The Fate of Your Rejection Letters

I recently went back to the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook website. The Yearbook, for those who don't know, is the UK equivalent of Writer's Market. I'd had a long hiatus. Yes, hiatus. I can use that word. I'm a writer, after all...

I bought my first ever copy of the Yearbook a long time ago in a shop that, sadly, has gone the way of many independent bookshops nowadays. I remember feeling very official and professional now that I owned this one book - this one book with all the agents and publishers and writers' advice and the correct way to write a letter, and so many other things. I've bought several other copies over the years, and recently had it confirmed by the W&A Twitter monkey that this May/June they're launching an online version, giving me access once more without buying a big heavy book from abroad once a year. Great!

So, I went back on the site. It's changed almost completely since I last visited, and now has a pretty awesome 'Community' space, to share work, ask questions, and build connections, I guess.

And one of the user questions got me thinking. 'What do you do with old rejection letters?'

Great question, right?

Save 'em? Discard them and move on? Keep them ready to burn joyfully when you're published? Remember the names, for your great 'A HA! You see?!' moment when riches and fame come calling?

Some thoughts:

Rejection letters (physical letters) are a strange thing for writers. One the one hand they represent your communication with real, genuine publishing professionals. You're not just dreaming of being a writer, or of one day, maybe, writing a book - you're doing it. On the other, they do represent a failure by the Establishment (grr) to recognise your evident brilliance.

Although e-mail is becoming more common, the same thoughts can be applied. And what I'd say is this.

Form rejections should just be forgotten. Deleted, or thrown away, and moved on. It was a no, which is sad, but life goes on, and so does your writing.

Personal rejections? I'd keep 'em. Not so you can gloat later. They're professionals, so are you, and it's nothing personal if your writing isn't for them. No, keep them for the boost you get. If it's personal, what does it say? What did they like? Are they encouraging? You need those things, for the dark hours when you stop believing in yourself and start to wonder - just for a second - if being a writer is worth it.

That's when you'll be glad you have them. They don't have to represent rejection and all that means. They can mean so much more - that you are a writer, with good work to submit, that you've made it over the biggest hurdle of all, which is actually finishing your damn book, and that although this agent wasn't for you, they see you as an equal, as a part of the publishing world. They've accorded you the decency of a formal, personal response to your business suggestions. What's wrong with that?

You may be able to tell that I have a couple of letters from years back still in my possession. I think I was thirteen, fourteen years old, and the agent's letter spurred me on. All my present writing, in all its forms, is in some way built upon those few kind words, years ago.


  1. I've been a musician (singer/songwriter) and an actress (musical theatre) for MUcH longer than I've been a writer, and I can say that those experienced helped me to really learn about the subjectivity of art.

    I know that when I receive rejection letters, that I'll keep them, and let them fuel me, just as a poor theatre review might.

    I think it's wonderful to keep them, as points of interest on the roadmap of our writing journeys. :)

  2. Stephen King kept his on a little nail which he had to change into a big spike before he got accepted for the first time, he had that many! I keep all of mine - though many of them are e-mail now which doesn't have quite the same effect. One day I will be proud of them!

  3. Just came back to this post. Isn't it a small shame that e-mail rejections aren't as tactile as before? Unless you print them out, all special and whatnot, just to save...