Rejection Letters Are Good For You, Especially When They’re Not For You

Did you know that the Museum of Modern Art, where I first saw Andy Warhol’s work in real life, once rejected a set of his sketches?

They did:

And if you ever owned Andy Warhol-themed merchandise, like those totes everyone had 5 years ago and I had 3 of, you were familiar with his rejection letter, since it came in each one on a sheet of clear paper.

I used to hang that rejection letter in all of my rooms: first in my bedroom in New Jersey, as preemptive solace for any college rejections; then in my dorm room so that I acknowledged I could fail; then in my homes off-campus where I was growing and growing and trying – and not always getting the right results. The letter reminded me that even the greatest of the greats fail. No hater could touch me.

Everyone who didn’t like it was just MoMA to my Warhol. They’d come back one day.

Hindsight is probably the most difficult part of those letters. How did it feel to be the MoMA?How did it feel to reject someone great? Well, ask the authors of these rejection letters collected by the Atlantic, all directed at some of the greatest writers of our times:

The rejections, which range from personal to formal to completely and 100 percent absurd, are a collection of mistakes. Because, you know, rejecting a best-selling book is 100 percent a mistake for a publisher – and maybe for Hunter S. Thompson as well.

That’s what rejection letters are y’all. They’re just mistakes.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Thank you. I remember how crushed I was the first time I received a letter from a publisher regretfully informing me that all of my blood, sweat, and tears weren’t quite what they were looking for. It was a bittersweet lesson in life….but one worth a learning for sure.

  2. Wow I feel like you just wrote this post for me, I just got turned down by a music show in the UK and this cheered me up. Thanks :)

  3. Thanks for this article! It helps me to remember that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejection letters for Harry Potter. WTF were those publishers even thinking? I believe Stephanie Meyer, Alex Haley, Steven King, and John Grisham all received rejection letters as well.

    • To be honest, I usually wish Stephenie Meyer hadn’t received anything but rejection letters.

      But then I realize if that had happened, we wouldn’t have the beauty that is the fact that no one hates Twilight more than Robert Pattinson, which provides me with endless amounts of lulz.

  4. As someone who has to send out rejection letters on a daily basis, I can tell you IT IS NOT FUN and also IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT what’s gonna be a huge deal & do really well, & what’s gonna totes flop. I have a little wahh every time I have to let someone down, and I try to be really nice about it! Also, I’m TERRIFIED of rejecting something that will go on to be a huge success. It’s tricky, yo.

  5. My best friend was getting bummed out over her rejection letters… I told her to make a sweet scrapbook of them, so once she’s published she can bring it on talk shows and laugh at all the people who missed out on her genius.

  6. I haven’t submitted a book to be published yet. But I expect that when I do, I will get numerous rejection letters. Set the bar low and surpass it is my motto.

    But joking aside, I have experienced getting many a rejection letter after applying for jobs. I even interviewed THREE times with one particular company in the space of one year, only getting to the last round once, after being woo’d by them endlessly each time. I don’t know why they keep trying to interview me. But well, each time it gets easier to accept the rejection.

  7. i don’t remember who it was to or from, but one of my writing teachers once showed us a rejection letter than said something like “if I were to publish this we would both be arrested.” I want to get a rejection letter like that so badly.

  8. In 2008 I got a rejection voicemail. I still have it, and still find it hysterical. (that potentially has to do with the fact that the voicemail was from a man to a woman who is NOT ME)
    is there a rejection letter tumblr? there should be…

  9. Well I express myself mostly through sex, and the acting is not considered as important as the raw sexuality, but I would say that in terms of ones
    work that rejection can sometimes serve to harden ones resolve, and that is something that we can all benefit from.

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