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How I Learned to Reject Rejection

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

My cover art for Anne of Green Gables

My cover art for Anne of Green Gables

What I Wanted To Be

I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator since the first time I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, published in 1865 with the classic black and white illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. The classic Cheshire cat in the tree and Alice’s stance and dress really spoke to me. I wanted to do that.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic Abuse

What Happened Instead

My father was against this idea of a career in art but compromised with me. If I took some "practical" secretarial courses along with the art, he would pay for college. After only one year at the local junior college, I met a man. Before long (3 months) we were married and all ideas of children’s book illustration when bye-bye. He was a mean abusive tyrant that demanded my total attention along with regular beatings. Four years and two daughters later, we divorced.

My girls and step-daughter with me.

My girls and step-daughter with me.

Picking Up the Pieces

I wanted to go back to my idea of children’s book illustration but now I had two little girls to care for and so college wasn’t an option. Still, I had some skill so I began doing some sample work to send to publishers. With addresses from the public library, I sent them samples. I was rejected summarily by all. Well, I backed up and rethought the idea of illustration. Some illustrators start by creating greeting cards (Beatrix Potter did), so I created a couple of lines of greeting cards (A line is a series of 10 to 12 similar subjects for different occasions) and sent samples to all the card publishers I could find. They were all returned or deep-sixed. Most didn’t say why they were returning my work but some included a rejection form letter stating that my designs were too similar to ones they were already using.


A page from The FairyTale Alphabet Book 2

A page from The FairyTale Alphabet Book 2

Magazines

Time to back up and rethink. I decided that children’s magazines may be a way to break into the world of illustration. There were quite a few samples in the library but by this time I purchased the book Children's Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books. I read in that book that one sure way to get published was to write an article for a children’s magazine as well as offer the illustrations. But I’m no writer! Still, I wanted to be published so I wrote a few little articles on how to do small crafts for children and included the illustrations. I actually got a couple of them published and I was elated with this breakthrough. But I still got rejection letters.

Rejection

I knew I couldn’t take too much rejection before I slipped into a depression. Knowing this about myself, I decided that I could handle one or two rejections per day but more than that might be detrimental to my mental health. To ensure I didn’t receive 3 in one day, I only sent out two submission letters per day to magazines.

After getting a number of rejections from several magazine publishers, it happened: I got three in one day. It made me sad at first, then mad. I decided to reject them right back. I created a form letter of my own to reject those rejections, signed it, and mailed it back. My rejection letter seemed to get more responses than my submissions had received. Several publishers called me to talk to me personally.

A typical rejection form letter

A typical rejection form letter

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

— Toni Morrison

Feedback

That was just the first in a long line of callbacks I received by sending my rejection letter to publishers who rejected me. One Christian children’s publication called me to make sure I knew that Jesus loved me. He felt sure he sent me “around the bend” and “over the edge.” I assured him jokingly I had gone around the bend long before his rejection letter. I actually received a more positive response from that rejection letter than from my initial artwork. There’s a disturbing revelation.

After a year, I decided I needed a new rejection letter. I had used that one at least once for many of my favorite publications. Being an artist and knowing the rejection letter was receiving positive feedback, I decided I needed an artistic rejection for the next one. That’s when I created the Mean Ol’ Editor Ogre award.

Illustration for The FairyTale Alphabet Book 2

Mean Ol’ Ogre

Since my form rejection letter got such a favorable response, I got to thinking that I’m an illustrator. I should send an illustrated rejection. So I created the Mean Ol’ Ogre Editor award. I drew an ugly ogre with a laptop computer and ax to hack freelance artist’s dreams to pieces. The Ogre also received several favorable responses. One editor asked if they could use the illustration in a book about publishers under the chapter on rejection.

The Mean Ol' Ogre Editor Award

The Mean Ol' Ogre Editor Award

Rejection Isn't Fatal

Just like before, I received lots of callbacks from the Ogre that I hadn’t received from the original art and articles. The Ogre himself had even received a publication offer.

