Rejection and a Teflon Mind

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?

Leave a comment

66 Comments

  1. Hmmm. I’d like to say that I have a thick skin, but that would be a lie. When my boyfriend cheated on my (that felt like rejection), I wanted to die. When my mother forgot about me and left me places, (abandonment that felt like rejection), I didn’t feel worthy.

    That said, I was an athlete. I was a fierce thing who would not stay down. If I fell off the balance beam, I got back up. If I was in a dance competition, and I stepped off beat of forgot a move, I faked my way through until I got back into the groove.

    And if a coach yelled at my or criticized (which felt like rejection), I always have gone through the same cycle.

    First I want to die.

    And then I come back wanting to be better than before.

    I STILL don’t like it when my husband “critiques” dinner. Because THAT feels like rejection, too.

    Weird, huh? 😉

    I guess you KNEW you were beautiful and had something to offer the world, so you could be confident, eh? You must have been surrounded by a lot of very positive voices. Lucky girl. This is why I became a teacher. I wanted to be that (missing) supportive voice for my students. I hope I have (at least) done that well in this life.

    Reply
    • I never knew I was beautiful, but I knew I was a hard working model and actress who had some talent and loved what she did–when I was passionate about either/both, that is. When we love what we do, it’s ALL good.

      I think rejection in life is pretty different from rejection from loved ones… We can still learn from it, of course, but criticism on us personally is a lot tougher, IMO.

      Reply
    • Renee, I love your reason for becoming a teacher. That attitude is what makes the difference between a good teacher and a great one. Go you!

      Reply
  2. I hope you order the most expensive thing on the Room Service Menu to help you forget about the rejection, teflon or no teflon.

    I agree that rejection is not always the worst thing. Not getting any answer or response is much more difficult to handle.

    Keep on cooking!

    Reply
    • Ha. Thanks, Ellis! I actually don’t want to forget the rejection. It really does have my giddy and eager to truck on. I got some positive feedback, too, which helps. Hope you’re cooking on, too. 😉

      Reply
  3. Shannon Esposito

     /  October 4, 2012

    You have such a good attitude, August! Yep, I agree…each rejection is just a stepping stone on the path to your goal. Have fun at Bouchercon!

    Reply
  4. Kitt Crescendo

     /  October 4, 2012

    I used to be in commissioned retail sales, then in management. You get rejection a lot there, too. The most important part of my job was two fold, teach my people how to sell & teach them that those rejections were not personal. I remember being in a manager meeting once. The district manager leading it had a deck of cards. He handed one card to every person in the room. He asked every person who had a number card to raise their hand. Then he asked those with the face cards to stand. He pointed out that like most things, if you have talent, then it’s simply a numbers game. Every face card stood for all the guaranteed yeses and that every no only meant you were one step closer to your yes. I remembered that. 🙂

    Reply
  5. After trying to sell for 13 years, and 3 books, I know what you’re talking about, August. I queried 150 agents/book, so do the math…that’s a LOT of rejection!

    But like Randy Pausch said (if you haven’t read his book, The Last Lecture, you really must – so inspirational!)

    Walls are there to keep out people who don’t want it as bad as you do.

    He was right, too – in the past year, I’ve sold four books.

    Very inspirational post – you’re ALMOST there!!!
    Hang in – I know this is the hardest part.

    Reply
    • What you said about walls… YES! Thanks so much for the encouragement, Laura. Sounds like you’re a prima role model. 🙂

      My dad loaned me Pausch’s book. Thanks for prompting me to read it!

      Reply
  6. I love the line “every ‘no’ is progress toward that invaluable ‘yes.’ “. That’s a perfect way to think of it. It moves you past the pity feel and let’s you go back to anticipation. The next step is to understand you have to get a rejection in order to get that fantastic next deal. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  7. Everybody faces rejection. The mark of a champion is how much you can take and keep moving forward. I’ve always known you are a champion August. Rock on, girl!

    Reply
  8. Great topic! I remember stopping at my mailbox one night before a book reading/signing for my first book. I received a rejection letter for my latest submission and while I was a bit upset about it, I was very happy to be going to an event for my current book, so how upset could I really be? It’s all about perspective!

