Acting students learn early on that they must deal with rejection. It’s the result of the way things are done in the world of theatre: eight roles in a play, twenty-four actors auditioning, sixteen actors rejected. It happens every time there is an audition. Actors also learn that the reasons for rejection are manifold and often have very little to do with them personally. The tough ones keep auditioning; the others find another way to live.
Rejection comes to other artists as well, but those other artists, even in theatre, usually have not been taught the way actors have and so have to develop ways to deal with rejection on their own. The alternative is to take a path that leads away from a world filled with rejection.
We all want to be wanted and accepted. Sometimes it seems that we aren’t, or at least our work isn’t. Only the artist him/herself can decide when it’s no longer worth trying. But before you decide that continuing to pursue your artistic dreams isn’t worth the continued rejection, consider this:
- George Bernard Shaw’s first five novels were all rejected.
- Both American Graffiti and Star Wars were rejected by all major studios
- Because On the Road was repeatedly rejected, Jack Kerouac spent over six years trying to get it published.
- According to Steven Soderbergh, every studio in Hollywood rejected Behind the Candelabra before HBO finally opted in.
- James Joyce “spent nearly 10 years…trying to get his fiction published”
- James Thurber received 20 rejections from The New Yorker. The magazine finally hired him for a permanent staff position.
- William Golding’s Lord of the Flies “was rejected over and over, 21 times in all.”
- Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time “was rejected by 26 different publishers, who all felt that the book was too difficult for children but too fantastic for adults. When it finally came out in 1962, the novel won the Newbery Medal, and it has sold steadily ever since. Today it sells about 15,000 copies a year.”
- Dr. Seuss’ first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers.
- Steven King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times.
- Mary Higgins Clark was rejected for six years, receiving some 40 rejection slips.
- Rovio Entertainment developed 52 games before their wildly popular “Angry Birds.”
- Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce was rejected by 84 publishers before one would take a chance on it.
- The Academy-Award-nominated Dallas Buyers Club, was rejected 86 times over twenty years.
As evidenced by these examples, those who connect the artist to the audience are sometimes lacking in foresight, but we still have to deal with their rejection. We may, like Shaw, who became first a critic, then a playwright, change our course slightly. Or, if the work is important to us, we will keep making it and putting it out there, submitting it to the next agent, publisher, producer, juried show, gallery, and the next and the next.
The bottom line is if we want to be artists, we will experience rejection. Therefore, we need to grow thick skins and maintain enough confidence to keep going. Rejection is, after all, part of the gig.