My point is not to take rejection too seriously. It hurts but it isn’t fatal. I know someone who has allowed his talent to be put on a shelf because he simply cannot handle the sting of rejection letters. He got one and it was all over. My friends, even Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections before the 28th publisher decided to take a risk on an unknown children’s book author and illustrator. That’s 27 publishers who are kicking themselves right now! If I cannot take at least 27 rejections, I’m not worthy of the title: children’s book illustrator.

A Possible Rejection Letter

The next time you get a rejection letter from a hoped-for employer, just send them the following:

Dear [name of the person who signed the rejection letter if any],

Thank you for your letter of [date of the rejection letter]. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me [job title].

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time.

Therefore, I will initiate [employment] with your firm immediately following [graduation/job change, etc. -- get creative here]. I look forward to working with you.

Best of luck in rejecting future candidates.

Sincerely,
[your name]

A page from The FairyTale Alphabet Book 1

A page from The FairyTale Alphabet Book 1

Final Thoughts

I have since self-published two children’s books, The FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales, and Folk Tales From Around the World, books 1 and 2, as well as 27 craft books on creating boxes and little paper model houses. I am currently working on 2 more children’s books that I have written and illustrated. It seems writing the books ensures that I can illustrate them. I would love to read your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Tasha Tudor's Pumpkin Moonshine

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 23, 2021:

Mary Norton,

I understand completely. It is scary and I don't like rejection either but if you never try you can't possibly succeed. I'm glad you liked my rejection therapy. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 21, 2021:

I enjoyed how you rejected the rejection letters and created a publication-worthy illustration. I have a fear of rejection, so I never try. I admire your courage.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 21, 2021:

Devika Primić,

It was very disappointing. I don't want to change my style for anyone but apparently, they thought my work didn't "fit" their magazine. I just won't send them any more of my work. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 20, 2021:

Denise it is what you thought will work for them but they didn't think so. How terrible is that?

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 20, 2021:

BRENDA ARLEDGE,

Yes, they do but they aren't fatal. And what is that old saying? Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Well, I don't know about that but I do feel braver. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 20, 2021:

Misbah Sheikh,

I'm happy you think I'm so inspirational but in truth, this was not my normal reaction to things. That's why it was so monumental. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on June 19, 2021:

If I ever decide to be that brave, I'll let you know.

Those rejection letters really hurt when you put your heart & soul into your work.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on June 19, 2021:

I enjoyed the read, Denise

Hats off to your positive attitude. I loved you sent those publishers a rejection letter. How cool and creative. I admire your courage, strength and confidence in yourself. I will be taking your advice if anyone in my life will be doing this with me. I will apply your formula. I am sure like you I will also get some possible good results. I will be sharing this article. It is useful, interesting and motivational.

I like your spirit of never losing and rejecting the rejection. Much Love!!

Thank you for sharing your experience

Blessings to you, dear friend

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Devika Primić,

You are very kind. It has taken courage and perseverance. The worst insult I received was when one magazine bought my little story and illustrations, paid full price for it but when they sent me a published copy I discovered they had thrown out my illustrations and had some other artist illustrate the story. The new illustrations, I might add, were terrible. I was amazed. I only wrote the story to be able to illustrate, and the liked the story but not my illustrations. Sometimes you just can't figure what publishers will like and what they won't. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

MG Singh emge,

I'm happy for you that rejection doesn't affect you. It seems the artistic people are most bothered by rejection because we are overly sensitive. It's a problem we must overcome to be successful. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Nithya Venkat,

I am happy to be away from that abusive controlling situation and making a way to be myself, even if it is hard at times. Thank you for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Linda Lum,

You make tears come to my eyes with such words of affirmation. I find you to be very inspiring as well. This community gives me the courage to be even more open and authentic with my failings. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

