Let’s Play the Schadenfreude Game! (A Writer’s 1st Rejection)


Schadenfreude.…what a word.  

It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue unless you’re German, perhaps. I’ll have to discuss how to pronounce it when I meet with my German-born therapist. Dictionary.com’s definition of schadenfreude is “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.” The word’s origin comes from “schaden,” meaning harm, and “freude,” which means joy. Ever since I began blogging, I’ve noticed that my posts with alarming titles which contain the most angst (another word of German origin) have received the most views and comments. I’ve observed the same phenomenon with many others’ blogs as well. Welcome to Schadenfreudeland!

What does schadenfreude have to do with this post? You’ll see. Well, you may be wondering what the writing rejection is all about. Let me back up to last November…take a breath, this is quite a spiel.  

In the chilly fall of 2014, I was hard at work writing my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. While I knew it wasn’t the next Whitbread Book of the Year, I believed my concept was unique in that no other published book (to my knowledge)has focused on childbirth-triggered bipolar disorder.  

My original plan wasn’t to even think about searching for another publisher until I had a complete first draft. “Another publisher” isn’t a typo.  In 2013, during the beginning of a hypomanic episode, I submitted a book proposal and secured a book contract with a health publisher. I canceled the deal because I relapsed while tapering off bipolar medication. (Never again.)

“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could have been somebody!”

Marlon Brando as “Terry” in “On The Waterfront”

After that mess, I wanted a fresh start with a more established publisher.  I was familiar with New Harbinger Publications, a publisher founded when I was three-years-old. New Harbinger has published books about bipolar disorder and bipolar memoirs, right in line with my material. I owned a few New Harbinger titles such as The Tao of Bipolar, Back from the Brink, and Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder.   Months before I had remotely considered pitching New Harbinger, they published Dr. Ruth C. White’s excellent book Preventing Bipolar Relapse. At that time I was writing book reviews, and I connected with Dr. White because I wanted to review her book for my International Bipolar Foundation blog.  

I was so impressed with Dr. White’s philosophy that I offered to help promote her book any way I could through social media and blogging.  She put me in touch with her New Harbinger publicist to help get the word out more effectively. When I decided to check if New Harbinger accepted unsolicited book proposals, I examined their website for submission information. It turned out that authors could submit a proposal without an agent, so I carefully reviewed their particular guidelines a zillion times.

I already had a completed book proposal but I had to tailor it to New Harbinger’s specifications.  Believe me when I tell you that I worked my ASS off on the proposal.  My husband Craig, a published author of the successful, critically acclaimed book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, reviewed my work and gave me great feedback.

Aside from Craig and my writing muse/puppy Lucy, I didn’t breathe a word to anyone about my plan in case my proposal was rejected. The New Harbinger website’s book proposal guidelines state, “Due to the high volume of proposals we receive, the evaluation process typically takes two to three months. In all cases, we will get back to you as quickly as possible with our publishing decision.” I assumed their staff would notify me whether or not they accepted my proposal as a courtesy and also as a confirmation that they received the proposal in the first place.  

I waited the requisite three months. I didn’t hear a peep. I knew that definitely wasn’t a good sign, but I told myself,  “Surely they’d email me a form letter letting me down!”  I also felt uneasy as I wasn’t 100% positive they got my proposal and reviewed it.  I wanted confirmation and closure so I could move on. I waited another month. Then, I emailed them inquiring about the status of my proposal.  


I decided to use my “connections.”I searched for the email correspondence I had with New Harbinger’s publicist and found it, complete with her direct phone line. I figured I had nothing to lose at that point except some dignity, so I emailed her asking if there was a chance she could check on my proposal status.

When I helped her promote one of her authors, she got back to me right away, but when it came to me, I didn’t receive a reply. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised, but I had to give it the old college try. As I inwardly cringed, I left her one brief, professional-sounding (i.e. not too desperate) voicemail message.

Chirp, chirp.

