What To Do When You Are Rejected

Everyone around the dinner table had been brutally rejected hundreds of times. I was at a dinner with a bunch of people who had gone the self-publishing route via Amazon.

All of them except for me were fiction writers and all had sold over 100,000 copies or more of their various novels.

The guy sitting across from me had just sold the movie rights to his latest science fiction series.

Another woman was working on the sequel to her “young adult paranormal” series.

Another guy had sold over 500,000 copies of his various thrilers. The guy sitting next to me had been very successful at his “childrens’ chapter books” series, “Sweet Farts”.

All of them had one thing in common. While pursuing the career of their dreams they had all been rejected. Some of them 100s of times.

All of them were either on the verge of writing fulltime for a living or had already made the leap. Every one of them was smiling.

[See also, “why and how to self-publish” ]

How many would’ve been smiling if they had given up after the 39th rejection and didn’t go for that 40th.


Or didn’t go for that moment when they decided: I’m going to take control of the creative process and not stop where the gate keepers tell me to stop.

So many times I’ve been stopped by the gatekeepers. At a job, for instance, where my boss said, “stop working on this and focus on your main job.”

Or when I was trying to sell a TV show and there were only one or two decision makers and they all blocked my path for political reasons.

Or I wanted to sell a company and there were only a few decision makers who could make or break what I thought then was my entire life.

The stark fear I had whenever I spoke to them, knowing they had this enormous power over me and thinking, foolishly, that I had nothing to offer them.


Every day, in all aspects of our lives, we are rejected. Rejection is probably the most powerful force in our lives.

Think back about the times you’ve been rejected and how your response to it changed your life completely.

There are three basic responses to rejection that I’ve seen (in just the past few days I’ve seen examples of all of these).

“I suck. I can’t do this.  I give up.”

“They are stupid. I’m going to keep pushing forward.”

“Hmmmn, what can I do differently. What can I learn from this rejection?”

Obviously I’m going to ignore the first two. It could be the case that you need to give up.

Or it could be the case that you should do nothing to improve and you just push forward, but that should never be the gut response (although, again, I’ve seen it as the gut response several times from various people in just the past few days/months/years/myself/etc).

So how can you take rejection and use it to push forward.

A)     Improve what you are selling/making/offering/doing

You wanted that ONE job, that ONE scholarship, that TV show, that book, to sell your company, to sell your product, whatever. And they said, “no”.

Take a hard look at the product. Can you improve your offering? Can you take a step back and improve what you are doing?

Maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But brainstorm first. What are the ten things you can do to improve what you are doing.

One time I tried to sell a company I had started. The company didn’t have enough clients and enough revenues. And I was a bit inconsistent about the services we were offering that made us unique.

There were about 10 different areas I needed to improve and gradually I improved them all and sold the company a year later.

Another time I wanted a job. But I didn’t know enough about what I was doing. I had to improve my education, take courses, study books, study the history of what I was doing, etc.

B)      Expand the Universe of decision makers.  

Until the past two or three years, if you wanted to sell a novel there were basically 5-10 decision makers. So about 20,000 people would submit novels to these decision makers (the major publishing houses) and most would get rejected.

Who would reject you? Interns and assistants who had just graduated college with a degree in comparative literature who barely even looked at what you wrote.

Now you can self-publish via Amazon and it’s a great process. I explain why and how here.

You just chose yourself but, more importantly, the readers become your decision makers.

The universe of millions of readers will now help you make your next decisions on how to improve, how to gain more power over your creative process, and finally, how to secure power over your entire life.


When I was visiting with Amazon this past week I was amazed at what a revolution this is. It’s not about an extra device. It’s about how for the first time since Gutenberg there’s an actual revolution in how you can communicate with the masses.

In every way you can choose yourself now to succeed, to improve, to communicate, to extend your reach to the individuals who need your message.

Don’t give up on this opportunity. In fact, “rejection” might be what forces you into it, as it did for the 20 or so authors I met last week.

And it’s not just novels. It’s everything.

Can you widen the audience for your product? Online dating has expanded the decision makers in your relationship life. And youtube has greatly expanded the universe of tastemakers who will define  your fate.

I hate to say it, but Justin Bieber uploading youtube videos of himself (and now exceeding two billion video views) greatly increased his chances of success instead of trying to go the same route as everyone else – up through the traditional 5-10 record labels deciding your fate.

All respect to the kid who chose himself and made it work.

[See also: “How to Get 100,000 Facebook Fans”]

C)      Improve your approach.  

You keep getting rejected in bars? Find a different place where the odds aren’t stacked against you.

Nobody is responding to your networking emails for “10 minutes of your time please?” Then offer something. Give something for free so people see value in your approach immediately.

You keep cold-calling customers and they hang up? Find a different way to get distribution.

D)     Change Up, don’t Give Up.

I was the guy who “gave up” on the 39th try when trying to sell a novel I had written. Sometimes the odds are just too stacked against you.

