Why we need to talk about invitations, not rejections, as a writer or artist

by Joanna Pieters | Follow her on Facebook here

In the past few weeks I’ve been doing lots of waiting. Waiting for publishers and agents, mainly, who may or may not reply to me.

I’m used to approaching guests to be interviewed for The Creative Life Show, and, earlier in my career, for various magazines. There, I don’t have any qualms about following up. And when someone says no, I don’t see it as a ‘rejection’, but simply an invitation that’s been turned down.

But now, the power balance feels different. Where I’m the one with the podcast or the magazine, I have a proven space that someone else might like to join me in. However, this is my first book. My instinct is that somehow I’m more of a supplicant, requesting attention rather than suggesting a collaboration.

We talk about rejection frequently as creatives. We talk about how many ‘rejections’ J.K. Rowling got for Harry Potter, or Tim Ferris for The Four Hour Work Week. We talk about ‘losing’ pitches, or ‘winning’ an audition.

We talk much less about seeing it as the right fit, or relationship, for collaboration.

Starting a conversation is normal

As creatives, it’s a normal part of the process to start conversations with different people and places. We need to get our work in front of people who don’t already know us, and when it’s something we haven’t done before, we have more work to do.

It’s what we do as humans, too. We build a relationship before we start to collaborate.

However, when we want something badly, and we feel that someone else has the power to give it to us, the balance feels quite different. It’s particularly true when we’re doing something for the first time, or are working at a much higher level than usual. Perhaps that’s our first time approaching an agent or high-end gallery, applying for a residency or studio, or pitching to a client who is much higher profile than our previous ones.

Your brain hates power inequality

An imbalance in status easily triggers our brains into a kind of fight-or-fight response. Bizarrely, our brain sees it as a kind of social threat that isn’t too far from a physical one.

That means it’s too easy to run away rather than make the follow-up phone call, or get angry or indignant rather than understanding that the other person might just be busy.

I remember following up with a potential client I really wanted. I’d been particularly diligent, by post and phone. When I finally reached him, he said, ‘I’m so glad you persisted. I’d meant to come back to you but it’s just slipped. Let’s talk!’ How many opportunities do we miss by ending the conversation before it’s begun?

We owe it to ourselves, at whatever level, to keep having conversations. To keep starting them, to keep continuing them, to keep believing in the value we bring with our creative work.

We owe it ourselves to invite people to join us for something wonderful, not beg them for the crumbs of their attention.

I’m not going to worry about not getting immediate ‘yes’. In fact, every ‘no’ just creates space for me to invite someone who’s a better fit.

How do you feel when you get a ‘rejection’, or does the fear hold you back from risking them? Start a conversation, keep it going, in the comments below.


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  1. Louise

    Thank you for this article. Timely for me as I have just published my first book and am doing exactly what you describe. And I can feel that imbalance of power in my approach, thanks for reminding me to frame all approaches in words of collaboration. A really important point.

    • Joanna Pieters

      Congratulations, Louise – that’s a huge achievement. Yes, you have something valuable, and you definitely want to find someone who truly values what you bring. Good luck with this next stage!

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