Dealing With Rejection: 5 Bulletproof Strategies for Writers


5 Bulletproof Strategies for Dealing with Rejection.

Rejection is inevitable when you’re a freelancer. You send out queries and LOIs, you’ll be dealing with rejection.

You get some bites and quote on projects…but then you meet up with characters like No, Not Now, Maybe Later, and Not Interested. When you find yourself reading yet another writing rejection, how do you respond?

Do you bounce back like a rubber band? Or does your confidence get flattened like a pancake?

Too many freelancers let writing rejection get in the way of success. And that’s a big problem. If you let rejection beat you down, you’re not going to make a living writing.

Believe me. I know what it’s like. I started out as a columnist and magazine writer. I experienced some early success and then I stalled. Editors started nailing No’s to my forehead. It was hard not to take it personally. Every writing rejection felt like proof I wasn’t any good, that nobody wanted my work.

I knew I had to do something about it. Fortunately, after a lot of research, trial and error, and thrashing around, I developed five bulletproof strategies.

Coping strategies for dealing with rejection

I took a deep dive into the latest research on self-help, psychology, and building grit. Right away, one thing became clear. If you focus on rejection and failure, guess what you’re going to get? More of the same. Thinking this way can permeate your queries, LOIs, and conversations with prospects and perpetuate rejection.

Sounds pretty dismal, right? It wasn’t easy to change my way of thinking for dealing with rejection. But I had to do something. My research also helped me recognize that having coping strategies for constant rejection often makes the difference between success and failure. So I started putting strategies into practice to revive my writing career. And it worked.

Do you have any coping strategies in place for dealing with rejection? I didn’t have any for a long time, and there’s no question it affected my success—especially my income. Things are a lot better now. My struggle to deal with rejection helped me develop five coping strategies to create a “bulletproof consciousness” that pole-vaulted me past my contemporaries in terms of income and success.

Want to bulletproof yourself against rejection? Here’s how:

1. Focus on purpose

The single most effective aspect of my coping strategy for dealing with rejection is to focus on purpose over outcome. The more you focus on your income, your status, your EGO, the more upset you’ll get over a rejection. But the more you focus on your purpose, your reason for writing, the calmer you’ll react to another encounter with No, Not Now, Maybe Later, and Not Interested.

Ask yourself a couple of questions. Why do you write? Is it for the money? To see your name published? To get your calls answered by important editors? To see your work publicly displayed? To be respected and admired by your peers?

There’s nothing wrong with any of these answers, but they’re all external to you. They’re desirable consequences of good work, but not the purpose that drives you.

Here’s what drives me as a freelancer specializing in nonfiction. I want my writing to improve people’s lives, make people laugh, help people solve problems, and enlighten others with new information.

How can you find your purpose as a writer?

Do this: Take a closer look at the real reasons you write. Define your purpose, and write it down. Then when another writing rejection shows up, review this. You’ll be better equipped to remain calm, avoid negative thoughts, and simply move on without self-doubt dragging you down.

2. Apply emotional first aid to painful rejections

You’ve done your homework to find the perfect prospect. You labor over every word in your query or LOI. It seems like your niche writing skills and the prospects needs are an ideal match. And then those guys, No, Not Now, Maybe Later, and Not Interested, deliver the news.

Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. What you resist will persist, so make sure to process your feelings for dealing with rejection. The trick is to avoid emotional quicksand where you get incapacitated by negative emotions that pull you under.

Do this: Follow the 48-hour rule. Give yourself two days to rail against the injustice, shake your fist at the sky, curse like a sailor, or hit a punching bag. Then speak no more of it. You’ll feel better and avoid dwelling on a rejection for so long that your creativity and writing business suffers.

3. Cultivate inner strength

If you want to get better at coping with rejection, you have to work at it. At first, you might not be very good at resisting the urge to doubt yourself. But start, and you’ll get better at it.

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert sees rejection as a cosmic tennis match. Whenever she got a rejection she hit it back over the net by sending out yet another pitch. She literally saw rejection as a prompt to try harder.

Do this: Keep track of the queries and LOIs you send out and the responses you get. Tally the wins and the rejections from month to month. Then look at the results to measure your success. Instead of thinking nobody wants to hire you, you’ll have a formula for how many pitches you need to send to land your next assignment.

4. Manage your inner critic

Too many freelance writers spend days, months, or even years, brooding about a writing rejection. But it’s a poison that can literally taint every query and LOI you send and every conversation you have with a prospect.

Do this: Whenever your self-talk drips with condescension and anger, stop what you’re doing and ask: “Is there a better way I can frame this?”

