How To Handle Rejection Letters – #Balticon Panels

The panelists were: Ken Schrader, Joshua Bilmes, Diane Weinstein, Irette Y Patterson, and Scott Andrews

What’s Your Experience With Rejection Letters?

  • Diane Weinstein: She wrote 1,000 rejection letters and never signed her name.
  • Joshua Bilmes: As an agent, when he submits works he’s agenting to publishers, 98+% of the stuff he submits gets rejected.
  • Scott Andrews: Writes and publishes a magazine, “Beneath Ceaseless Skies.” He considers it a point of pride to give a personalized rejection, because he knows he likes them himself. (Also, hopefully it cuts down on the number of Science-fiction submissions he gets for his fantasy themed magazine.)
  • Irette Patterson: Has only been on the receiving end. But agrees that Scott writes great rejection letters.
  • Ken Schrader: Agrees that personalized rejection letters are awesome.

Advice Upon Receiving Rejection Letters

  • “Just don’t be a shit.” – Diane Weinstein quoting Connie Willis. Remember they’re not personal.
  • Never argue with the rejection. – Scott Andrews
  • Never argue that you should be able to do something, just because another author does. – Joshua Bilmes
  • Just because you have a reason to do something ‘wrong’, doesn’t mean you should. – Joshua Bilmes
  • If you get a personalized rejection letter, with useful advice–it is still NOT a “Revise and Resubmit” unless they specifically say so. – Diane Weinstein

“Rejections can seem arbitrary,” said Diane Weinstein.

“Life is arbitrary,” replied Joshua Bilmes.

Worst Rejection Letter

  • A partial slip of paper, with the rejection form printed, then sliced to be mailed to all the rejectees. Not even a full page!
  • Ken Schrader received a rejection letter signed [Designated Reader]. They didn’t even bother making sure their name was selected.

Ways to Recover After a Rejection

  • Critique groups can be helpful – both in being supportive and getting you used to taking criticism
  • You can post online for support – BUT! Be general: don’t name names or share quotes
  • Send it out to another agent! Don’t just sit on it.
  • If you get a personalized rejection letter, many (but not all) agents enjoy a thank you note. Keep it short and sweet, though.
  • Ken Schrader had luck once asking, “What was it that [turned you off]?”, but don’t expect a response.
  • As Douglas Adams says, “Don’t Panic!” Joshua Bilmes and his agents typically submit works they’re representing to 12-14 editors and usually only get one offer. Auctions are rare. Most stuff is rejected by more people than not.

Remember, agents reject a lot of competent stuff, the story needs the right spark on the right day – Diane Weinstein.


    1. If you know how you want to fix it, DO IT!

      If you don’t? Set it aside for a bit and see if fresh eyes help.

      If you’re completely stumped, but feel as though your WIP still has a future, that’s what beta readers are for!


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