Rejection: It Sucks, but is it a Blessing in Disguise?
“I think I’ve experienced more rejection than I have success. I don’t believe that the most successful people out there are the most talented. I think they’re the most resilient and defiant.”
Paloma Faith, multi-platinum selling UK recording artist, speaking at the Oxford Union, The Oxford Union on Audible Episode 1.
I’m going to come clean before we go any further. I don’t always set the best example when it comes to coping with rejection. The question embedded in my title is as much a reminder to myself as it is a rallying call for fellow creatives. I suspect that viewing rejection as a valuable learning curve only really comes with a lot of time, a heap of success, and a helluva lot of hindsight.
Because when it’s happening to you now — another inbox full of “thanks for considering us, but we’re really thinking of going in a different direction” emails; the “we don’t really feel that your work reflects who we are as a brand” replies to your fiction submission; the “I’m sure it’s a great idea, it’s just not right for us” responses to your article pitch — it feels like a demonic hornet stabbing you in the heart with its venomous stinger.
And yet, successful people from many different walks of life and working within a varied plethora of industries will tell you that their rejections far outweigh their successes. Despite slamming doors and unreturned phone-calls, they persevered, filed each rejection into the “Thanks, but No Thanks” folder, and kept right on trucking until those one or two nibbles came along which led to them landing that huge marlin. Okay, I’m not much cop at fishing metaphors, but you get my drift.
Bearing the Sting of Rejection: The Wrong Way and the Right Way
There is a company (that shall remain nameless here) to whom I have sent two different erotic fictions, only to get the “thanks, but no thanks” reply. After the first rejection, I huddled under the quilt and shelved the story completely. I didn’t bother to shop it around to other publications.
Upon the rejection of my second fiction submission to that publication, I cried rivers. I was so sure I’d met their criteria. That this new story was just perfect for them. This rejection led to me believing that they not only thought my story was rubbish, but that they actively hated me and my work!
About two weeks later, I was contacted by another company asking me if I had any new material available. All I had to offer them in that moment was my rejected fiction. Well, no harm in trying, I thought. I sent it off to them with a note, “It might be a little bit different (**cough** euphemism alert). I completely understand if it’s not your thing.” I got a reply within half an hour. We love it, we’d like to publish it asap. I hadn’t changed a word of the story’s text.
Rejection Today, Acceptance Tomorrow
Dr J, a retired sex therapist turned erotica writer has also found that a rejection from one editor does not automatically mean that a piece is henceforth unusable. “In my three years of writing, I have submitted 20 stories, with 16 accepted for publication…Of the four stories not selected for the original submission, I have used three in other places, and the fourth one is on hold for a series I am publishing.”
The lesson here: rejection is not personal. And it doesn’t mean that your work is rubbish. If you’re dead-set on getting this piece into this publication, with a bit of concerted re-thinking, re-tweaking and editing, you could mould it into something that better fits their brand. Indeed, Dr J remembers that upon receiving a rejection email that was kind and encouraging, she re-submitted for the same publication and was subsequently successful. As Dr J observes, “the second time was the charm.”
If sending an amended version doesn’t work, or if you’re not quite able to swallow your pride and resubmit to the same editor that rejected you the first time (which is fine: no one’s saying that rejection isn’t bruising), then shop it around elsewhere. Every editor has their own taste and their own specifications that they are working to. And every publication has a different set of guidelines. They’re a business, and naturally, they’re thinking about their target demographic. But there are a lot of readers out there and a lot of eclectic tastes. Your work might be perfectly suited to another corner of the market.
Lessons in Resilience: Dusting Yourself Off From Rejection and Using It To Your Advantage
It’s an unfortunate, but inescapable fact that when you’re working in a gig economy, you won’t get every job you vie for. However, the important thing is that you are putting yourself out there. You are a Smutlancer, a copywriter/ blogger/ journalist for hire, an author and creator, and you’re doing the work. No one ever got anywhere by sitting on their hands and waiting for opportunities to fall into their laps.
As Paloma Faith says in the opening quote, it’s resilience and defiance that ultimately breeds success. Whenever we put ourselves out there, whether it’s our creative or our romantic hearts, there is a risk that our hopes will be dashed. But by viewing rejection as a necessary and “character-building” experience — oh, that cliché! It’s not as though we only ever build character through pain!! –– we are far more likely to be able to brush off the sting of the rebuff, dust ourselves off, and accept that we can’t win ‘em all. But if we keep trying, eventually, we will win some.
P.S. That publication that have turned me down twice? I still haven’t given up, and they have become my White Whale! People do say that the third time’s the charm, though, right? Fingers crossed!