21 November 2022

Sorry, just not a good fit.

Chris Knopf

No writer likes rejection. That’s because no human being likes being rejected. But writers are often more eloquent in their anger and despair over rejection, because they’re writers and have some time on their hands as the result of being rejected so often.

The kind of rejection I like is terse, breezy and obviously canned.

This means they just don’t want you. I’ve had rejection letters that actually go to some trouble to express their bitter disappointment over the quality of my submission. This takes some extra effort.

There’s no solace anyone can offer the rejected writer.

But we can at least appreciate that other, better writers than ourselves have experienced far more devastating rebuff. I’m always hearing about some world-famous, best-selling author who wrote fifty novels that were rejected two thousand times before a fluke cracked open the door, with the rest being, naturally, history.

I spent most of my adult life as an advertising copywriter, which is the ultimate cage fight of unrelenting rejection.

You not only enjoy having your best ideas die like rotted fruit on the vine, but sometimes a bit of derision accompanies the occasion. I had a client accuse me and a creative partner of being on drugs, which we weren’t, though in that moment we considered it. (That campaign was later approved and was the most award-winning work I ever did. But that’s another story.)

So I’m pretty thick-skinned.

I admit, at first I usually consider the rejection a pathetic failure of critical judgment by people with diminished mental capacities, but later, after cool reflection, I go back and re-examine the work. Often this inspires me to make genuine improvements, or at least, launch another project that might have a better chance. I’ll show you, you knuckleheads.

I never liked Nietzsche’s line, “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

In fact, what doesn’t kill you can often leave you in a puddle of broken dreams, bones and/or recurring headaches. That written, nothing succeeds like failure when it comes to motivation. Even if those who’ve defeated you are wrong in their estimation. Especially.

I’ve also worked as an editor, publisher and creative director, where much of my job involved rejecting other people’s work.

My approach, as with other arbiters I’ve admired, was to point out the good parts before admitting the shortcomings were insurmountable. It still didn’t feel so great. I think a lot of people in that role go through the same thing. The creator might feel the sting, but the rejectors often suffer greater remorse for having to deliver the news.

My friend Steve Liskow, who invited me on to this blog, was rejected 350 times before publishing his first short story.

He’s won a passel of awards since then, including being short-listed for an Edgar. I have no words for my admiration of this level of steely determination. My steel has no such equivalent alloys.

I downloaded this article from the New York Times several years ago, and I like re-reading it once in a while.

If you’re a writer, I guarantee you will also enjoy reading it. It’s not often I can make that claim, but I do here.

If you’re daunted by the paywall, write me at chrishknopf@gmail.com, and I’ll super copy it and send along.

By the way, it’s especially fun for me to see my last name (no relation, as I’m forced to constantly explain) so liberally used within an article on foolish rejections, in particular those from the most exuberant rejector of them all, Alfred Knopf.


  1. Ah, yes, rejections. In the old days, before internet, I could easily have wallpapered a bedroom with my rejection slips. I published my first story (with AHMM) when I was 43 years old, so yeah, I had a lot of them. But you keep on keeping on! Thanks, Chris!

  2. Great post, Chris. I sometimes think the difference between real people and writers is that writers never outgrow that little kid inside them that won't take "No" for an answer.

    In my fourth novel, Run Straight Down (32 rejections, thank you very much), one of my characters says, "What doesn't kill me makes me bitter." Still works.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thank you for this sage advice. As writers, first we conquer self doubt, then we defy others' doubt.


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