Shop Talk

On Accepting Rejection

I seem to keep stumbling upon “10 Famous Whatevers Who Were Rejected For Something” listicles lately. You’ve seen them: yellowed form letters reprinted with the ironic twist that the person who was rejected is now not only famous, but famous for precisely the reasons they were rejected in the first place.

The lesson seems to be, “stick to what you’re doing, because with perseverance and time, you’ll succeed.” Which is, you know, complete and utter bull.

"Remorse Is for the Dead" by Alex Cherry

For every Stephen King – whose first novel, “Carrie” was rejected by something like 20 publishers – there’s a lot of, well, the rest of us, still plugging away at submissions to gigs, galleries, programs, and events, all for naught.

And many times, it’s not them, it’s you (or, well, us).

A rejection letter (or e-mail, or whatever) is one of those “good-bad” things that tumble into our lives sometimes, a way to learn and grow as creatives, while helping firm up our visions about who we are and what we want to do.

Look at a rejection as an opportunity. An occasionally soul-crushing and ego damaging opportunity.

First off, depending on your relationship with the party doling out the rejection, you should find out if they have any feedback. Then listen to that feedback.

I’m not saying you have to take the feedback on – it might not necessarily be what’s right for you as an artist or creator, but at the very least. This comes from two lines of thinking and the first is something you should never forget: the person who just rejected you probably didn’t want to and is, in all likelihood on your side.

They want to hire you – or someone, really. Searching for the right talent is time-consuming, emotionally-draining stuff and the last thing most of these people want to do is tell another hopeful “no.” Maybe your work wasn’t quite done to spec, or they’re looking for someone with different qualifications, or any number of reasons. But unless they (or you) are somehow a maladjusted misanthrope, they wanted to give you the job.

"Angel" by Samantha Lusher

So ask (politely) for feedback and be thankful for it – even if it’s harsh or you disagree with it. It may tell you something about how professionals are seeing your work or perceiving you as a creative. You might discover that you need to tweak something for the next try or – and this is something we overlook with rejection – we may find out that this wasn’t the right gig.

Consider that last one: you get back a long list of notes essentially telling you that it’s not in line with the corporate vision they’re trying to project or that your carefully-constructed series of dirty limericks just don’t work with their very serious publication (or whatever). This whole process is as much about discovering the work that you’re interested in doing as finding the people willing to pay you to do it. And don’t consider it sour grapes, either: these kinds of opportunities are great for refining for yourself how you want to be selling your art.

It’s a process of discovery: most of the greats didn’t come out fully formed and often – very often – it took a painful period of work, rejection, and more work still for the greatest to become great.

So what about you, dear readers: how do you turn rejection around for yourself?

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