“A clear rejection is always better than a fake promise”, I recently read on a colourful card in a gift shop. My first thought was: who would have bought this card? And secondly: who would have received it?
Clarity might be more helpful than vagueness, but when it’s not the answer you were hoping for, it can hurt. Horrible relationship break-ups aside, I have come to realise that rejection does get easier to deal with the more you experience it. Or rather, that what you experience following a no, or -even worse- silence, is actually not the same as being rejected at all. In freelance journalism, I learned that lesson the hard way.
The first no probably wasn’t as hard, because I wasn’t expecting much. I started out my freelance career aged 17 by simply posting letters and sending emails (still a novelty then!) to all the editors and publishers in my local area. As I lived in a small town, there were only five of them. Three didn’t reply, one said ‘no, thanks’ and one asked me to come and have a chat, which inevitably kick-started my journalistic journey.
The ‘no, thanks’ reply was interesting, as it came after the ‘I’ll give you a chance’ one. Had it come first, I would have just assumed I’d get four more rejections. But because there had been one probable yes letter already, I actually started doubting myself for a minute. What if the yes man was crazy and the no man was right? Then, I imagined a reply which I’d never send: “Dear Editor, Thanks for your rejection. I’m glad about it, because I already got one yes, and your answer saves me from having to wonder ‘what if’.”
Thirteen years and many no’s and some yesses later, one thing has become clear: both replies often seem as random as one another. Once you’ve got your pitch right and your audience right, the rest basically depends on the available publication space, airtime, maternity leave of a staffer, leftover commissioning budget, ghosts, the position of the earth and the moon, or the level of horror on the commute of the editor that morning. Whether one or all of these things are in sync, you will probably never know. All you have is a yes, a no, or silence.
To think that a traffic jam outside Ikea or a bunch of wet leaves on the train track actually might have influenced the outcome of your pitch sounds random, but it does help to deal with whatever response you get.
Fearing rejection can rapidly result in a lack of energy, creativity and confidence, which will make that next freelance commission even less likely. The most helpful remedy I have found is to limit the amount of no’s by making sure you get your pitch right and your audience right. Both of these things can be learned. Beyond that, the power of a good story and a little bit of luck will get you there. You only need one yes to get started.
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