Making Rejection Work FOR You (Brenda Hiatt)

Life is filled with rejection. It starts in early childhood, when you desperately want that toy or that treat (or that pony) and your parents tell you no. At six, you likely handled rejection with begging, bargaining or tears. When none of that worked (because, really, keeping a pony in the back yard was out of the question no matter how reasonable you tried to make it sound), you eventually moved on to the next thing you couldn’t live without. Over time, you got a little bit better at picking your battles and arguing your cases. 

Then come the brutal teen years, when the boy you so desperately like doesn’t even know you exist, or you don’t get that part in the school play even though it was clearly designed for you. Your childhood strategies of begging or bargaining will only make things worse, and any tears are best shed privately. Instead, you might write out your disappointment in your diary or tell a close girlfriend, either of which may help you figure out where you went wrong—information you can use when the next crush or role or whatever comes along that feels absolutely necessary to your life. 

After so much practice, surely once you’re an adult rejection will no longer be a problem, right?


Out on your own, the rejections get scarier because now they’re more important than ever: being denied a loan, job or promotion you were counting on; a longtime friend cutting you out of his or her life; a spouse leaving what you thought was a happy marriage. Plus all the smaller ones, like your credit card being declined at the cash register when you have a cart full of groceries or being turned down for that part in the church musical. Big or small, you still need strategies to handle rejections.
Some coping strategies are better than others.

Necessary wallowing is allowed, but after that it’s time to get back up, dust yourself off and try again, maybe from a different direction. The goal, the way to make rejection work for you, is to use what you learn from each one to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. For a writer, that means no matter how much a rejection letter or bad review stings, you find something in it you can use to fix the problems in the book or change how you’re targeting agents, editors or readers. 

Because I’ve been in this biz a long time, I’ve had more experience with writing-related rejection than most newer authors can boast. Boast? you may ask. Yep, boast. I truly believe all those years of rejections toughened me into a better writer and a better person. 

Oh, yeah, I’ve been rejected by the best.

 You see, I wrote my first book when traditional publishers were the only game in town. I researched the markets, sent out query letters and started racking up rejection letters. When I finally received a request for the full manuscript from Harlequin’s now-extinct Regency line, I joyfully packaged it up and shipped it off. And waited. And waited. After six full months, my baby finally came back…rejected. 

On my birthday. (True story.) 

Yes, there were tears, and maybe ice cream. But then I carefully reread the rejection letter, focusing on the part where the editor said she’d be happy to look at anything else I had. Because I’d spent all that waiting time writing, I’d just completed a second Regency. I quickly polished it and sent it off, only to wait another six months before I got that book back in the mail. The tears had barely started when I realized the accompanying letter wasn’t a rejection, but a revision request. Needless to say, I made the suggested changes and resubmitted. A few months later instead of a package in the mail, I received a phone call…with an offer! 

The following year, my first-ever novel, a sweet, traditional Regency romance, hit the shelves. 

I went on to sell five more books to that Regency line before it closed, by which time the market had moved on to longer, sexier historical romances. After a year or so of spinning my wheels, I pulled up my big girl panties and started over, drawing on my previous research and experience. After many more rejections, I landed an agent and sold my first historical romance to HarperCollins and their Avon line. Alas, after eight Avon books and a change of editors, sales became flat and my option wasn’t picked up. Rejected again.

Burned out by then on historical romance (I wrote about that last month), I began writing a teen science fiction idea that had been burning a hole in my brain. And guess what? All those years of rejection came in super handy when getting into the head of my teenaged “loser” of a protagonist! 

The result was my Starstruck series. Unable to find a publisher that shared my vision for these books (yes, more rejection), I eventually took advantage of the new publishing paradigm to put these books out myself…and they became my best-received books to date!

My takeaway? Rejection may be inevitable in life, but with perseverance and the right attitude, you can make it work for you and come out stronger and better on the other side. 

Brenda Hiatt is the author of 23 novels of sparkling romantic adventure. Learn more at


  1. YES! Come out stronger and better on the other side.

    1. Holly, I'm a big believer in making the best of a given situation and turning negatives into positives whenever possible! :)


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