BRENDA ARLEDGE,

Feel free to use my idea and send out a rejection letter of your own. I think you will be amazed at how much attention it will get for you. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

It has been a long journey but it isn't over. I'm still writing and illustrating books. There is another one coming out soon. I spent all last year working on the illustrations and cover art for a Young Adult novel by Loren Gregory. I think it is just being published now. It's called The Sword of Joshua. I think you can see it on Amazon. That was quite a project for me but I mostly to little children's illustrations. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Pamela Oglesby,

I figure if I can do it anyone can. I hope to be the encourager that I was looking for back in the day. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

McKenna Meyers,

Very true. I love Brene Brown and listen to her often. Yes, art is subjective, and what one person loves another will hate. I have to constantly tell myself not to take it personally and just keep searching for those who love what I do. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Heidi Thorne,

Thank you. I will, definitely. It has been a fun journey. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Dora Weithers,

You are so right. I look at some of the mess being published and wonder if they actually paid an artist for that or if they got a 4-year-old to do for them free! I know I can do it if I keep with it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Bill Holland,

I wanted to sit down and cry, to wallow in my dispair but something in me got mad instead. I didn't see that coming. Sometimes I surprise myself. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

Abby,

I'm so happy to be following my dreams myself. I had to search for ways to do it. Mostly I was groping in the dark but I did make headway. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2021:

From Abby Slutsky,

This is one of my favorite pieces. You make such a valid point. So glad you are fulfilling your career dreams.

Abby

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 19, 2021:

Hi Denise, behind the rejections your work is the best I have seen. You are talented and deserve better. Though courageous to respond to a rejection letter.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on June 19, 2021:

Rejection is part of life and I have experienced it many times but never affected me. Nice article.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 18, 2021:

Denise you are strong and you have courageously stood up to all the rejections and by rejecting rejections you have succeeded. Hats off to your courage and strength to get by tough situations and come out successful.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on June 18, 2021:

Oh Denise, I admire you so very much. I admire your strength in surviving abuse. And then you take rejection and turn it into a positive. Your cleverness and resilience are inspiring.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on June 17, 2021:

This article definitely shows me your strength.

A person who doesn't give up & walk quietly away.

This is fantastic!!

I'm glad you had the guts to write back a rejection letter...something I've never done.

Lord knows I've felt like it...especially when I am told they enjoy my work but will not be publishing it right now.

I'm so glad you decided to take matters into your own hands.

A great example for your children.

Rosina S Khan on June 17, 2021:

It must be awful to get rejections for your work submission. I am glad you found a way to reject rejection and get your artwork noticed. That is very bold and admirable. You have been through hard times but you presevered until you published children's books. That is quite a feat and wonderfully remarkable. I liked your journey to become a children’s book illustrator.

I am impressed. Thank you for sharing, Denise.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 17, 2021:

I appreciate all of your struggles, and this is a touching article, Denise. You have been through such tough times, but you have actually made rejection an art. I love your last rejection letter. I'm glad you have pursued your passion, and now you have your own published children's books. Thanks for sharing this part of your life.

McKenna Meyers on June 17, 2021:

Denise, I've been reading what Dr. Brene Brown has written about vulnerability and how it's key to experiencing joy, connecting with others, and being emotionally healthy. Putting your art out there, to be embraced or rejected, is incredibly vulnerable. Telling about your experiences being rejected is also incredibly vulnerable.Your work is so fantastic that I can't imagine anyone passing on it. It just goes to show that people have something different in mind. Thanks for sharing!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 17, 2021:

Thanks for sharing your inspiring story with us! Keep sharing your truth and your talent!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 17, 2021:

Have you ever seen published illustrations which make you wonder why yours was rejected? You must have, because I think you're very good. Still you persevere. Your time to shine may be still up ahead. I hope you get there soon.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Bravo to you for persevering. I've had more rejection letters than I can count. It is a part of the game and that's just the real of it. But bravo to you, my friend, and I love your response to it all. Very inspirational!

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