How many times have you been rejected this year? This week? Today? I’m probably being rejected right now! Unfortunately, it’s a natural part of being a professional photographer—so if you find yourself upset after some harsh criticism (or a stiff breeze), maybe this world ain’t for you.
I think dealing with it requires two things: one is tolerance, and the other is learning.
When I first began the glamorous freelance life, I fully expected replies to every email I wrote and enthusiasm for every mailer I sent out. At least my self-esteem wasn’t in the toilet, but boy, was I delusional.
People, and creatives in particular, are busy. Your email may go ignored, your mailer may be trashed (but hopefully recycled), and your calls may go to voicemail. Just think about it: would you want to be pestered by someone you don’t know? Of course not! And yes, it is these people’s jobs to find new talent, but after all they’re just people, and they behave like you or I would.
An early mailer, many of which likely reside at the city dump
There is a noise barrier that must be broken. Too much damn chatter.
If someone doesn’t respond to you, it doesn’t mean your work is bad. It could mean that it wasn’t unique or eye-catching enough, but more than likely it simply means that the editor or creative director is swamped. (Again, it’s also worth noting they are human and have personal lives as well.)
So what to do? Be patient. Art Streiber says to “build yourself an iron shell.” Another older photographer friend, David Campbell, once told me it takes about six times seeing your name/work for someone to really pay attention. Both of these are sound pieces of insight.
And if someone outright tells you that you suck? There are two options: either they are meanies or they are correct. I have been told several times in my career that my work is “too commercial.” At first I defended it, but eventually I realized that it might be worth exploring other territories—and you know what? They were right. I made some changes and my book is better and more well-rounded now.
Once in a generation someone rockets to the top, but trust me, it isn’t you or me, buddy. Rejection sucks, but if we have patience and remain open to criticism, at least we can keep our heads above water.