100 Days of Rejection

Rejection. Every writer who’s ever auditioned in publishing knows the feeling. Some more than others because some writers are punishment gluttons who keep on submitting queries despite many times being shouted at, “No!”

There’s a famous Stephen King quote that goes, “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

I don’t know how many rejections Mr. King got before he struck gold with Carrie, but I do know of a man who purposely set out to experience one hundred days of rejections. His name is Jia Jiang, and he put on a marvelous TEDx Talk called What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection. It’s a must-watch for all writers, entrepreneurs, and creatives who wander into the crosshairs of criticism and rejection.

Spoiler Alert: Jia Jiang was emotionally traumatized as a six-year-old, first-grader when his teacher tried a social experiment that publicly humiliated him. He was so scarred that it wasn’t until his thirties that he faced up to his fear of public rejection. Mr. Jiang overtook his fear by intentionally devising one hundred creative ways to approach strangers and filming their responses to his “crazy” proposals.

Jiang’s crazy proposals went viral, and he now travels the world giving keynote presentations and holding workshops helping others overcome their fear of rejection. You can watch his amusing and informative TEDx Talk here, and you can visit his website RejectionTherapy.com here. You can also source his book Rejection Proof — How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection.

I’ll leave you with a rejection story that happened to me. I finished my first novel manuscript in 2011. I paid to have it professionally edited and, when it was done-as-good-as-it-was-going-to-get-done, I shopped it around the agents. I don’t remember exactly who or how many—probably thirty or forty—even some big names as well as some newbies. I maybe heard back from ten of which eight or so were form rejections.

There was not even one request for a look. So, I moved on. That was when indies were starting to take hold in ebooks, so I went that route. My debut did well on the Amazon charts and, not long after its release, I got an unsolicited email from a literary agent asking if I was represented to which I said, “No.”

I won’t say who, but they requested my complete manuscript to which I complied. After a few weeks, the agent got back to me. “It’s a pass on this one,” they said. “I didn’t quite connect with the story, but I will say you have a really good voice. Send me your next one. If you write it, I’ll read it.”

To which I did. I sent them my sequel—the full 90K word ms—as a Word.doc attachment direct to the agent’s personal email they first cold-called me from and complimented my voice.

Well… I got back this icy, snot-infused reply. “How dare you bypass the company submission guidelines and contact me directly!”  BTW, I just Googled that agent and can’t find them working today.

So, Kill Zoners, that’s my rejection story. How about yours? Let’s hear who’s been snubbed by the world and how badly it went.

31 thoughts on “100 Days of Rejection

  1. I didn’t count. I also didn’t bring that folder with me when we moved.
    This is my “favorite.”
    “We did review your proposal, and for some reason we don’t feel we can represent it. Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but we do have our reasons for declining.”

  2. Few of us can match the rejection Snoopy got:  “Thank you for submitting your story to our magazine. To save time we are enclosing two rejection slips…one for this story and one for the next story you send us.”

          • Ah, the days of the SASE. My writing partner and I submitted both a science fiction novella and a related science fact article to Analog Science Fiction and Fact in 2005. When I got home from my post office run, there was the SASE sitting on my desk. Oops! I sent another letter (but not the full submission) that included the SASE and crossed my fingers. About six weeks later, I got a polite letter telling me that they definitely wanted the fact article, wanted a few small revisions to the novella before they’d take it, too, and did I realize how lucky I was that they bothered to reply since I’d not sent an SASE? Thank goodness my mailing address was on my submission letter!

  3. Love this, Garry!

    The best lesson I ever learned came from novelist David Cates. He gave a writing workshop where he turned rejection on its head. Instead of being bummed by rejections, he said make it your goal to receive 100 rejections.

    I started a spreadsheet for tracking submissions and chalked up another hashmark for each rejection that arrived in SASEs. After a year or so, I’d earned 100 rejections.

    But a funny thing happened. I also started receiving acceptances at the ratio of about one in 10. When I asked other writers who were much more accomplished than I, they said their ratio was about one in 10, also. Hmm.

    At about 150 rejections, I stopped counting. My rhino hide was thick enough and I was busy writing stories that editors requested.

    • Good morning, Debbie. That’s an interesting ratio. 1 in 10. I had 0 for +/-40 so I must have been doing something wrong. 150 rejections? You’re certainly no quitter! Enjoy your day, my friend.

  4. I count myself lucky that my first round of submissions and rejections was for a book I didn’t care about. This was back in 2018, when agents looked at anything that wasn’t written by a straight white person, including mine which surefire didn’t fit any age categories. Like Terry, I didn’t keep count, and then decided it was no use keeping my spreadsheet since I have no intention of writing MG contemporary ever again. I sent out four submissions in early November, and if I remember right, three people said no, two form rejections and one that said they didn’t like it but couldn’t pinpoint why.

  5. Loved Jia Jiang’s TED talk. And the teacher’s experiment is a wonderful example of a Dark Story Moment that defines a character and makes them who they are when the story opens.

  6. Many years ago I was going to an event with my mother. She insisted I wear my jean jacket. It wasn’t that kind of event. On my jacket were my varsity sports letters. At the party my mother introduced me to the OB who said I would be sickly and a poor athlete.

  7. Let’s not forget, “”guitar groups are on the way out” and “the xxxx have no future in show business.”

    Decca Records to Brian Epstein concerning the demo by The Beatles, 1962.

    Experts make mistakes.

  8. I have yet to hop on the agent query-go-round, Garry, though I know a number of writing friends like yourself who have ridden it, some eventually landing an agent.

    My experience is with short stories—submitting them to science fiction and fantasy magazines. I was never as systematic or as dedicated as some writers I knew, but I had a folder of rejection slips at one point. Most were form rejection letters, simply declining the story.

    The rejection that had the biggest impact on me was way back in late 1986. I was still in college, and I submitted a heavy workshopped short story to OMNI Magazine, the top paying market for science fiction stories, paying a dollar a word. I mailed the story at the beginning of November. Right around Thanksgiving the rejection arrived, a person response from the editor, Ellen Datlow herself. While she rejected the story, she diid briefly praise the immediacy of my writing. That rejection sustained me for years.

  9. Still querying, therefore still receiving rejections. About 81 rejections so far, many just by going past the expiration date of when their guidelines say if you don’t hear anything in X amount of time it’s a pass. One rejection was from an agent I pitched in person. He appeared in enthusiastic. I sent him what he requested promptly along with nice personalization at the beginning of the email. Eight months later I received a rejection from his assistant. Along with that, I have had some full requests. None of them have panned out. What stings is two of the agents that requested a full have completely ghosted me. Not even the courtesy of saying no thanks.

  10. I loved the TED talk.

    I don’t mind rejections, but I *hate* when agents or publishers say, “If you haven’t heard from us in 90 days, you can assume we aren’t interested in your work.” I think that’s very unprofessional. It doesn’t cost anything to send an email, and a form email is just fine.

  11. Here you go: I got a rejection for a book (Husbands And Lovers) WHILE IT WAS ON THE NYT BESTSELLER LIST.
    Ha ha. Eff em. As star screen writer William Goldman said: “no one knows anything.” He was talking about the movie business. Also applies to publishing.

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