Let’s say you lost out on a freelance job because you didn’t follow the client’s explicit guidelines. You might think: “I’m such an idiot, why can’t I follow simple directions!” Reframe it to: “I can learn from this and be more detailed next time.”

You can’t build yourself up if you’re too busy tearing yourself down.

5. Push through adversity

Successful people don’t fail less than others; they just explain their failures differently than unsuccessful people. If your explanation for a writing rejection is that the game is rigged and there’s nothing you can do about it, you’re sunk. You need to change your mindset to push through adversity to get to where you want to be.

Do this: The next time you get a rejection take a minute to look for any failures on your part. Was your query or LOI well-written? Could it be better? Did you quote too high, or maybe too low? Did you contact the right person? If you’ve done your part, move on. If there’s something you can learn, put it into practice.

When you approach rejection this way, you’re in control of how you respond. It’s called “empowering self-explanatory style.” Cultivate it, and you’ll be amazed at what kind of adversity you can push through.

Successful writers learn from rejection

As a freelance writer, rejection is just part of the business. Those guys, No, Not Now, Maybe Later, and Not Interested, are always going to be there. But they don’t have to get in your way. Ask any successful freelance writer how they handled their most painful rejections, and you’ll find their answers are often a major reason for their success.

How do you handle rejection as a freelance writer? Leave a comment below.

Michael Alvear is the author of The Bulletproof Writer: How To Overcome Constant Rejection To Become An Unstoppable Author. He’s a frequent contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered and has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.

Write BIG: A fear-busting e-course for dealing with rejection


  1. Jennifer Gregory

    Great post and this was my biggest fear when I started my freelance writing business 9 years ago. I especially like the part about remembering your purpose and learning what you could do differently next time.

    Here are two other things that help me:

    1. Set goals that you control. I used to set goals that depended on clients hiring me so I would say that I want to get 2 new clients this month. But then each rejection would sting because it meant I was a failing at achieving my goal. Then I started setting goals such as I am going to make 50 new potential client contacts this month or I am going to attend 2 in person events in my industry. My success was meeting these goals. The point is of course that if you set goals that make it likely of landing new work then you achieve your ultimate goal of new clients. But I can’t control if a client hires me. I found it much more empowering to set goals that I can control and then view myself as a success when I accomplish those goals.

    2. Keep a positive email folder. Everytime a writer or editor sends you a compliment on your work, put it in this folder. I will then read my emails (some dating from 8 years ago) when I am upset after a rejection of failure. It helps tremendously because it reminds me of my successes. And there is something powerful about reading other people’s kind words about yourself to really give you back your confidence.

    3. Set a goal of rejections. I did this when I first started and it worked. I said that I was going to set a goal of 20 rejections in a month. The trick was of course that if I got that many rejections then I was putting myself out there and the odds were high I would get an acceptance as well. Of course you have to be submitting pitches that are top notch and targeted (not ones you expect to be rejected). I only did this for a few months and then moved to setting goals you can control. I found setting the positive goals worked better for me, but I thought I’d mention this in case it helped someone else.

    • Jennifer Gregory

      Sorry, it was three! I added the third while I was writing.

    • Livingstone Marmon

      Haven’t heard of the positive email folder idea before — and I love it! Thanks.

    • Michael Alvear

      Jennifer, LOVE those goals! Where were you when I first started writing my book? I would have incorporated them. ;>)

    • Carol Tice

      I love your #3, Jennifer, which I have to say I’ve never done.

      Setting goals you can control is a MAINSTAY of what I teach in Freelance Writers Den and in my Den 2X Accelerator masterminds, and I started a brag file very early on in my career. When I was stumped on an article, I’d look through it, or look through my portfolio, and think, “I did that, and I can do this one, too.”

  2. Nora King

    What do you do when you get no response at all?

  3. Michelle

    I also have kind of a weird mental trick: forget yesterday happened as far as your effort levels go. Obviously you’ll have lessons you carry with you as you get better at marketing and writing, plus things you’ll need to check in with from before. But every morning is an exercise in selective amnesia towards whatever bull was going on the day before- the rejections or the radio silence or the weird email that defies classification. Just pretend it didn’t happen. It’s hard at first, but I got used to it when I reminded myself to do it enough. Sometimes I just tell myself, “Butt in chair, everyday, do your best. Yesterday doesn’t matter.”

    And then, yeah, I agree with what others are saying above. Setting attainable goals that focus on the process over the results is the way to go. Results are going to fall where they will, but the process is what you have control over. That realization has been a game changer for me.

