful for me. But not because it was such an excellent review of my book. Because that, it surely wasn’t. It was a review of me, the author, which is unfair according to the rules of book reviews. You can review the toilet seat, itself, but not the toilet seat maker, per se, which is what I wrote to Amazon when I requested they remove it. Which they did not. Rather, I appreciated this review because it gave us some insight into the lies that had been told. It helped us to understand one of the reasons why people had circled the wagons around my niece and her family, casting us out into the wilderness in spite of our already considerable devastation and grief.

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