Then, for the hell of it, I emailed New Harbinger the proposal again.  Infantile, I know, but three days later I finally got a reply:

“Dear Dyane, Thank you for sending us your proposal. After careful consideration, we must, unfortunately, decline the privilege of publishing your book because it does not fit our editorial needs. Most of our books are step-by-step self-help guides. We publish very few memoirs. That said, we recognize that your book has the potential to help many people who have faced a similar situation, and we wish you the best of luck in locating just the right publisher. Sincerely, The Acquisitions Department New Harbinger Publications Proposals@newharbinger.com

YUCK! Their email noted, “We publish very few memoirs.”  Uh, duh! Before I ever contacted them, I gleaned their memoir listings.  While they were obviously trying to lessen the blow of rejection, I thought they came off as patronizing. I didn’t really care how many memoirs they published; it was a moot point, as I still believed they should have published mine!  My memoir wasn’t even a pure memoir, as I explained in my proposal, but a memoir with a separate section designed to help the reader with resources and other lovely bits.

While some of the New Harbinger memoirs looked good, other titles did not impress me at all.  “My writing and my concept is as good as some of their books!” I muttered in a futile attempt to bolster up my ravaged writer’s esteem. That’s the thing with rejections. Even if your writing is good or even excellent, a rejection will make you feel deeply insecure about your writing quality. I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but having my writing rejected made me feel like shit. Then anger and defensiveness washed over me…

F*ck THEM! I thought. It’s THEIR loss!  I discussed this situation with a sympathetic, tolerant Craig.  I explained to him, “I looked at their job listings, and they’re advertising for an Acquisitions Editor and a Senior Publicist, so something funky is going on there!  They obviously don’t have their act together!  I didn’t even have a person sign my rejection email, but a ‘department’.”  He listened to me patiently, agreed with me, and then ran away.

When I received the New Harbinger email, the timing was pretty rotten. I got it the night before my first support group met. That evening I was exhausted from a day filled with cleaning the house and firming up last-minute details. I had already known in my heart that my proposal was a no-go with New Harbinger, but to look at their email took the wind out of my sails.  

Then, I took a deep breath.  I remembered how my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle received so many rejections that she almost gave up writing when she hit forty! I knew that my sulking time with New Harbinger was now officially over. I had a brand-new support group to focus upon, and while I was nervous as hell about it, I was also very excited. Being rejected happens to every writer. No one was taking away my ability to write. Hell, I was even opening up to the idea of self-publishing someday!  It was helpful to get the closure I needed from New Harbinger, and it turned out the following day that the support group’s energy was the best way to soothe my wounded ego.  

As my extraordinary friend Greg Archer, a gifted author of the memoir Grace Revealed says, “ONWARD.”

Here I am with my first publishing contract – while it’s null and void,

I keep it to remind me that I have the potential for success, and that my writing doesn’t suck!

Photo on 2015-03-06 at 08.32 #2 “I coulda been a contender, people!”

p.s. This meme made me laugh, although I think it’s kind of stretching it a little when it comes to the schadenfreude concept. And are you wondering how schadenfreude relates to my tale of woe?  I almost forgot to explain how that fits in here, but you’ve probably figured it out!  I’ve always been fascinated about other writers’ experiences of professional rejection of their work.  I admit I undergo schadenfreude during those times – I feel like I’m not the only rejected writer on the planet. That comforts me.  While I’m not a total sadist —  I’m not happy about another one’s misery — I feel less alone in our shared experience of rejection.  


“Gott sei Dank, es ist Freitag!”

48 thoughts on “Let’s Play the Schadenfreude Game! (A Writer’s 1st Rejection)

  1. This aspect of writing terrifies me. Good on you and keep moving forward. Just watch out for my favourite German expression: Weltschmerz – mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.

  2. Thanks – it’s so great to see you here, roughghosts. You’ve written such amazing comments over @ our mutual friend Blahpolar’s blog – I always enjoy reading your insights & encouragement. I’ve never heard of “Weltschmerz” so I must run that by my therapist too – she still has a heavy German accent despite living in California for many years. And yes, I’ll watch out for it – nein, nein! I want its *opposite*! 😉 take care!!!

    • This was really cool to read – thanks so much – I found these facts to be very surprising, although I was familiar with one author they listed, #14 (my fav author as you know) “A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was rejected 26 times before it was published.”

  3. It’s a complex world we live in and sometimes it comes down to a single person’s decision that can be affected not only by skill but also by mood. One person says ‘yes’ whilst another says ‘no’. Perseverence can be the difference between success and failure. Good on you Dy for sticking to it. 😉

    • What a great comment, Glenn! Yes, who knows who looked at it and what kind of mood that person was in! For all I know, no one really looked at it, or an intern looked at it. Or the person who did look at it was in a terrible state. Or, as another follower who’s a published writer remarked, it simply didn’t seem like it would sell. My blogger friend Blahpolar’s comment has a link to an article that lists a bunch of famous authors alongside how many times their bestselling books got rejected – it was astounding! I feel much better now after blogging my rejected heart out, and getting such lovely feedback from everyone. Ah, the soothing blogosphere! I love it!

