Tips for writing features #13: How to deal with rejection

Posted on March 8, 2012

Tips for writing features #13I received an email from a friend yesterday. She had pitched a story to a magazine and received a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. It had knocked the wind out of her sails but she was, she wrote, beginning to feel ready to try again.

She wanted to know how to deal with rejection.

“Do you ever suffer from feeling over-sensitive about knockbacks?” she asked me.

My answer? Er, yes. But nowhere near as much as I used to do.

Someone asked me recently to write a post about how to develop a thicker skin as a freelancer. I started one a few times and then gave up. It’s not like there’s a secret cream you can use – “thicker skin in minutes, fight the seven signs of rejection”.

Unfortunately, as with most things, the rhinoceros hide is something that develops over time. With practice.

In other words, yes, I got better at being rejected the more often I was rejected.

Put like that I sound like a very sad individual indeed.

The fact is that writing is one of those jobs in which you put yourself out there every single day. You have to back yourself in on a regular basis. It’s a creative process, so there’s a little bit of you in every idea, every article, every assignment, every book. A little piece of you going ‘like me, like me’. And if someone doesn’t, that little piece of you retires hurt.

The key to dealing with rejection

The key is not to take it personally. I said it wasn’t easy. If someone rejects your idea or pitch, it might just be that it’s not right for them on that day. Perhaps you haven’t angled it quite right for that publication.

Perhaps it’s just, gulp, a crappy idea. We all have them. Even if we don’t like to admit it.

They’re not rejecting you as a person, just that particular idea, pitch, feature or proposal.

What to do after you’re rejected

If I get a ‘no’ on a pitch, I just rethink it. Can I send it to someone else? Are the case studies not strong enough? Has it been done elsewhere recently?

I have an ‘ideas’ file on my computer. It’s a place where bad ideas go to die, or to perhaps be reborn as good ideas in four months time when they become surprisingly relevant.

Freelance writers who get regular work are freelance writers who get knocked back and just bounce back with another idea, another angle, another attempt. There’s no hocus pocus in it. Just an ‘oh well, I’ll try something different’ approach, time and time again.

I’m not saying it isn’t exhausting sometimes. Even a bit depressing if you have a bad run. But the beautiful thing about writing, in any genre or style, is the idea that your next pitch/story/proposal/book/novel will be a winner. Hope is a wonderful cure. Resilience is the key.

But if anyone does come up with a formulation for Thick Skin In A Jar, please send me a sample. Express post.

So You Want To Be a Writer bookWould you love more writing tips and advice? Check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo and based on our top-rating podcast.

Buy it here!


  1. Alexa Moses

    ‘Thicker skin in minutes, fight the seven signs of rejection.’
    Haaaaa! I want this to be the post title. Can you work on making that cream? You’d be a billionaire.

  2. Giving Back Girl

    Thanks again Al for being so generous in sharing advice for freelancers out here like me. I once went on a course, one “experienced” freelancer was asking questions about approaching editors she doesn’t know and isn’t it “scary”, I’m not scared – they’re not going to hear our ideas unless we tell them, and we’re not going to learn unless we listen to their feedback. It’s just the way of this world right? Thanks again and loving your new bloggy look

  3. Rina

    Thank you I am still to go down that road.

    Rina …

  4. Desire Empire

    That’s the beauty of blogging…. no pitching required. I’m the Editor in Chief and what I say goes. I only wish this blogging scene was around 25 years ago when I was making career choices. I often wonder what life might have been like had I been able to get past the pitch on so many occaisions.

    Had a look at your video over at the Best Australian Blog comp and thought I’d stop by and say hi.

  5. kattate

    Great advice for freelancing and life!

    I sent off a story to Mamamia a few months ago and was told it didn’t suit the style of their site. I let out a big sigh of disappointed. Then I loaded the rejected article to my blog instead and spent a few days perusing Mamamia and analysing the posts they do publish. Then inspiration struck, I worked up a piece and was told that Mia herself loved it! Still waiting for it to go live on the site, but I am very excited! It just goes to show that no one will pick you up and throw you back in the ring. You have to get there yourself. 🙂

  6. Alison

    I really need a jar of that cream. I don’t care it’s more expensive than Creme de la Mer, I need a lifetime supply.

    I agree you do have to just pick yourself up and carry on. And think of a different angle/slant on it. What I hate most when pitching an idea is the actual picking up the phone/email. After that’s done, I’m fine. I kick myself when I see a similar idea (or even the same one) on the front cover of an issue and think ‘damn, I should have pitched that!’

    Your blog’s looking very Spring like!

  7. Maureen

    I don’t write for anyone but myself but when I get a crap comment I let it bother me more than I should. I’m already pretty old so I’m going to need a jar of that skin thickener.

  8. Alice

    Thanks for your insight and wisdom … it’s a lonely road but the rewards are there – eventually … hopefully!

  9. Seana Smith

    Hello Al… I think that’s what I like about blogging – no rejections by other people… and I’m not even great at self-censorship!

    When I used to freelance quite a lot, I used to have a big scattergun approach ie if you send out enough ideas SOMETHING is bound to be taken up. It’s always SO much easier once you’ve met the person you’re pitching to, but that took time and lots of effort and persistence.

    I was never above telling a few very stretched truths. Once wrote a letter to an inflight mag editor saying I was writing a book about something and would he like to see some photos and take an article. He met us – my cheek may have appealed- and took an article… and the book is still in my ideas file, literally 25 years later!!

  10. In Real Life

    Thank you for writing this!

  11. Donna

    I’m another who suffers from sensitive skin but slowly am starting to develop a thicker hide. While I am a way off rhinoceros skin I am pleased that I am a least putting myself out there for rejection. That in itself is a major achievement in my books!

  12. Madmother

    Thick skin in a jar? Easy – aging… otherwise known as growing up, lol.

  13. Life In A Pink Fibro

    Chortle! I wish. New website is coming, along with an actual ‘About Me’ page on the blog. I’m getting very grown up…

  14. Emily

    P.S. Just tried to click through to your website and it said “Allison Tait is currently undergoing scheduled maintenance”. Chuckles; this is what my colleague used to put on her out of office when she had a beauty appointment during the day.

  15. Emily

    You’ve got me thinking about the seven signs of rejection! I’m hearing Cate Blanchett telling me that they’re a thing of the past.

  16. Jackie K

    Wonderful post thank you – beautifully put and encouraging


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