The 5 Stages of Rejection Letter Grief

A few weeks ago I received a rejection letter from a publisher. This wasn’t the first rejection letter I’d received (far from it), nor was it different from any of the other rejection letters I’ve been sent or seen posted by other writers.

There was the usual, it’s not you, it’s me, and the non-committal we can’t tell you anything specific, which I’ve learned to skim and not take to heart, but this one got to me.

Maybe it was the fact I waited 1 year, 3 months and 23 days for it. Or maybe it was that the letter was such an impersonal form rejection that had no name at the bottom, even though I’d had two email conversations with the same specific editor at the publishing company during that 15-month wait. Or maybe it was that it had been a long time between rejections and I was coming off a rough couple of months in my personal life. Whichever way you look at it, I went through some emotions after this email pinged my inbox: the 5 stages of rejection letter grief.

Stage One – Upset

I was upset, as you generally are when you get an email that doesn’t have the news you were hoping for. It’s unfortunate that those days always seem to coincide with the decision to give up chocolate, but it happens, and it’s important to acknowledge that upset and to have that chocolate if you need to. You also need to do anything else that is going to help you feel the upset so that you can move on from it. Vent to a friend, delete the email, or print it out and tear it up. Anything that will see you process the upset, and go through to the next stage.

Stage Two – Anger

Some people go through this stage, some people don’t, but if you do, it’s important to remember not to let your anger get the best of you. This is where venting comes back into it. Rant to anyone who will listen, but don’t be tempted to write back to the publisher and tell them that they are the one who made a mistake or that they will regret passing on what is sure to be a bestseller one day. As much as you think that will make you feel better, it won’t. You need to cool off, go for a walk to get more chocolate and don’t send any response that is fueled by anger. It does no one any good. When you’re ready to deal with your emotions, it’s time to go to stage three.

Stage Three – Therapeutic Writing

For something you can’t find in the empty wrappers of one chocolate bar (or three), try what writers do best and write. It can be a journal entry about what you feel, or you can do what I did this one and only time after a rejection, and write your response to the parts of the letter that upset you the most. Mine went a little something like this…


Regrettably, we can’t be more specific (or specific at all).

Thank you again for the opportunity to consider your manuscript, and for your patience in awaiting our (ridiculously long) response.

…even though your work is intriguing (we’ll give you a positive line but keep it non-specific and general so we don’t lead you astray with any clue AT ALL as to what we really thought of your work).

…unfortunately we have decided not to pursue it further (and we won’t tell you why, not even a hint, so you can go ahead and wonder about it for the rest of your life instead).

Please don’t be discouraged (you will be, but us asking you not to be will let us sleep at night).

…our very best wishes in placing your work elsewhere (anywhere but here, but who knows, because you probably gave up after this).


Childish? Yes, but I would never have sent this to that publisher and writing what I really thought of their generic response helped me to reach the next stage.

Stage Four – Acceptance

It might not feel right to you, and this submission might have been the one you really wanted, the agent that was perfect, or the publisher that you thought would help elevate your book to the standard you know it deserves, but it hasn’t worked out that way. And as much as it hurts to realize that they’ve already forgotten about your submission, you need to do that too. Accept that this particular MS with this particular publisher just isn’t happening, and then you can ease into the final stage.

Stage Five – Moving On

You might not have gotten any feedback as to why your book was rejected. And you may still be stumbling in the dark, wanting to fix what isn’t working, but not knowing how. That is what you need to move on to. Revise the manuscript if you think that’ll help, or dive headfirst into getting your next submission files ready. Just move to the next publisher on your list and have faith that each “No” is a step closer to a “Yes”. It’s all you can do in an industry full of rejection. That, and keeping your chocolate well stocked.

