Ah, rejection. It comes in so many shapes and sizes.
“Doesn’t fit our current needs…”
“Thank you…next,” which is very often shortened to the economical, “NEXT!”
“We’ve chosen to go with another option.”
“Not at this time.”
“In your dreams.”
And my personal favorite, “No, I just want to be friends.”
Any creative artist that tells you they’ve never had to handle rejection is either lying, deluded, under the influence of a mind-altering substance, or simply hasn’t put their work out there to be seen. The simple answer to avoiding rejection is to never submit your work. Curiously enough, this is also the simple answer for avoiding success. In this business, rejection and success go hand in hand.
A few years ago, I submitted a couple of chapters of a YA novel to a friend’s agent. She got back to me fairly quickly and let me know that my work wasn’t the type she sold. I was devastated until my friend was good enough to point out that she had written in her reply that my writing was “fabulous.” By focusing on the sting of the rejection, I had completely missed her positive observations about my work. It took me back to an experience I had much earlier in my career.
As a young actor, I sat and waited at an audition. I watched as each actor came out and answered the inevitable question “How’d it go?” I watched a bunch of actors answer either “I think I got the job,” or “I didn’t get the job,” and walk out in clouds of powerless insecurity. Finally, an actor came out and said, “I think I did pretty well. I had them laughing and they liked my work,” and he walked out with a smile on his face. He was in control of his part of the process and clearly felt empowered and secure. My guess was rejection wouldn’t change that feeling for him.
I always try to focus on making my pitch or submission so good that I enjoy putting it out there. By doing this, I take away rejection’s ability to make me feel powerless in my own career. I walk away from the pitch or submission looking forward to the next one. Rejection can still sting. It would’ve been nice if the agent thought my work was fabulous and could sell it. Still, good work is good work and if I submit something else to her, I bet she’ll read it.
Keith Strunk is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America Series. He is co-founder of River Union Stage, a professional Equity theater based in Frenchtown, NJ.