A few years ago, I read an article online about an artist who was aiming to receive 100 rejections in a year. I understand his philosophy behind the article. Based on the number of rejections, there will be a number of accepted as well. So the higher the rejection number, the higher the accepted will be too.
In fact, the Internet is now flooded with similar stories and there have even been TED Talks about the concept of “rejection goals,” and how it might lead to success.
Writer Aeryn Rudel has even created a website devoted to “rejection and taking it like a pro,” called Rejectomancy.
I understand the concept. I understand the philosophy, but I think it is BS. Why should you set yourself up for rejection? Why not set goals that aim for success rather than disappointment? Optimism disguised as pessimism is playing with smoke and mirrors to boost your own self-esteem.
Growing up, I remember countless talks from my parents, teachers, and coaches trying to instill a sense of self-worth so that my peers and I would know we were worthy of success, we were worthy of praise, and we were worthy of acceptance in life. What we do matters. Our thoughts matter, our voice matters. So, why would we openly want to be rejected as not worthy?
Failures are learning experiences, we learn lessons from our mistakes when we fail and get back up. However, rejection is not a failure, it is not a lesson to learn from. It is an emotion falsely placed on ourselves usually because of one person or a small group of people who could not find a commonality between your art and all the others who entered. It is subjective to that one person or group’s thoughts at that given moment.
The only thing learned from rejection is it making your skin thicker to receive more rejection. Rejection plays a toll on everyone, including the most seasoned artists including actors, and musicians. Unfortunately, It is inevitable for anyone who is submitting work to others. It doesn’t mean your not worthy of the experience, it means you didn’t fit into someone else’s interpretation of theme at that given moment.
I do follow the similar concept of shooting for 100, but with a different philosophy: instead of shooting for 100 rejections, I am aiming for 10 acceptances. 10 is my goal. It is an easy number. Ten percent of 100 is generally the rate of return used in marketing, and that is basically what artists are doing, marketing themselves and their work. So that is the rate I use.
Thus, my realistic positive goal is 10 acceptances based on 100 submissions.
“I got rejected a 100 times last year.” is a self-loathing statement, opposed to “My art was chosen tens times last year!” That is positive! I want my art chosen, I want it seen, I want to know my voice is being heard. I want the joy of seeing a letter or email begins with the word “Congratulations!” Instead of “We regret to inform you.”
Now here is the important part: keep track of every submission, and here are six reasons why…
1. Know whom you are submitting to. I realized early on I wanted to target certain galleries in certain geographical areas. Same went for targeting jurors I wanted to get my work in front of. In addition, show themes are another thing I track. If all you take are portraits, but you are entering landscape shows, you are looking in the wrong place.
2. Where is your submission going? If your goal is for a gallery show, you need to target gallery calls and not submit to contests. It holds true if you’re looking to win monetary awards, museums, and galleries may not be your best choice.
3. What did you submit? If you have multiple portfolios or hero shots, this helps you keep track of what you showed whom. What prints are doing well for you?
4. When are the important dates with the entry? When is the deadline? When is the announcement of those selected? When are the important due dates you may need to know? (These are usually found in the prospectus.)
5. The cost to enter. This was a huge revelation for me. Know what you are spending on. That first year I realized how much I was spending entering shows and contests and it was an eye-opening experience. It changed how I approached my submission process. Last year I came shy of my goal of 100 submissions with a still substantial 85 entries because the marketing side of art takes time, a lot of time and I was focused on a new project last year.
6. Accepted? Yes? No? If Yes, I also note what opportunity I was given, like what award I won or prize, published and show dates.
I started a few years ago keeping track of what I entered into contests, magazines, galleries, and museums. Anything I sent out about my photography, I entered into a spreadsheet I created in Microsoft Excel. I focused on a goal to make 100 submissions that year (roughly 8 a month) based on the article I had read but I wanted to take a positive approach with the aspiration of 10 acceptances.
I had 28 accepted submissions that year!
That is a 28 percent acceptance rate! Eighteen percent more than my original goal that was all bonus! Last year I had 17 accepted submissions out of 85, a 20% acceptance rate! That is just as good in my book!
The important thing to take away from me, or all the artists out there shooting for rejections, is to submit. More than spreadsheets (although helpful) or your acceptance rate, is to submit your work and get it in front of people. If you can, set time aside to track your results, if nothing more than to be organized in your submission entries.
Stay positive — you are worthy!
About the author: Todd Bradley is a fine art photographer keeping to his goal of eight submissions a month. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Bradley’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.