    Reply
    • Indeed, David. Viewing our careers as rejection-laden rather than rich with opportunity can make or break them, IMO. Wishing you continual success. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Amazing! Thanks for this. Here’s a poem about learning rejection by Elizabeth Bishop: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15212 sometimes when I remember this poem it helps, and other times it allows me to wallow for a moment. xx

    Reply
  10. mgmillerbooks

     /  October 4, 2012

    I, too, earned my Master of Arts in Rejection: RJCTMA. I decided not to pursue the PhD, though. The Big R is just a fact of life, especially so in the arts. You have to believe in yourself because there are more people out there who don’t believe in you than there ever will be of those who do. The strong will survive, and I have no worries for you in that regard.
    Have a Boucheron Blast!

    Reply
  11. I’m so impressed that you were able to Teflon-coat your mind at such an early age. Most people don’t get there, if at all, until they’re much more–ahem–mature. I think I am able to take in rejection without having it affect my core or make me doubt myself. Usually it just lights a fire under me, which is helpful.

    Thanks, and I will bookmark this blog post to come back to when I enter the next phase with my novel-in-progress. I may try to find an agent for this one (which adds another whole level of rejection possibilities).

    Reply
  12. You need to have really strong mentality in order to be able to deal with rejection appropriately. And you definitely have that, August, a quality that I admire about people like you. 🙂 You were saying that you were an actress, yeahI remember that, say, you used to be on set with Scarlett Johansson and the like? Curious.

    In response to your questions, I have got to be honest with you. This year has been the worst in my life emotionally as I have to deal with a severe family tragedy, a relationship break up, the cancellation of my tuition waiver, and the resignation of one of my supervisors whom I admire greatly, thus I would have been completely devastated if I had been rejected. Fortunately I don’t have to submit my manuscript this year, so I know that I don’t have to deal with rejection at all; I wont know how it feels like at this stage.

    Yet I wouldn’t say this year is terribly bad. One thing that I’m hoping to happen soon is the submission of my thesis at the end of the year. I hope that would wash away all the anguish and anxiety I have been bearing throughout the year. So, please wish me luck! 🙂 And in addition to that, the great thing that happens to me this year is actually my blogging experience, including having the acquaintance with great bloggers like you. So I must say that while much of my life at personal level has been catastrophic, my blogging experience has been wonderful, which is something that I am really thankful for. At least none of my fellow bloggers ont reject my short stories or poems. Yay!! 🙂

    And on a lighter note, I guess if you really think about it, this whole bunch of rejection thing is just a process. And when it comes to process, it is like planting a tree. You cannot expect the tree to bear fruit overnight. You have to water it, remove dead leaves, and protect it from winds and storms before it could grow well and eventually bear fruit. JK Rowling was rejected several times before securing a £1500 advance for her first edition of Harry Potter manuscript. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist only sold 900 copies in its first edition and the publisher decided not to reprint. He was rejected several times before he could finally secure a deal with a larger publisher in Brazil and he went ecstatically mad when HarperCollins offered him a contract a couple of years later.

    Forgive my rambling; it’s symptomatic of my midnight exhaustion. Whhhooooooaaaahhh, good night, and enjoy Cleveland. 🙂

    Subhan Zein

    Reply
  13. Wise words, August, and so very true. We should move on stronger after every rejection … even if we require a glass of wine or a double serving of chocolate to fuel the journey. We’re looking forward to your report on Bouchercon!

    Reply
  14. Catherine Johnson

     /  October 4, 2012

    Great post, August. I think the best work probably gets written after rejections, so they are useful.

    Reply
  15. Great minds think alike. 🙂 I did a post yesterday on…rejection. As writers, we receive more than our share.

    Reply
  16. After 15 years in real estate, I know something about rejection. I haven’t tasted too much as an author, because I have not solicited a great deal.

    I have received lavish praise and severe scorn for my writing in my last stint as a blogger… but it certainly gave me a thick skin. I know my stuff is good, so i don’t worry about whether it is or not. It’s just not for everyone.