  4. I’ve published 8 books under my name and as a ghost writer. The rejection is always there but you grow a thicker skin and realize publishing is a business. An editor may love your book, but if marketing doesn’t think it will sell, you’re done. I have a book with my agent now and am on pins and needles waiting to hear if he likes it and will submit it to editors. Keep trying, if you don’t, you won’t get anywhere.

    • I hope that your agent LOVES your book! And that it becomes a bestseller! I really value your advice, and obviously you know what’s what! So yes, I’ll keep trying – at least I have the “writing drive”. I know you understand that feeling & I admire your accomplishment of publishing 8 books! I’m glad that I feel compelled to keep on with this book project, as it adds a unique purpose to my days aside from being a mom, wife, & dog mom!

  5. Schadenfreude is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, well not that term specifically lol but how we often revel in others misery. I too have noticed how my blog gets a lot more attention if I’m raw and bleeding and stumbling in life. Interesting food for thought. Great post Dyane, poses a lot of interesting notions

    • Thank you, McK! By the way, I spent 15 minutes last night searching for your “monkey/listening” post as I realllllly want to read it! 😉 I suspect a certain beautiful, brilliant writer may have deleted it? (It took me a while to figure that out, ha ha!) I eagerly await your next installment. Personally I get a lot of satisfaction about writing about the messy parts of life, and how I wish I could write about certain relatives in gory detail. I’ve created an anonymous blog where I can do that, but I haven’t written there yet. I’ve also been told I could write a “fiction’ piece on my regular blog about them and blur the identifying details enough. Anyway, thanks for reading, and thanks for the compliment, my friend. You made my day!

      • Ha that’s a very clever idea, I think I need an anonymous blog to just get all my bitching and moaning out on lol I could fill pages with my rants on just about everything lol

        I’ve been using WordPress from my phone sporadically and did something weird in my pocket the other day, it must have changed the privacy settings on the blog coz it still shows up in my list haha whoops! I’ve had a huge week, lots to go on about so it will probably be a few blogs. I passed the 25k word count today, the work is getting a bit meatier. Been quite focused on that the past couple of days xo

  6. So sorry to hear your proposal got turned down. Keep looking for the perfect publisher for you and your book and don’t give up! Very glad to hear that your newly formed support group went well. Keep it up!

    • Thanks so much, Lisa – as you know, it helps to write about the crappy stuff and then receive some wonderful support from people like you! I’m planning to finally get over to your blog this weekend. It’s the least I can do, after nagging you to write us an update post, yes? 😉 (((hugs))))

  7. Rejection comes with the territory. You are in good company. Luckily, you also blog where you can receive support. Sending some love your way.

  8. I love the way you turn it around at the end: “Being rejected happens to every writer. No one was taking away my ability to write.” It’s true. Just because they (finally) made a decision doesn’t subtract from your skills as a writer (and you know your talented)!

    If you want a little Schadenfreude action from me, I’ll tell you: I recently applied for a job writing for a Christian website. Although I haven’t officially heard back from them, I have the feeling I didn’t get the job. I had made the mistake of announcing that I had applied on my facebook page and now everyone I know keeps asking me…”Did you get that job? Did you get that job?” No. (Insert ego burn here)

    • Sweet SuperMommyofTwins, the website you applied to write for would be SO LUCKY to have a wonderful writer such as you join the staff! I can understand the temptation to post about it on Facebook all too well! I’m sorry that you have to answer your Facebook friends’ inquiries, though. 😦 At least your ego will flame a little less with each day, I promise!

      Take care, and thanks for reading & for always being so encouraging! You give me hope!

  9. Your writing definitely does not suck. I love your style and your topics. I am currently writing my book and I am glad I read this as it shows me what goes on in the publishing world. The right fit is out there for you!

    • Aww, a belated “thank you”, Lydia!

      Your comment lifted my spirits sky-high! Anyone with “Lydia” in her name (as you know, it’s my middle name) can’t have sucky writing, right?

      That’s very exciting that you’re working on your book, and I’m happy that my post gave you a little glimpse into the way some publishers operate. I appreciate your encouragement so much, and I wish you the best with your project as well!

