So your illustration, script or story has been returned with a curt, “No, thanks”? Don’t ditch it! Rejection first time round doesn’t mean your work is irredeemably crap. There are many reasons why it may not get picked up initially. Here are a few…
You weren’t sufficiently professional
Perhaps you’re an artistic genius, but you need to show you’re also someone who can deliver. “The promotional material that an illustrator sends into a company for their consideration represents them as a professional,” says Paul Ryding from The Association of Illustrators, a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports professional illustrators. “It may be a beautiful piece of artwork, with multiple uses, but if it’s printed on flimsy card or is too small, or if the colours are saturated or it’s pixelated, all these things will reflect badly on the illustrator, not as an artist but as someone to work with professionally,” he says, adding: “They may just disregard it straight away.”
The question of presentation is equally important when submitting a script, short story or journalistic article. “Take care,” says Farhana Gani, Editor of online literary magazine Untitled Books. “Bad grammar and misspelt words are off-putting to an editor, or anyone else assessing your work.”
Your timing was off
The arts are as fickle as Twitter when it comes to trends. One year, visual culture, literature and film take their cue from wartime nostalgia, the next it’s all about futuristic robot dystopias. “Some things take a long time, and a lot of blood sweat and tears, to come to fruition,” says Paul Ashton, Development Producer at BBC Writersroom. “Life on Mars took eight years and 37 pilot episode drafts before they got a green light… sometimes great ideas need to just await their time.”
Your work wasn't ready
“Revise, edit, re-read, and revise again,” says Farhana. “The best writers out there are not averse to putting their manuscript into a drawer for a few days/weeks/months and coming back to it with fresh eyes. William Trevor is famously known to edit and revise his short stories as many as 20 times.” Farhana also warns that you shouldn’t be averse to chopping. “Don't become too attached to your early drafts,” she says. “In other words, don't be afraid of cutting and discarding your written words. What you cut is rarely permanently lost – the essential idea will manifest itself elsewhere in your writing, if it's a good idea in the first place.”
You chose the wrong outlet
“If you're submitting a story to a magazine or journal, make sure you're familiar with the style of fiction that publication features,” Farhana recommends. The same rings true for graphic artists and illustrators. Your work might be perfect for an independent arty mag but completely wrong for a high-end glossy. You have to remember too that even the most experienced and professional art director, editor or development executive has their own particular taste and maybe your work isn’t quite it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a place for it elsewhere. Just imagine if George Orwell had canned Animal Farm after being told by an American publisher, “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA”.
Rejection can feel like a kick in the stomach but console yourself with this: you’re in great company. Quentin Tarantino, JK Rowling and Andy Warhol have all had their fair share of “No”s. Paul Ashton advises you play the long game: “Try not to get hung up on just one script, one idea, one story – being a successful scriptwriter is also about what you write next, what other ideas you have, what journey you are going on.” Countless works that went on to be huge critical and commercial successes are not spotted immediately. So, in the words of Aaliyah, “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.”
Andy Warhol's rejection letter
The Museum of Modern Art didn't know what they were missing when they turned down a drawing by Mr Warhol.
JK Rowling speech
The Harry Potter writer talks about learning from failure.
Image: Darts by Richard_of_England on a CC BY-2.0 license.
Visit the Association of Illustrators website for support, advice and to sign up for their bi-monthly newsletter for illustrators.
Do you have experience of successfully resubmitting your work? Please leave a comment below.
Sign up to IdeasTap for advice, funding, opportunities and our weekly newsletter – with all the latest arts jobs.