    I like to compare it to issues of attraction. Some girls like a skinny, wiry guy… some girls like the big teddy bear guy, some girls like a guy with an Asian look, etc… so it would be silly for a big teddy-bear guy to worry about the girl who likes the wiry guys. Similarly, I presume that I have just encountered someone who likes other stuff, when I get rejection. For those who offer constructive criticism, I’m all over that. Heck, that’s not rejection at all. Rejection is them not even taking the time to criticize.

    If your kung-fu is strong, and you know it, then just own it. Take the outcome out of the equation, and don’t worry about the result. Just make sure you are having fun with what you are doing.

    Or in the case of authors, having agony.

    that’s kinda like fun anyway.

    Reply
  17. Nice take on rejection. We are always in control of how we react to bad/good things in life. And your views on how to deal with NOs are great…and will lead to growth. Love your blog.

    Reply
  18. Oh wow, I’ve got this one covered for sure. I’ve lived through rejections on two separate manuscripts over a ten year period, debuting finally as a published author with novel #2. My agent and I plan to take novel #1 back to publishers some time in the near future – I know in my heart it’ll reach readers one of these days in one way or another. Got a screenplay circulating around Hollywood at the moment, so the waiting game is on once again. In the meantime, I’m busying myself working on novel #3, because I’ve finally figured out that no matter what, I’ve got to keep moving forward and perfecting my craft. And like my agent always says, my job is to write and his job is to sell and push me along. I like what Subhan Zein had to say about rejection being part of the process. Because if you want to be an author for the long haul … if you want to develop the mental capacity to actually live the writing life, you’ve got to keep rejection in perspective as being a means to an end – and a necessary part of the game. The latter I’m actually including in a workshop (The Career Author: Strategies for Living Your Dream) I’m giving this weekend at the Collin College Writing Conference in Plano, Texas. Great post, my friend!

    Reply
  19. “We’re aren’t meant to book every gig, land every opportunity or even accept every offer that stands.”

    That’s one of the things that keeps me pushing forward. I believe that sometimes doors we wanted to go through have to close so that we end up going in the direction we were meant to go. I can be stubborn and I’m known to over-commit, so if I got every opportunity I chased, I’d never achieve anything. And I’d be miserable. I choose to believe that the rejections are leading me to the right place in the end.

    Reply
  20. Hear ya! Totally agree. But if you aren’t willing to risk the ‘no’ you’ll miss out on the ‘yes’ too. That’s how I look at it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Great post.

    Reply
  21. Inspiring post, August! All those rejections are leading us along the way to a YES. I followed a dear friend with her story. 11 years working on her novel, numerous rejections, major rewrites based on feedback to then get an agent FINALLY…then more rewrites and submitting,,,and finally, when she thought all was lost 5 months later she got a book deal! I hope yours comes soon. They key to rejection is to learn from it and improve. I had my full MS out with a few agents and after 3 rejections with similar feedback pulled the MS from submission and looked at where it fell flat. I rewrote it and now out again! One step closer 🙂 I hope for you too! Have fun at Boucheron!

    Reply
    • Go Donna!!! I love that you didn’t allow rejections to stop your story in its tracks. It’s obviously paying off. 🙂

      You know what also helps? That the writing community is so darn supportive. Thanks for being part of it!

      Reply
  22. Those agencies might have passed on your MS, but one will pick it up soon and then we’ll all be able to buy your fabulous book!

    Truer words were never spoken, August. If writers could see rejection as part of the process, and try to get something positive from it, then they’ll be better, stronger, wiser in the long run. I hope I keep this firmly in my mind when I start getting rejections.

    Reply
  23. Very good advice. One person’s loss (publisher) is another person’s gain (different publisher), so we need to keep going until we find “the one.”

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
  24. What an incredible post August. Love your teflon attitude. ROCKS!!!

    And you know…I think it’s so true across the board in our life experiences. I think sometimes when we are facing a tough time (rejection, break up, heart ache etc), it helps to look back and remember all those times where hindsight proved so valuable. Looking back helps us realize we are strong and have already overcome so much – and therefore can get through this as well. Also, with hindsight, we often realize that in struggle and pain, often comes some of the most incredible gifts and opportunities. So it’s important to always remember that life has a way of surprising us…always!