      • Yes, us Lydia’s need to stick together! I look forward to the day I can pick up your book…when it is on the best-seller list of course!

  10. Oh povera me, cosa posso dire di psicoterapeuti italiani? What if your therapist is or was Italian??? I know no German except a few unspeakable words, like pig-dog etc…But I do know the suffering involved in the shaden or is it the freude of writing rejections, and this despite two books by “Yes, we actually pay you to write”…publishers. I dunno, perhaps my skin is thicker with the years, but not so thick as not to feel the sting of rejections still. Nevertheless, if you do not enjoy the journey, why travel? (Yeah, to get somewhere, I hear ya!)

    So, I know some successful writers who claim to hate writing, but I cannot understand that. I would only write because I loved writing, and will only do so as long as I love it.
    I think it is clear that you love to write, it shines through in your humor and your sass. RIGHT on, as we used to say in the 60s…which dates me terribly, but there you have it! Write on, writers, all of us!

    • I got a big kick out of your comment, Pamela. (i.e. “Yes, we actually pay you to write”…publishers) I also particularly loved your “RIGHT on!” exclamation.
      (I made my grand debut on March 18th, 1970, but I connect with the 60’s in a groovy way! )

      I DO love to write, and none of the rejections I’ll receive can take that love away from me, for which I am deeply grateful. However, I’m hoping to grow a MUCH thicker skin, but it ain’t easy. I’m one of those HSP-types. (High Sensitive Persons)

      I appreciate your stopping by the blog and for taking time to comment and make me smile. 🙂 Write on, and Right on…indeed!!!

      • HI Dyane, Yeah that thicker skin takes a lot of time and basically I think it takes realizing that publishing is not all that it is cracked up to be. I mean, YES it is great, of course, but I swear, unless you are lucky enough to earn that mythical millions of dollars on your first book or even your third…Publishing is hard work and it is a job just like any other. There is little glamor in it really, even those book tours you hear about are just work! No one tells you that when you get your first several thousand dollar advance from a publisher. They fail to tell you even that that “advance” has to be PAID back to the publisher if your book doesn’t make that much for them after publication! Ha ha ha! So be forewarned about that too! OOOhhh it is a drag if you do not make money on that book, and you did get a big advance,…Luckily I did not run into that problem, but some people do, and like I said…Oooh! Not to take the wind out of anyone ‘s sails but you really do have to love the journey in this job not the destination, because so few people ever do make it, make it big or get a publisher that makes money that it can be heartbreaking unless you simply HAVE to write and won’t settle for less. THEN you write to live and the hell with anything else…Best wishes to you, Dyane, because I can tell that you are one of those and will make it! Pam

  11. Been there, Dyane. Believe me, I’ve been there and I will be there in the future! When I started trying to “shop around” my first novel (after a respected agent told me to go ahead, it would be an uphill battle, but he thought it had merit, so why not try?) I was rejected multiple times (over 50, I think); most were form rejections, a few asked for pages and then politely sent a form rejection. BTW, I didn’t start querying until after I’d been through 7 drafts of this particular novel and received feedback from beta readers. After multiple rejections, I rewrote the entire thing, started querying again, got rejected more, and have now rewritten it entirely. And in the meantime, I’ve written two other novels, with multiple drafts of each. It’s just the name of the game in publishing, even if it hurts like the dickens.

    That’s why I try to be very careful when I decline a short story for the literary journal. I know what it’s like to receive those, thanks but no thanks, and wonder why they don’t want my work!

    • Loved this comment. I knew about some of your experience with writing rejections from reading your incredible blog (gotta catch up on it, darn it! I ***hate**** being behind!) BUT I didn’t know all the details that you describe above. You have definitely been there!

      I admire you immensely “simply” for completing books. That in itself is truly a remarkable accomplishment. *Fifty+* times of rejection would be enough to dash the hopes of many an aspiring writer. Yet you’ve carried on.

