How to Overcome Rejection: GIVE UP (control and just write)

Good things come to those who write.

Not to brag, but I know more about rejection than most writers do. One might go so far as to say I’m an expert on the subject.

Now, a lot of you may be thinking, Who the hell IS this guy? 


Many of you have never heard of me or read any of my work—unless, of course, you’re a literary agent who reps crime fiction/thrillers, in which case you may recognize my name from the many queries and writing samples of mine you’ve rejected over the years.

Please note that, as snarky as that last part may seem, I’m not the least bit upset about or resentful over any of the rejections I have received as a writer. Truth is, every agent who’s ever rejected me and my work actually did me and my work a favor. They helped me realize the traditional publishing game is not an easy one to play, which keeps things interesting and writers striving. They also helped me realize I still had work to do if I wanted a chance to enter the traditional publishing arena. And many agents—the ones who took the time to send me personalized rejections containing very kind and encouraging words about my writing—helped me realize I had (or was close to having) what it takes to enter the arena but that they felt they weren’t the right “coach” for me.

More from Greg Levin: Ideal Jobs for Crime Writers

I’ve come to learn that agents (and publishers) don’t reject writers because they think it’s fun or because they’re on a power trip. They reject writers as a favor—to those writers. They’re letting you, the writer, know either that you still have some practice to put in (and practicing writing is fun, damn it!) or that you are ready but should look elsewhere to find the agent who can do the most for your career.

Speaking to that latter part, there are a variety of reasons why an agent may reject a good (or even a great) book or writer:

  • The agent may not typically represent your specific genre or subgenre and thus may not have strong connections with editors/publishing houses specializing in such types of books.
  • The agent’s client list may be full of the type of writers who write the type of stuff you write.
  • The agent’s client list may be full, period.
  • The agent’s genre preferences may have changed.
  • Your query letter was written in ALL CAPS, you spelled the agent’s name wrong, and you attached your entire manuscript instead of pasting into the body of the email just the first five pages—like the agent’s submission guidelines mentioned ten times in bold type.

Now, none of this is to say that rejection doesn’t sting. It does. It always feels personal. At least at first. But once you take the time to look at rejection from a different perspective—from a perspective that factors in all the stuff I wrote above—the sting starts to go away, the “thank you but no” starts to feel less personal.

And do you want to know the absolute BEST way to overcome rejection as a writer?


I don’t mean give up writing; I mean give up control—over how agents or publishers will respond to your writing. Because you can’t control how (or if) agents or publishers will respond to your writing.

Know what you can control? The writing itself. How much time you dedicate to the craft, and how dedicated you are to succeeding as a writer. Yeah, I know, many of you have a full-time job and/or full-time kids and/or a full-time significant other, but you still have at least some control over how often and how much you write, how hard you hustle and grind to finish your stories or manuscript and edit them to make them even better. Regardless of whether you ever land an agent or a book deal (assuming you even want to) nobody but you can take away your love of writing. The joy of creating through the written word—that’s the constant. That’s what keeps a writer going.

Good things come to those who write.

That’s what has kept me going, anyway. It’s what kept me going through several near misses with literary agents a few years ago. It’s what kept me going when, despite having decent success as an indie author (including TV option deals with HBO and Showtime), I learned I wasn’t eligible for certain book awards or for reviews by certain influencers or for a booth at certain festivals/conferences.

And it’s what kept me going while waiting months and months to hear back from agents about my latest manuscript after I’d decided to give the traditional publishing game another go. During this waiting period, I did a lot more than just wait. I started another novel. And finished it. And a funny thing happened while I was busy writing that other novel rather than just waiting or wallowing over the rejections I was receiving: I got “the call” from one of the top-tier agents I had queried (and who’d requested my full manuscript) six months earlier.

So don’t listen to what they say when they say, “Good things come to those who wait.” Waiting will drive you fucking crazy. I propose we change that old, hackneyed expression. I say we change it to, “Good things come to those who write.”

Because writing is the good thing. Scratch that—writing is the best thing.

Am I thrilled to have finally landed a great agent? Hell yes. Do I think landing an agent means I’m done with rejection forever? Hell no. My agent will soon start submitting my manuscript to editors at publishing houses she thinks will love the book. And maybe they all will. Or maybe just some will. Or maybe none will.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that any rejections that may come from these publishers won’t sting a little. But I can say I haven’t really been thinking too much about the sting. I’ve been too busy editing my next next book. And getting started on the one after that.

I hope all of you are doing the same.

Because good things come to those who write.


  1. Henrietta Blair

    I guess we could be partners in crime for refusing to say y’all and I am from South Carolina. Great article!

    • Greg Levin

      Ha! Even my ten summer vacations in S. Myrtle Beach as a kid/teen couldn’t put “y’all” into my lexicon. Glad you enjoyed the read, Henrietta. Thanks for giving it a go, and for your kind words.

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