    I love your analogy to finding the right man. Rejection doesn’t have to be something we take personal. Not everyone wants to be my BFF (shocker…I KNOW!!!) and I don’t take it personal. Me and my writing is not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s cool…

    FAB post darlin’! You have such a great way of putting it! ENJOY your trip!!!

    Reply
  25. Beautiful post, August! I learned a long time ago that rejection in writing was normal and not to get upset about it. Every rejection deserves a “Congratulations”–I learned that in grad school and I’m finally putting it into practice many years later. It’s a celebration that you’re making the effort, because you can’t see results if you don’t try.

    I love your Teflon analogy! It’s perfect.

    Reply
  26. Coleen Patrick

     /  October 4, 2012

    August, I love the idea of a teflon mind. So awesome. You’re talking about rejection and you’ve got me smiling!! You rock.

    Reply
  27. Sometimes you get sweet revenge, too! My cutting edge pet book proposal garnered a boatload of rejections, including one from Penguin Putnam. So my agent and I retired the idea. About 18 months later, a new editor joined Penguin and asked to see pet book proposals and ended up buying the book!

    Another story–I was asked to write Kittens for Dummies. After completing the ms, and having it accepted, the company was sold and a bunch of books were canceled, including mine. Because it had been accepted, I still got paid AND got my rights back. So I quick-like-a-bunny sold the manuscript to the Penguin editor, too (and got paid a second time). Now the original book went out of print–so I updated it, Kindle-ized it, and now it’s my nonfiction best seller.

    Rejection is an opportunity to find another answer. I think authors (or anyone in the arts) needs to have a weeee bit of masochistic tendencies to survive the rejection and turn it into a positive. “OH IT HURTS SO GOOOOOOD!” *eg*

    Reply
  28. Hey,

    Since I didn’t officially go to writing skool, I’ve been attending UC Life as a Writer as I learn the basic tools of our craft.

    Should I need more time upon “graduation,” I shall keep my mindset positive and consider myself as an intern who needs to “pay my dues” while working my way up the ladder.

    Reply
  29. Stacy S. Jensen

     /  October 4, 2012

    I wince when I realized where this was going. Sometimes, I’m a bit teflon too. I work. I try. I wait. I work and try again. Thanks for sharing your journey. (And, thanks to you, the other day I almost posted “my shadow adds 10 pounds” but didn’t do it, because of one of your previous posts. Thanks.

    Reply
  30. I figure it is all part of my path. If life was easy, it would be a bore. Mine is full of all kinds of highs and lows and with all of the spikes, there is something to learn.

    Reply
  31. Fantastic, inspirational piece, August. Enjoyed it very much.

    Steve

    Reply
  32. Thanks for the post, I haven’t heard the “teflon” analogy before, it is so appropriate for so many situations; a mordern version of water off a duck’s back, but even better!

    Reply
  33. When rejection hits, I’m a dandelion. I wilt for a while, then I come back anyways. My husband is an orchid. He has more trouble with it. For him, the environment has to be favourable for him to bloom to his full potential.

    Reply
  34. I have had lots of rejection over the years, but I need to grow a thicker skin about my writin g- not from my friends or support system, they can rip it apart and i’m okay with that. but needless yucky reviews still hurt. but i’m getting better

    Reply
  35. lynettemburrows

     /  October 4, 2012

    Great post, August. Loved the reminder that “We’re aren’t meant to book every gig, land every opportunity or even accept every offer that stands.” You said it, if we love what we do, and believe that we can do it, every rejection is just one step closer. And, man, I must be getting close! 🙂

    Reply
  36. I love your attitude, August. 🙂 You will find a publisher who is just right for you and in some ways, that’s more important than the publishing contract itself. I always pout for two days, then get back to work. And work and work and work. You go, girl!

    Reply
  37. I really needed this! So far, I’ve let fear of rejection stop me. Maybe I need to send things out more and practice rejection, so that I can get closer to the yes. I love what Marcy said. That is so true, not just in writing, but in all areas of life. So, Miami didn’t reject me, I was just steered to Raleigh instead because it’s probably a better fir for me. 🙂 Great post!

