B&N Week 117: Rejection

| March 19, 2013


I woke up this morning, and bam! It was Tuesday. Feels like we were just here a few days ago, doesn’t it? Wasn’t it December just last week? Anyway, that’s how it feels.

This week, I want to talk about rejection: the forms of it, what causes it, how to deal with it, and how to overcome it. It’s something everyone will experience in their comic book career, and while lots of people speak on it, few actually talk about it. Let’s talk about it for a while, shall we?

First of all, rejection sucks. Believe me, I know. What are some forms of rejection? There’s the obvious one of not getting the gig you applied for. That’s the one that gets everyone. Or, how about that submission you sent in to Image, but never heard back from? The same with Dark Horse. Silence is a form of rejection, and many of you reading this have either submitted to Image, Dark Horse, Avatar, or a plethora of other publishers, hoping to be able to tell a story. Yes, I kept Marvel/DC out of this, because their doors are closed in this cycle. If you want to work for them, go out and make comics, and get on their radar that way.

Let’s shoot lower, and more local. Let’s talk about finding an ad on a message board, and you apply for a job. What happens then? Most of the time, you’re going to get a form letter for a rejection.

Hi! Thanks for applying for the position, but it has been filled. Thanks for your time.

Isn’t helpful, is it? It doesn’t say anything about the samples you slaved over, it doesn’t say why you were rejected, and the position being filled may or may not be true.

Hello. Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately, we’re not able to use you at this time. Thanks again.

That’s worse, in some respects. The first one gives hope that you were in contention for the position, but this one dashes all hope, doesn’t it?

Even if you get a personalized rejection, you still don’t have the gig. The personalization may give you tips on how to create better, it may say that your sample will be kept on file, it may not. We’re going to circle back around on how to deal with rejection in a little bit, but I want to move on to the causes of rejection.

The first, biggest, and most common cause for rejection is an over-estimation of your skills. You’ve been listening to your friends and family—people who love you and who have a vested interest in your feelings—and they’ve been telling you you’re good enough to do Spider-Man. You’ve never gotten a proper, professional assessment of your abilities. Instead, you charge right in, and are shocked when you don’t get the gig.

Over-estimation of your skills is the single biggest mistake creators make, and I see it over and over again. Want to see a perfect example? Go put up an ad somewhere, offering money for a gig. Most of what you will be wading through will be crap: art that is extremely sub-par, writing that is riddled with spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as missing punctuation, coloring that isn’t well done in the least. Why is this? Because some creators don’t care. They figure what the hell, they may get lucky. Those are the creators that make it more of a challenge to get out of the slush pile, because wading through obvious sub-par submissions is a tedious, frustrating job.

The next cause for rejection is not listening to the rules. You apply for a job, and it says links only. However, you decide to attach files instead. It doesn’t matter the reason [either you think you know better, the rules don’t apply to you, your submission is somehow different, or you just didn’t read the ad], you didn’t listen to what the poster wanted. How is that ad poster supposed to take you seriously? If you don’t listen to the ad, what makes the poster think you’re going to listen to direction on the project? It’s much easier to just keep it moving to the next submission.

There’s also your demeanor when you contact someone for a job. If you’re a writer, and you send a reply that is filled with spelling errors, questionable capitalization, and shaky punctuation—you know, like many of the ads you’ll find on message boards today—then you can rest assured that you won’t be getting the job. Writer, artist, colorist, whatever—if you come off as arrogant or snide, then you won’t be getting the job.

Another big cause for rejection is the inability to negotiate.

Now, this one is a bit tricky. Negotiation means that both parties reach a middle ground in order to get something. One party wants work done, and the other party wants compensation for their ability to provide that work. Sometimes, in an over-estimation of their skills, creators will price themselves out of the range of someone wanting work done. I’ve seen it: work that is easily worth $5/pg is priced at $30/pg, and the creator setting the price won’t come down. (Steven, $5/pg is an insult, depending on the work being done!) [And some of the work being done is being insulting by asking for compensation. If your tween nephew or niece can tell a story with as much skill, hire them instead. You’ll be better off in the long run.]

There are some creators who inflate their prices, hoping to get more, and who are willing to negotiate their way down. They’ll ask for $50/pg, but they’ll take $25. Or, to put it another way, $25/pg is their target, and anything they get above that is gravy. They don’t start at $25/pg, though, because they then have nowhere to go in their negotiations. Those that inflate their prices can price themselves out of contention, unless they say their prices are negotiable. If they don’t say it, they could be losing work, or getting rejected for jobs they’re truly capable of.

