Nathaniel Lambert Ph.D.

Publish and Prosper

Perhaps the Most Important, Yet Unexpected Key to Success

Find out what separates the winners from the losers in the game of life.

Posted Dec 12, 2013

Most Important Key to Success

What is the most important key to success? Some may say intelligence—not hardly! There are plenty of very intelligent people who don’t do much of anything with it. Hard work? Nope. That helps and is an important ingredient, but hard workers can turn into squash in the face of what I’m about to talk about. The most important factor in success that separates the winners from the losers is how you deal with rejection! Everyone, I don’t care who you are, will face a large share of rejection and how you handle it will determine everything. Why?

Harms of Rejection

In a previous post, I discussed in depth about how rejection or the fear of rejection can hinder you from submitting manuscripts for publication, will promote submission to second-rate journals, often prevents rejected manuscripts from ever being submitted again, and makes you lose out on making important personal connections. Indeed, rejection can completely cripple even the most intelligent or hardworking of us. So how can we deal with rejection?

Dealing with Rejection Effectively

1.  Remember, You Have Nothing to Lose and Much to Gain

Most often rejection affects our hoped for future rather than our current circumstances, so usually you have nothing to lose by rejection. Let’s say for instance that you are thinking about applying for a job at Stanford. You’ve lived your entire life not working at Stanford, you know exactly what that is like. You are already know exactly what to expect if you get rejected, so what do you really have to lose by giving it a try.

2. The Most Successful Encounter the Most Rejection

When I began working with some of the top psychology professors in the field who had published so many articles in top journals I just assumed that almost everything they wrote got accepted. Boy was I wrong. I couldn’t believe how many times these top researchers got rejected—but they hardly let it bother them, just resubmitting their work elsewhere in no time flat. Below is a list of some well-known books and how many times they were each rejected before finally being published:

# of Rejections           Book/Author

140                              Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

38                                Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

30                                Carrie by Stephen King

26                                Watership Down by Richard Adams

12                               Harry Potter by JK Rowling

 (Retrieved from

3.  View Rejection as Priceless Feedback

Much in life comes down to attitude sometimes, doesn’t it? You could either get really mad at the editor and reviewers that rejected your article or you could decide to learn and grow from what they wrote. In fact, you could even view it as free, priceless feedback. In Publish and Prosper I wrote:

Every time you submit a manuscript, you have the opportunity to receive free feedback from leaders in the field. In many fields, you would have to pay top dollar to receive this kind of feedback on your work; whereas in academia, you simply need to have the courage to submit something and you can get this feedback for free. The typical journal in my field requires at least 2-3 reviewers and an editor. Given that I currently have 25 manuscripts submitted for publication, I currently have a team of around 75 experts whose job is to provide insight and feedback on what I have written. Let’s say the average time academics spend reviewing a manuscript is four hours. Can you imagine how much this would cost in the business world or Hollywood to pay 75 experts to take four hours of their time to provide a personal consultation? I probably won’t make that much money during my entire lifetime. Yet, if I continue at my current pace, I’ll constantly have 75 experts helping to improve my work at any given time. What a tremendous resource—and not a penny has been extracted from my bank account (though I suppose I am returning the favor now by serving as an editor and not receiving a penny for that either). (p. 88)

Of course it is difficult to view negative feedback in a constructive way, but doing so sure can make a difference in your progress as a writer.

4. Just say “Next!”

Instead of stewing about the rejection you experienced, just say “next!” Jack Canfield (2005), author of The Success Principles wrote the following:

With publishing much of the decision that is made is based on fit with the journal. It may be that your work just wasn’t a good fit for the type of thing that journal wanted.

Barbara Kingsolver, best-selling author, said the following:

This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it “to the editor who can appreciate my work” and it has simply come back stamped “not this address.” Just keep looking for the right address.

Every quality manuscript will eventually find a home somewhere, it’s just a matter of time. In fact, one article I wrote was rejected FIVE times and then found a home in one of the top journals in the field. Hall and Wilcox (2007) found that 62% of published papers have been rejected at least once and would bet that number is higher than that in most fields. So next time you receive a rejection notice, just say “Next!” and resubmit elsewhere.

If I had more space I would love to share two other ideas for effectively dealing with rejection, but these are included in my book, which is currently on a 20% off holiday promotion (see below). In addition, I offer some free downloads to help you apply these principles. From the website, click on "Book Exercise Downloads" and then click on "Chapter 12 Wrap up Exercises."