    Reply
  38. You are much smarter than I am, August. It took me years to learn to shrug off rejection. When I was young, I figured things that were meant to be would happen easily. (LOL on me, right?) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more stubborn. I don’t give up so easily. After your reading your post, I can tell myself, “Remember August’s teflon mind. You want to be like that, don’t you?” Thanks for a wonderful blog post.

    Reply
    • I considered taking a photo of myself–pan atop head–but didn’t have access. If that image helps, feel free to use it! 😉

      Thanks for the lovely words, Catie. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we can all learn from one another.

      Reply
  39. inkspeare

     /  October 5, 2012

    I loved this post. This is a post that we should share, so others can reach through our blogs. In my case, I had a very overprotected childhood which I had to overcome when I became an adult. The first rejection broke me down but didn’t kill me; I was not used to rejection at all. It was new to me. Then, after I entered the sales arena, rejection became a daily event, so I learned to deal with it, but I think that even when it doesn’t crush me anymore, it is always dissapointing. For me, getting into sales was the therapy I needed back then.

    Reply
    • It sounds like Ink Speare is an appropriate term for you. 🙂 Good for you for not succumbing to rejection paralysis! Thanks for the wonderful support.

      Reply
  40. Kourtney Heintz

     /  October 6, 2012

    I once read it takes 10 years to get a book published. Every time I get an agent rejection, I think well at least I’m closer to the 10 year mark. 😉 Seriously though, I’ve gone from form rejections to personalized rejections on fulls to requests for revisions. I can see my writing improving and I know eventually it will snag an agent. I also keep writing. If one book isn’t right, the next one might be.

    Reply
  41. You have a fabulous attitude, and you are one hundred percent right! Each no is one step closer to the deal you are looking for. If we got the “yes” right away, it might be the wrong one. Or we might not appreciate it enough. We need to earn it. Work for it. Love this post, August. Wanted to “like” but nothing happened when I hit the button. And I even switched browsers so that I could leave a comment. Don’t know. But I got a new computer today and the hubby will be setting it up for me tomorrow. Hopefully things will be working better after that. Or…it could be worse. LOL.

    Reply
  42. EllieAnn

     /  October 7, 2012

    I just love this. You have a strong sense of purpose. If it’s meant to be it will be. At the right time. I think that’s true confidence.
    When ‘no’s’ come my way, I’m disappointed, but don’t lose my purpose. If my book is rejected, I understand that the opportunity just wasn’t meant for me. Besides, my purpose for writing (or buying a house, or going on vacation, or anything that comes my way) is so much deeper than one opportunity. It sounds cheesy–but it really is the journey that matters.

    Reply
  43. As writers, rejection would cripple us if we didn’t have thick skin. When I get rejected I hear the voice of my writing teacher telling me that I will succeed because I won’t give up, and then – I don’t give up! She is brilliant that way! Love your post.

    Reply
  44. I’m taking a beating from rejection right now (How did yo uknow?) and some days I can barely keep my head above water…
    The truth is, I’m not handling it very well, but I’ll never give up.

    Reply
  45. Rejection always sucks but it never made me want to quit writing. Or even consider it. It kind of gave me that feeling of having broken through the newbie faze of only getting ”no’s”. Made me feel like hazing was over. 😉 I’m luckily blessed with a stubborn gene.
    I give some time to let it cool off and gain some emotional distance. Then I take a look at the ones that gave some feedback and take it for what its worth.

    Reply
  46. Love this part: “If there’s an honorary masters degree in rejection, I’m pretty sure I’ve earned it.”

    I hope that my goalkeepers are made of teflon, too. Well, not their hands, just their memories! I believe we must come away from rejection with a sense of self-worth, and the idea that maybe we can adjust a bit and learn from the process. Each loss we have as a soccer team gives us an idea of our weaknesses, of course, but can also reinforce the things we do well, and give us confidence we can put it together by our next game.

    Excellent read, August!

    Reply
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