It hurts when someone tells you something you didn't want to hear. No matter how nicely they put the information it still stings to be on the receiving end of a rejection. The problem is that writers must deal with rejection regularly. A writer's life involves more rejections than acceptances.
In "Don't Take it Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection" author Elayne Savage explores how subtle and not so subtle rejection messages from childhood can follow us into adulthood. These lingering feelings of rejection can make even the smallest slight balloon out of proportion.
For example: you get back a letter from an editor about your novel and she said, "I had a difficult time relating to your heroine" and a part of you reads that as, "I don't like you."
This is obviously an extreme example but always remember not to take a comment like that personally; the editor was talking about your manuscript, and not you as a person. It can be difficult to make this distinction because your manuscript is your baby and you've slaved over it for months, if not years. If they attack your manuscript, it can feel like they attacked you. But look at what she said and you'll see she wasn't even attacking the manuscript; she simply couldn't relate to the heroine. That isn't good or bad; it's just a comment. Analyzing that comment could help you refine and deepen your manuscript.
One part of "Don't Take it Personally!" that relates to writers in particular was about an actor who was disheartened after so many auditions where the casting director said, "you aren't the right type". This actor bolstered her spirits and continued auditioning by remembering it is about selection, not rejection.
This applies to writers as well: editors are selecting not rejecting. Your manuscript might not have registered the right note with this editor but there are many editors. Never let one "selection" letter discourage you, but do pay attention to what they said.
Case in point: Dorchester rejected "Thief" for the "New Voice in Romance Contest" in 2003 because I had too much back-story that dragged the pace. This "selection" letter hurt but I paid attention, and I removed that back-story for later in the novel and then submitted the updated manuscript for American Title, and bingo! I was in. In round three, I got eliminated. But that doesn't mean, "we don't like you", it just means the other entries struck stronger notes with readers.
Elayne Savage in her introduction to "Don't Take it Personally" said, "I discovered that the opposite of rejection is not just acceptance--it's also perseverance." I think this applies to writers as well because the only way I've found to get over a rejection is to learn from it and then move on.
So, what have you learned from your "selection" letters? Did you ever have a big “Ah-ha!” moment that helped you edit a manuscript?