      When you recently blogged about your new position as an editor for the journal, it did occur to me that you would be in “a position of power”. I also knew that you would be fair and compassionate, more so than most people. I’d want you to write my rejection letter, Laura, if I had to have one! 😉

      • Unfortunately, I get to write the rejection letters, and I mean that sincerely! The journal (as every other agent/editor/publication does) has a form rejection letter. Plug in the author’s name and title of the work, and hit send. Occasionally–very, very occasionally–an editor might add a line about the merit of the story. (I’ve received a few of those.) But there just isn’t time to respond to every query or submission with anything else. It’s the sort of thing that drives writers nuts, of course, and leaves us wondering: why did I get rejected? Quality? Style? Format? Topic? Just not the appropriate place to submit? But with so many submissions coming in, it would be impossible to write a customized letter for each one. Yet sometimes, I really want to, particularly for the obviously young writers and/or international ones trying to write in their non-native tongue. (That impresses me.) But, my job is to click a button and say yes or no. I can add a note or two for the next reader at the journal to see, though, so sometimes I do that to explain my decision on the “iffy” ones. 🙂

      • Found this very interesting, Laura!!! Sorry that I couldn’t reply until now. There’s only so much you can do in your work; I honestly think you have a (writer’s) heart of gold and it must be very challenging to review all the submissions, especially the iffy ones!

    • I just reread my comment and realized that I had an “oops” in the first line: I DON’T get to write the rejection letters. Sigh. My proofreading skills . . .!

  12. I give you so much credit for even braving the rejection in the first place, Dyane! Just the thought of getting a “no” holds me back (suppose that’s why I love Stigmama so much- everyone’s welcome) from pursuing things…. You have a wonderful voice and I’m sure you will have a book out in time!

    • A belated thanks, Mariah!!! I *definitely* love Stigmama in part of its inclusive nature! Thank you for the lovely words, by the way. I’m looking forward to your next Stigmama submission!!!

  13. You are a very gifted writer! As long as your story helps change a single persons life, it is worth telling. Your ability to write will help many more than just one person😊

    I just went and saw Andy Lee. It took her seven years to be accepted by a publisher. She has a book that is coming out soon and another one in the fall. I have been with Lakeland Christian Writers for over a year and the journey of each writer is so different. There are writers that have been turned down by a publisher and 3 years later they have been published by the same publisher that turned them down in the first place.

    A Girl Called Ella Dessa by Karen Campbell Prough was released this week. It has taken over three years of negotiations for this book to be published and now she has a contract for a series.

    If God placed this book on your heart, you know that it is meant to be read. Let that first rejection be your springboard. Keep helping others by sharing all you have to offer. I wish my writing would come as effortless as yours!

    • You had me at “You are a very gifted writer!”! 😉
      Bless your heart for writing that – it made me feel wonderful!!!

      It was interesting to read about the journeys of Andy Lee and Karen Campbell Prough, as well as your mention of a writer being turned down by a certain publisher only to have the work accepted by the same publisher later on! :0
      Talk about coming around full circle – I must say that I love happy endings like that.

      Being married to a successful author has helped me keep plugging away despite my doomy and gloomy, jealous feelings, even when I’m jealous of his book! He doesn’t mind when I give him a hard time about being published, thank goodness. He has a strong sense of humor as well as a healthy perspective on the publishing process.

      Anyway, I’m feeling better about writing in general ever since I wrote this post. I’ve been more disciplined about sitting down and writing what I’ve begun to call “the skeleton”. I know that sounds grim, but I’m reframing what I write as a humble, simple & basic “skeleton” in the hopes that once I complete the first draft I can return to it and make the writing more vivid. (How’s that for a run-on sentence? The horror!) I’ll put meat on the bones of the draft the second time around, so to speak. This skeleton concept has helped reduce some of the pressure I’ve placed upon myself to write something “magnificent”. It’s better that I write so-so than not write at all.

      Sorry to ramble. I want to thank you once again for your lovely and insightful comment. Responses such as yours are why blogging has been so therapeutic to me. I wish you my absolute best and I hope you’ll post to your blog soon, as I’ve enjoyed your writing there too! I love the fact that you write and also work in fitness and would really get a kick out of reading about your experiences helping others…or anything you want to write about at all, for that matter!

    • p.s. I should add that long, long ago I read the classic writing book “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, so I don’t mean to act like I invented the “skeleton” idea! 😉 I wish!

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  19. Considering how far you’ve come since this post, I’d say–the poop’s on THEIR shoes! Ha!

    Okay that was really juvenile, because I’m pretty tired and stuff, but still. I mean, you went through this, did not give up, and ROCK IT! You got another deal and your manuscript is in the publishing process!

    You’re an inspiration to the wee folks like me who aren’t sure they’re cut out to be contenders. 🙂 xxxx

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