Coping with Rejection as a Writer

ffI wanted to discuss that which we all (editors and writers alike) dread: a rejection. As a writer myself, I completely understand how disappointing and mojo-disrupting a rejection is. From the editor perspective, I can also tell you it’s not something anyone wants to do. But rejections happen sometimes, despite good efforts on the part of both the writer and the editor.

So, how do you get back in the saddle after a rejection? I certainly don’t have all the answers, of course, but will share a couple of thoughts that I hope might be helpful.

1. Don’t take it personally!

When a rejection happens, it’s very easy to take it personally — but it’s not. A rejection doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer who is not doing your work or lacking expertise. It just means that one particular article was problematic. That’s it. Nothing more.

2. Avoid the temptation to paint the editor as the “bad guy.”

When you first get a rejection, it’s completely understandable to have a knee-jerk reaction and feel you’ve been wronged by your editor. But if you take a step back and let the emotional reaction cool for a few days, when you come back to the article, it’s easier to see what happened. Often, the lessons learned in a rejection can actually help you with future articles.

3. Ask questions if you’re not sure what went wrong.

While editors at DMS always include notes with rejections, sometimes you might not be clear about what went wrong. In that case, definitely reach out to your corresponding Section Editor, who can help clarify things for you.

4. Appeal the rejection if you think there was an error.

No one is perfect — and that can include your editor. If you feel the editor made an error in rejecting an article, file an appeal. While it can take a bit of time before you get a response on an appeal, be assured that each one is looked at and considered carefully. Keep in mind, however, that a rejection is only overturned if the article submitted is publishable “as is.” If any changes are needed to make the article publishable, the rejection will be upheld.

5. Keep at it.

When a rejection happens, the first thought is often something along the lines of “Well, forget it then!” While it’s certainly within your right to do that, sometimes after the sting fades a bit, you realize that it may be better to keep at it. Some of the best and most productive writers in the Studio had somewhat rocky starts. It’s very common because there are a lot of nuances to learn when starting out with any client. But the upfront investment of time and energy pays dividends in the long run.

6. Moving forward: If you aren’t sure about something, ask!

Often times, rejections occur after the initial submission was far afield of where it needed to be. This puts both the writer and editor in a precarious position as there is then only one shot to get it “right” — a challenging thing to accomplish when you’re facing a major rewrite. The best defense is a good offense! In other words, ask questions upfront — before submitting or even beginning to write an article — if you’re not sure about something. This step often saves you from a major rewrite and reduces your risk for a rejection. Same thing if you’re uncertain about rewrite instructions; ask for clarification. Your Section Editor is more than happy to respond to your queries. And you can always discuss things in the forums, too.

Again, this is just my two cents — take it for what it’s worth. Have some strategies that work for you? Please do tell.


tinaTina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.

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