I was sixteen when I went on my first modeling casting. For days afterward, I waited–and waited–for the phone to ring. When my agent finally called, I held my breath. Had I done wonderfully? Horribly? Booked the whole compaign? I pictured myself in a photo shoot on some tropical island, far far away from high school…
I had another casting to go to, he said. Huh? What about my first audition? Minutes later, I comprehended what “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” and “NEXT!” actually mean. Booking work wasn’t my job; bringing my best game was. Soon, my brain became like a Teflon pan to rejection. It’s not grown sticky since.
Once I started acting, my agents–I had a pair–in L.A. phoned me after my first few major auditions, sounding like heartbroken dads about to tell their daughter that her dream Sweet 16 B-day bash was a wash. After nervous-sounding small talk, they’d break the news: “They… [deep breath] Uh… really liked you, but… They went another way.” “Great!” I’d reply. And meant it. I was grateful for a phone call period. And positive feedback? That was new. Once they understood where I was coming from, we all felt calmer. I gradually booked work–steadily, for an actress. Even so, I had many more nos than yesses.
If there’s an honorary masters degree in rejection, I’m pretty sure I’ve earned it.
So when my literary agent told me this week that more publishers passed on my manuscript, the “rejection” slid off my Teflon mind, not allowing me, or my hopes, to get burned. I walked away from the news excited, eager to cook even more.
My agent no longer hustling on my behalf would burn. Me not working my butt off would burn far worse. But every ‘no’ is progress toward that invaluable ‘yes.’ All writers continue progressing, as long as we don’t give up. Our job is to be ready for the doors that swing open when they do, to seek those doors and just…keep…writing.
Rejection may not always feel like positive news, and it’s normal and reasonable to vent, whine, cry or feel sorry for ourselves when it strikes. (I embrace rejection nowadays, but trust me, I’ve had my moments…) What’s important, I believe, is forging on. Rejection is simply part of the job, and if we let it drag us down, we might rob ourselves from incredible opportunities. I’ve seen it happen time and time again with models and actors. Those who see bookings as frosting eventually book work, often loads of it. Those who dwell on undesirable feedback jump ship too soon.
We’re aren’t meant to book every gig, land every opportunity or even accept every offer that stands. If I’d have taken my last television opportunity, I would have been in Sweden the day I ended up meeting my agent. If I’d have stuck with acting when my heart was no longer in it, I wouldn’t have progressed as far with writing–or, God forbid–been pulled away from it.
Landing an agent or publishing contract is a lot like finding the love of your life. Most people experience heartache along the way. But the most happy, in-love couples refused to settle or stop believing in something more. That thought helped me when relationships and acting work fell through.
Next time you hit a perceivable bump in your career, or face the rejection monster, I hope you’ll give yourself a pat on the back, treat yourself to dinner and some quality writing time and start dreaming and working (even) harder. That’s what I’m doing tonight, sitting in my hotel room in Cleveland awaiting room service–totally stoked about Bouchercon.
How do you deal with rejection? What has it taught you?