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On Rejection

Rejection. Just hearing the word sucks big rhino horn. But actually being rejected? That’s more akin to going through self-immolation while walking on a bed of hot coals as someone stabs at your soul with fragments of broken glass.

Or, you know, something like that.

I imagine most people would agree that the harshest form of rejection has to do with love. Who, after all, has the armour/wherewithal/fortitude/bravery to put their heart out there on the proverbial table, only to be told, Thanks, but no thanks. Oh, and by the way, you have bad breath.

I’d answer my own rhetorical question, but I think everybody already knows the answer. However, rejection is not limited to the objects of our desire. After personal relationships, it’s my firm belief that work – in the broadest sense – is a close second when it comes to that evil, three-syllable monster called rejection. To have your brilliant idea shot down at work; to be told you’re not being rehired for a position that still exists at your company; to be turned down by the banks for a loan or line of credit to launch your dream company; to be passed over for promotion again and again ad nauseam.

To be sure, all those scenarios stink worse than a skunk that’s been rolling around in a vat of kimchi and gorging on poutine and Labatt 50. But for artists in any field, I think the sting is, alliteratively speaking,  particularly personal, painful, and pernicious. Why, you ask? I’m so glad you asked! Let me explain.

Last summer, I was honoured to speak to young/emerging writers in the Toronto area at a Diaspora Dialogues Charitable Society  gathering. One of the topics I addressed was rejection. As every artist, whether amateur or professional, understands all too well, just “putting yourself out there” is hard enough; having your final product mocked or scorned or flat-out rejected by others is not exactly the definition of pleasurable or fun. It’s like undressing in plain view for people to judge your physical form. And as we all know from informative documentaries such as Zoolander and The Devil Wears Prada, even the most beautiful of human specimens – runway and SI swimsuit models! – are paranoid about their bodies.

With respect to writing, here’s some food for thought to mow down on:

  • Before Agatha Christie had her first whodunit published, she was rejected by publishers for five long, grueling years. Today, only William Shakespeare has sold more copies of his works.
  • Pearl Buck was told “The American public is not interested in China” by one publisher upon submitting The Good Earth. When it was eventually published, it spent two years on the bestseller list and, in the process, earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • After being rejected by 22 publishers, James Joyce finally got Dubliners published. In its first year, it sold a whopping 379 copies, 120 of which were purchased by the author himself.
  • After being rejected by 25 agents, Audrey Niffenegger took her debut novel to a small publisher in San Francisco. The Time Traveler’s Wife went on to sell 7 million copies, was adapted into a hit movie, and has since been translated into 33 languages.
  • Nicholas Sparks was rejected by 25 agents before his book that on first glance appeared to be a guide to laptop computers found a home. A week later, Time Warner bought the rights to The Notebook for $1 million.

Even the most successful authors, whether looked at commercially or critically, have faced rejection early in their careers. As Jack Canfield – author of the Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul series (and with paltry sales of 500 million copies worldwide) – once put it, “One of life’s fundamental truths states, ‘Ask and you shall receive.’ As kids we get used to asking for things, but somehow we lose this ability in adulthood. We come up with all sorts of excuses and reasons to avoid any possibility of criticism or rejection.”

Being rejected will never be a walk in the park, but it’s the resilient, never-give-up attitude that separates the warriors who succeed from the quitters who will never achieve their dreams. Don’t ever be afraid to put yourself out there and to believe in yourself when everyone else may appear to disagree. Or, as “The Voice” tells Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.”


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