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Of Rejection And Persistence

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: Book CoverA writer friend of mine recently had her agent reject a book idea. It happens and it’s always a bummer. But my friend also bonces back quicker than most people I know. She sent me a link to an article called Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller at More.

The headline really says it all, but some of the details are worth a mention. For example:

When Stockett received the first rejection from an agent she recognized that she’d accomplished something worthwhile even though the results weren’t what she’d probably hoped.  Her response confirmed what I’ve said in A Rejection is a Badge of Courage. She went right back to rewriting and editing!

By her 15th rejection she’d gotten a bit discouraged – okay, my personal hunch is she was probably more than a bit discouraged, but she kept at it. And exactly how she felt when doesn’t matter. She believed in her book and she kept at it.

According to the article she cried with her 40th rejection. If it had been me I would have cried long before that, but exactly when she first cried isn’t the point. She didn’t quit. That’s the point.

As the rejections piled up she felt like she was going crazy, and maybe she was at least a little bit.


Five years and 61 submissions to agents later, one accepted her and was able to sell the book. The rest is history and the book not only became a best seller but is a movie as well. And if you haven’t read it you should. I was riveted, but that’s also beside the point.

Should you spend five years and submit a single work 60 times? I haven’t a clue. I self-published one book after 13 or 14 rejections and it’s worked out reasonably well.

What I am sure of is that successful freelance writing requires persistence, discipline and finding a way to deal with rejection.

Freelance writing isn’t easy, but most jobs aren’t. In fact I’d say most things that are worthwhile require us to practice and work at them. We humans seem to need the stimulation of real challenges. Easy things bore us quickly and if we stick with those instead of working at the more challenging things we tend to move toward depression.

My suggestion is: Keep working at your freelance writing.

How have you learned to be persistent?

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Loved the article, Anne, thank you.
    I didn’t know The Help was originally a book when I saw the movie trailer. I’ve always been fascinated by movies (hence my movie blog).
    But I have a special interest in movies adapted from books. Writing a novel, and having it made into a motion picture is the ultimate dream for me.
    And as I am working on my first novel, I love reading the success stories of other writers who didn’t give in, and ignored others and rules. I know rejection is just a part of being a writer, but it always helps to read about others who didn’t give up their dreams.
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..Review of Wayne E. Pollard’s I’m Not Out of Work! I’m a Writer!!My Profile

  • jorgekafkazar

    I save all rejection slips and when I’m rich and famous, I’ll paper the smallest room in my house with them.

  • I remember reading something written by another medical writer about how when she started freelancing, it took around 50 attempts (contract applications, pitches, emails, letters, phone calls etc etc) to snag one success. So it seems that for all walks of writing, that kind of rejection pattern is pervasive. But if you believe in what you have to offer, you’ll persist. I think that’s the main key to success in any venture. Although rejection is debilitating if you do get into the decades of “no” replies, I think the eventual success is sweeter – kind of like when you save up a deposit for your first home, rather than allowing a relative to help you out financially. When you work for it, there’s a bigger benefit than just the financial gain.
    Nicky Parry recently posted..Protect Yourself Against Lyme DiseaseMy Profile

  • You’re the second writer to recommend the book, Anne. Susan over at The Urban Muse recommended it. I have it, but I’m in the middle of reading Little Dorrit by Dickens (with my hubby – we’re creating our own literary reading group). We’re on page 9 of 741. It may be a while. 🙂

    This is such a great reminder to keep at it. There are so many manuscripts of mine I turned away from after a dozen rejections. Time to dig them out again. 🙂
    Lori recently posted..The Great (or not so great) CompromiseMy Profile

    • Love the idea of a couple reading together. Good for you.

  • Actually, I stopped counting the rejections after many years of sending out queries. My rejections at some point included little notes from agents that encouraged me to continue. So, I redefined my rejections by viewing them as critiques and as a result I read more, attended writer conferences, studied how-to books written by famous writers, took editing classes, wrote a few short stories and over the years I learned to craft my Fiction to a much higher scale.

    No one promised us writers a Rose Garden.

    My novel was written over 15 years ago and I have since stripped it down and re-crafted it into a much better manuscript that I am positive will sell when the time is right. I did, however get two short stories published ” Sedna’s Brood” 2009 and “Immaculate Evil” which will be out the end of this summer(2011). In all of the struggle I also found my niche, which is Science Fiction/Paranormal.

    I found that rejection is just a path and persistence is the energy that clears the route to reaching that NY best seller’s list. So, I have learned to be persistent by pursuing my goals through perfecting my craft and filling my mind with knowledge that will help me to succeed and I will query, query, query and keep querying, knowing that the “right time” will be any minute…

    • Rejection as a path… lovely phrase and so true… and I’m impressed with your tarot snippets on your site. Nicely done Alia.

  • Nina Lewis

    And to take Ellie’s comment a step further, bored writers write boring stuff. Our writing will only get better if we stay persistent!

  • I’d only add that just working on the easy stuff leads to boredom, too. Maybe boredom, first, then depression. And furthermore, bored people are also boring to others. Maybe that’s why they get depressed! Passion and persistence!!

    • lol, it can be a vicious circle… boredom … or what, an exciting spiral upward when we’re challenged or challenge ourselves.

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