— K.M. Allan

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21 thoughts on “The 5 Stages of Rejection Letter Grief

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  1. This is a great post, and so important for writers to acknowledge. After curating a decent collection of form letters myself, I feel like the masochistic submission/rejection cycle is probably the toughest hurdle for any writer. In 2018 it’s also a boon for the self-publishing “industry”. Once I started down this path I also found it helpful to have a concrete mantra to stay the course. Mine is ” this will make me better”, because it forces you to always evaluate and improve your art. That said, I also experience Stage 2, and when I see a story like yours it makes me furious at their inefficiency. “Over a year to send a 30 second form email? What kind of half-baked operation are you people f’ing running!?” That sort of thing. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. Yes! I thought the same thing, how can they take over a year to get back to me and then send something so impersonal, but that’s the way it is. Thanks for reading. Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels these things 😊.

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  2. I totally feel ya! I haven’t yet received my first agent rejection–because I keep putting off that stage–but I’ve received lots of rejections from journals and magazines. Ugh. It does make me feel better when I look at the age and inexperience of many of today’s agents–they’re babies! Keep truckin’, and it’ll happen!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Crikey, that is unnerving, when people SIMPLY refuse to expand on the why’s. It’s uncomparable, but it reminds me of a time a while back, when I decided I’d finally had enough and wasn’t going to pursue a job anymore. I had been applying to TONS of job offers, only snagging temp jobs and that just barely because once you’re a woman over 35 and with a small child in this country you’re basically useless and worthless. My old email account had certain notifications set, for when an email was delivered, when it was read, when it was deleted without being read. One day, I got one of these notifications, stating a certain email was deleted without being read. An email that was my application to a job I – at the time – thought might be a good thing, the pay being not bad, the job description interesting. I had had my hopes high for this one as it required a level of fluency in English I knew I had. Was never called for an interview, and forgot about it. But now, there it was, the notification that my application email had been deleted without being read. TWO YEARS AFTER I SENT IT!! I felt lousy and did want to send a VERY offensive mail to the company, stating out how disrespectful it was, but didn’t do it, obvs. Instead, I did eat a lot of chocolate. Chocolate cake, actually… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Ruth. Can’t believe they didn’t even read it, and that it took two years! Applying for jobs and rejections have so much in common. Both are frustrating and exhausting, and worthy of chocolate and cake 😊.

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  4. I think one of my stages is pouting. And then pretending like I didn’t write a book at all–like it doesn’t need to be revised or submitted elsewhere. Then burying myself deep in OTHER writing work, IMPORTANT writing work, so that I can justify leaving my book languishing, unpublished never reaching the audience who really needs it.

    I think your stages might be better. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, I hope you pull out of the pouting stage eventually, because a completed book does deserve an audience 😊. Your comment did remind my of another stage I didn’t include, and that’s when you hate what you’ve written because all the rejections make you feel like it must be the worst thing ever. I’ve been in and out of that stage numerous times.

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  5. I feel for you so strongly here, especially as someone who had read and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed your book. I can’t imagine the frustration and while I appreciate that not everyone enjoys stories the same way, I do think such a response (and so damn late!) is really bad.
    I love the blog post though. After some more feedback and more edits I’m hoping to pluck up the courage to send off TCBWU and I know I’m going to go through all 5 stages every single time. Your post here helps show that it is something we will all experience, and ends on positive advice. ❤ I will be vouching for your success in spirit, which every submission you make going forward. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, M. Your support means so much to me. This publisher didn’t have the version you read, so I’m hoping my next lot of submissions might go a little better with a draft made stronger by your invaluable beta feedback 😊. Unfortunately all writers do get letters like this, and you will too, even though I personally think/know TCBWU deserves better 😊. Good luck to us both! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ugh! Your rejection letter is literally worded the same as mine! It’s awful considering after only two months of waiting I would consider mine a form rejection – and I never spoke to the editor! It wouldn’t have taken long for a few sentences about pacing or characters or whatever it was they choose to say no to your manuscript for.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Suburban Syntax and commented:
    Another post from over on K.M. Allan’s blog this week. This one is some kind of chicken soup for the mortally wounded writing soul. Can you relate to these 5 stages of grief when the rejection letters arrive in your inbox? Or mailbox if you’re submitting to the REALLY fancy places…

    Liked by 1 person

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