Maybe it would’ve worked on the 40th try. I don’t know. But I’m glad I gave up. I “changed up” instead. Instead of focusing on fiction as the only creative medium I started looking at both TV and the brand new world wide web as creative media. Which led to a job at HBO.

Which led to my first company focusing on building content-heavy websites for entertainment companies.

I didn’t give up on being creative. I expanded the power  of my creativity by not limiting myself to one domain, vowing to return to book-writing later, vowing to return ultimately to fiction-writing.

Maybe I’ll do it, maybe I won’t. But the “Change Up” certainly released me creatively and I was able to use it to build both my financial life and creative life. We’ll see if it ever comes full circle.

[See also, “How to sell 300,000 novels” ]


E)      Improve your authenticity.

Social media can also be called “Individual media” as opposed to “Group Media”.

Instead of a large group broadcasting your effort, you can build up your own presence by establishing your Facebook platform, your twitter presence, your linkedin, quora, pinterest, blogging, amazon, slideshare, scribd, reddit, etc presence.

All of these channels are used to create authenticity for your offering. Each follower, fan, etc you are personally able to sway over to your side of the world continues to establish your authenticity regardless of who is “rejecting” you.

This is how you choose yourself and build your own platform rather than relying on the whims of a meager few.

F)      Ask for advice.

Someone rejected you? Poor baby! Now, after your mourning is over, ask “why?” You’re going to be rejected all your life.

In every way. It never hurts to understand why. Sometimes they will even tell you and, in those cases, it’s a guarantee that you will remember.

G)     Dance with failure.

You just got rejected? How did you deal with it? Did you cry? Did you give up? Did you think to yourself, “why do I ALWAYS fail?” Did you think to yourself, “those guys are STUPID for rejecting me.”

Understand your reaction to failure. What can you do to improve it.

The other day I read that 76% of the universe is comprise of “dark energy.” IN other words, we have zero clue as to what it is. And another 20% is “dark matter,” i.e. matter that we have zero clue what it is. And only 4% of the universe is actually made up of matter we understand.

In other words, after Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, and 2000 years of collective exploration of what the universe is made up of, we’ve basically failed. In fact, the more knowledge we got, the more we realized how badly we were failing. We used to think we had it down.

But now even the Big Bang theory is in serious question. We just suck at understanding the world around us.

Do physicists cry themselves to sleep every night because they have failed so bad? Of course not.

This failure has only given them opportunity to discover more. It’s opened up vast landscapes of potential understanding that can actually help us understand what the universe is, and in that understanding, help us understand who we are.

Not every failure is an opportunity. But figure it out.

Look at the times you failed. How many, in retrospect, were opportunities. About two years ago I had a billionaire that wanted to give me about $50 million to start a fund.

A mutual friend of ours blocked it for some reason I still don’t know. At the time I was upset.

Now  I’m grateful. I’ve done so many things since then that I’m very happy I did and I never would’ve done if I was busy running a fund. Thank god I got rejected! I never  would’ve done this blog, for instance.

H)     Acknowledgement of the Process.

The NORMAL thing is to be rejected. To get rejected by jobs, your kids, friends, family members, relationships, businesses, publishers, everyone.

As Dashama put it in her recent email to me: a third will like you, a third will hate you, a third won’t care….no matter what you do.

It’s actually ABNORMAL to “get close” to not being rejected. It’s even more abnormal to be “accepted” or to “succeed” in some conventional sense.

So acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal to feel rejected over something. And it’s perfectly normal to fear it for the future. In fact, to do otherwise would be to reject reality.

But also acknowledge the successes. The things that occur that are abnormal. The things you do to improve. The things you learn on the road to choosing yourself.

Don’t fall back into a story (“I always get rejected”) that is more fairy tale than reality.

I)        Stay in touch.

It’s hard for me to not to burn bridges. I tend to do it too much. But I’ve found great success when I’ve not fallen into the burning bridge pattern I often succumb to.

Example: I once tried to sell an early company I started to Omnicom, the big ad agency. I met with the woman who made these decisions for Omnicom. She felt we weren’t ready yet.

Every month I sent her an update: new clients, new sales numbers, number of employees. I also offered to help any of the agencies that Omnicom had.

One time I called her on behalf of one of my clients to see if she could recommend any agencies within the Omnicom family to help one of my clients. In other words, I offered her real value.

After about a year of me doing this every month she rallied about three of the agencies within Omnicom to come over and check out my company.

All three made offers. Did I accept any? No, but I was able to leverage those offers into a better offer from someone who came completely out of the blue.

I hate the phrase “life is too short.” Sometimes it feels very long to me. But it’s certainly too short to spend any time on hard feelings.

Everyone is just trying to get by. Both the rejected and the rejecters. Nobody is free from this. So let’s all keep in touch to make it a tiny bit easier to make it to the finish line.

J)       ???:

What am I missing in this? I’m certainly missing a lot only because we’ve all been rejected in different ways.

What’s your favorite technique to get through it and move on?

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