  4. Lori Ferguson

    Wonderful post and all techniques I’ve employed at one point or another. Like Jennifer, I keep a ‘Feel Good File’ (I think I originally got the idea from Linda Formichelli) and it really is a wonderful balm for a wounded soul. When someone says something particularly kind or responds favorably to my work, I pop the email into the file so that when I’m down on myself or have just been smacked by someone or something, I can scroll through the emails and remind myself that I have good days, too. 🙂

    • Michael Alvear

      That really is a good one. I also do something like it: I keep an email folder called “Applause” for any email I get from readers of my books and columns. It reminds me of my purpose (to solve problems and make people laugh) in a way that talking to myself cannot.

      • Lori Ferguson

        Oooh, I like ‘Applause’ even better! 🙂

        • Jennifer Gregory

          I’m stealing (um, borrowing) your name! Love Applause. That will make me smile just seeing it.

    • Tonya

      I really love that idea for rejection also. I feel better just thinking about a ” A feel better file.”lol What a great idea especially for new freelancers who are just starting out. We are in the beginnings of everything.Thank you so much. These are wonderful ideas as always.

  5. Diane Young

    It’s not a question of my writing. My article sales are proof of that. So when I get a rejection, I know the problem lies with me. I pick myself up, dust myself off and jump back in. I study my pitch and rewrite it if I somehow missed the mark. I like to use the first paragraph of my article as opening of my pitch. I like to start with a question and then show the why and how I plan to answer the question with references, quotes and solutions posed by experts. I frequently write about dry and potentially boring things, so I point out that I write in a conversational style and like to use stories to enliven and
    validate my points. Then I look at other potential markets to pitch that
    hopefully will be receptive to my pitch.
    Don’t let yourself take rejections personally! You just haven’t offered them what they’re looking for, so rethink it.

    • Carol Tice

      Really, you think the fault lies with you? Diane, there could be 100 reasons unrelated to you why a pitch isn’t accepted!

      But certainly, yes, don’t take it personally and keep on pitching.

  6. Carol J. Alexander

    I keep a kudos folder. Whenever I get a “good job” or “thank you” it goes in my kudos folder. When a check comes in the mail with a note paperclipped to it, the note goes on my wall over my monitor where I can always see it. I have a page on my website called “Folks who love me.” When I’m down about a dry spell, I re-read those kind words that folks have written about me and my work.

    I also have a two-idea rule. I never send a pitch without another one in my back pocket. Then, if I get rejected, I reply with “That’s okay, how about this one?” And I immediately send idea #1 to another market and formulate idea #3, just in case…

    • Carol Tice

      I know too many writers who’ve been asked for a follow-up pitch and then they’re freaking out and scrambling to find something! I try to always have more ideas up my sleeve. 😉

  7. J.M. Williams

    What are the rejection letters like for freelance writing? I shared this post and added that, for me, the worst part of rejection is getting form letters. But I am a fiction writer, so maybe it’s different. It sucks to not know why the story was kicked back. It could be so many reasons. My gut reaction is to ask: Was the writing bad? But it could also be a problem with style or publication fit. Not know the reason for rejection makes it harder to move forward and are important for future interactions with that publisher. Most editors send form letters now, at least for fiction. It has made the whole process that much more difficult, but what are you going to do? I really like the editors that offer tiered responses or multiple reads. If your piece didn’t make it to the second read, it probably needs some work. If it makes it to the final reads but gets rejected at the end, you usually get some good comments. I do find that I tend to submit repeatedly more often to places that give comments.

    • Carol Tice

      LOL — JM, in most of nonfiction article pitching, you just never hear back. Editors are too inundated, just can’t do responses anymore unless they’re interested.

  8. Diane Young

    Another frequent reason why nonfiction is rejected is because there’s been a recent article on the same subject and the rejected author didn’t bother to check to the magazine’s archives to see what was published during the past year. Check the archives to save yourself a lot of work and heartache.

  9. Thomas

    I’ve worked as a freelancer for a period, I see that freelance is a very hard job, especially in seeking customers and maintain the relationship with them.

  10. Kahuna

    Hey. I am just starting out and all my pitches seem to be rejected partly because the sites have been in existence for many years, of which many writers have already established themselves and received ratings and maybe too that I don’t know exactly how to pitch. Could you please teach me what I am doing wrong and how to beat already established writers and ratings. Thank you.

    • Carol Tice

      Kahuna, when you talk about ‘ratings,’ I assume you’re submitting on some sort of mass writer platform. You’ll want to stay away from those and pitch individual publications on your own, to earn more. That’s what Michael’s discussing in this post.

      In general, you don’t want to sit around worrying about how many writers got in before you. There’s always room for fresh ideas. I’ve got a lot of resources on how to pitch, including a forum where a pro editor reviews your query to make sure it’s ready to go, inside my Freelance Writers Den community — and as I write this, we’re reopening to new members in just a couple of days!


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