Why (Most) Writers Don’t Get Published On the First Try

There’s nothing wrong with you.

When it comes to rejection, I’ve come to believe a “no” is significantly better than a “nothing.”

I would much rather receive a copywritten template letting me know my submission would not be accepted than to sit around waiting for weeks only to receive no response whatsoever.

I was fourteen when I first submitted a personal essay for publication. While I could have — and probably should have — started with a smaller publication geared toward my age demographic, I, being the overachiever that I am, shot straight for one of the biggest publishers of nonfiction writing for teenagers at the time.

As you can probably guess, I never did hear back from them. I was never told whether my essay’s lack of publication was due to submission guidelines, the subject matter, submission volume, or just the simple fact that I was fourteen and the essay was probably not very good.

I was pretty bummed about this, of course. Who wouldn’t be? Every kid — every adult — dreams of having their work even considered by the publisher of books they’ve grown up reading.

But this was only the first of many instances I would learn that every rejection, no matter its form, was nothing but an opportunity to return to my work and figure out what I could do to increase my chances of success the second time around.

After several more attempts through various mediums, I did end up getting an essay published in a smaller and much more suitable publication two years later. It wasn’t published under my real name and I wouldn’t share it now for privacy reasons, but at the time, it still meant a lot to me.

I didn’t get published on the first try. But that was fine. Because I kept trying.

We’d all love to succeed on the first try. It would mean we’d only have to do the hardest part — writing the first draft — once. It would prove we somehow must know what we’re doing, if all it took was a single burst of effort to make all our dreams come true, just like that.

And sure, there are some lucky creatives who hit a home run their very first swing. I have nothing against them — they happened to step up to bat at the right time and swing with just the right amount of force to knock that particular pitch out of the park. Good for them!

But just because one writer got lucky doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to achieve success that same way. In fact, you have a very low chance of, for example, even hearing back from a single agent the first time you send out a round of queries. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It’s just the reality of the business.

Why don’t most people make it on their first try? Because we all have so much to learn from not succeeding the first time around. Imagine what would happen if we always got exactly what we wanted on our first attempt. We’d have no motivation to grow, no reason to try harder.

The more times we try something, generally, the better we get at it. Failure — if you want to call it that, though in this case it’s really not technically “failing” — is the best way to learn. When you’re told no, you ask why not. If you’re given an answer, you say, “Well, I’ll do better. I’ll show you. Just wait.” At least, I hope so.

Instant gratification? Not a thing in the real writing world. You’re going to do a lot of work for very little reward. Eventually, hopefully, it will all pay off. But not right away. You work, you fail, you keep working, you get closer to not failing, and repeat. Sometimes you stick the landing, more often times you don’t. But as long as you keep getting back up, all those missteps don’t matter.

Plus, “I kept trying until I made success happen” is a much better story than “I tried once and all my dreams came true” if we’re being honest.

Don’t worry about falling flat on your face the first time you take a dive into your dreams. It’s going to happen. Accept it. Embrace it. Get back up, and keep going. You won’t regret it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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3 thoughts on “Why (Most) Writers Don’t Get Published On the First Try

  1. yes yes yes! when I was a pre teen I would submit poetry submission after poetry submission, always shooting for the top. Though nothing got accepted, I learned SO much from it all.

  2. Great post! A big YES to all of it. My best rejection/acceptance story: I recently had a short story published in a nice publication after 58 rejections over the course of more than 10 years and almost as many revisions. It felt great–but that success was certainly well-earned!

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