Then, there are the creators who are great, but they just aren’t a fit for the project. These are heartbreakers. The work is solid, but it just doesn’t fit with the vision you have in your head. These are the creators where you’d love to create something just for them so that you can work with them instead of giving them a rejection notice. That happens a lot, too.

Another cause for rejection? Your online persona. There are creators I won’t work with [and, conversely, probably won’t work with me] because of how they portray themselves online. Extremely abrasive to everyone, and they do their best to hide behind a screen name. That screen name is their persona, and they’re very brave behind it. Like alcohol, that bravery is false. However, it is also keeping people from getting jobs they’d otherwise be perfect for.

Then there is the burning of bridges. You either didn’t do work you were contracted for, did it poorly, or you were more trouble than you were worth. Or you did the work slowly, blowing deadlines by wide margins with little to no explanation. This leads to word getting around, and work starting to dry up for you. It happens, folks.

These are all causes of rejection. How you deal with that rejection will put you into one of three categories: professional, amateur, or crazyflake.

The professional will say thank you for your time and consideration and keep it moving. Nice, short, and sweet. They may also say that they’re available at any time, just contact them. It’s polite. It looks good. It may get them work in the future. It cannot hurt. Saying thank you costs you nothing, and may gain you points in the other’s eyes, leading to that next job somewhere down the road.

The amateur, upon getting the rejection, will say nothing. They didn’t get the job, so they don’t say anything at all in order to nurse a bruised ego. They follow the advice all parents and teachers give: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Will this keep them from getting a job in the future? No. But it also doesn’t elevate them in the minds of those with jobs to give. Hopefully, the amateur will eventually learn this and start acting like a professional.

The crazyflake, though, will come back with both barrels blasting. They didn’t get the job, or the opportunity to tell their story at your company, and all of a sudden, they’re on a tear. These are the creators that refuse to accept responsibility for their actions or submissions. The problem will always be with the company or the job-giver. They don’t understand the creator’s vision, they’re blind, they have no eye for talent and on and on and on. For these creators, rejection can often lead to a sour grapes reaction.

The crazyflakes sometimes pain neon signs on their backs: when they applied for the position or sent in the submission, they were arrogant, snide, or treated it like they were lowering themselves to work with you. When they don’t get it, because it isn’t their fault, they flip. Will this always happen? No, not at all. However, they are easier to spot. They also stick out as creators you won’t work with in the future.

How do you overcome rejection? Well, there are some aspects that just can’t be overcome. If you’re good but just not a good fit for the project, then that can’t be helped. It is no fault of your own, and no reflection on you. You’ll probably get a personalized letter saying as much. I’d love to work with a talent such as Mike Ploog, but I don’t think I have a story that would fit his artistic sensibilities. [Not to say that he’d ever apply for a job I posted. This is only an example. A true one, but an example nonetheless.]

If you’re priced high, you then have some considering to do before deciding if you’ll come down in price in order to do the work. Is the project worthwhile? Will it see the light of day? Does the person or company have a track record? Does the project seem interesting? How work-intensive is it? All of these and more have to be taken into consideration before lowering a price.

Then, there are those creators who still have more work to do. They still have to hone their craft. These creators applied for a position or sent in a submission package that was sub-par, and they knew it. These creators need to continue to work on their craft, honing it, developing their style, artistic voice, sensibilities and instincts. The more work they put in, and then go searching for honest feedback in order to grow, the sooner they’ll move up the ranks to start getting paying work.

Let’s take a look at Will Sliney. He’s an artist whose work I first saw on Digital Webbing, and I wanted to work with him on a superhero book I wanted to do. That book never materialized due to my own situation, but Will is now doing work for Marvel, currently penciling the Fearless Defenders. He’s living the dream.

You can live the dream, too, folks. In most cases, rejection is not a no, not ever. Rejection is generally a no, not right now, needs more work, not a good project fit. You won’t always be able to tell which rejection is which. However, you should always be striving to get better at everything you do.

Homework: take an honest look at yourself and the rejections you’ve had over your career. How have you handled it? What could you have done better? What would you have done differently if you could do it over again? Write it down, examine it, looking at it from all angles. Post them in the comments if you’re so inclined, and we can all discuss it.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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