Friday, June 19, 2009

The Sting of Rejection

Friday, June 19, 2009
On Wednesday, Bren blogged about stage fright. Her story and those shared by others got me thinking about how often we battle fears and obstacles in order to do something we love and/or to attain a goal.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever suffered genuine stage fright. Anxiety, yes. Fright no. Whether it be singing, dancing or acting, I love the rush of performing live in front of people. Or at least I used to. After 30-some years in the performing arts, I no longer burn to sing. I burn to write. However, the similarities between the entertainment and publishing business are vast. For instance . . . auditions and submissions.

Looking back, I had it easy when I first started performing. I didn’t have to audition for my first singing gig. My dad worked as the food and beverage manager at a local Holiday Inn. He talked the leader of the house band into letting me come up and sing a song. I didn’t want to. Well, I did, but I was scared. Okay. I’ll confess to stage fright that time, but then I performed and people applauded and I was hooked. After a few times of ‘sitting in’ for a couple of songs, the hotel hired me to sing with the band every weekend. I was fourteen.

When I was seventeen, I left home and went ‘on the road’ with a band. We performed in hotel lounges and nightclubs all over the Midwest. We worked approximately 50 weeks out of the year. We never had to ‘audition’ live for a job. We had an agent who booked us using a promo shot and demo tape. Sometimes we weren’t a perfect match for a club, and yes, I’ve been fired—not fun—but I didn’t know how easy I had it until I settled in Atlantic City eight years later. I didn’t want to travel anymore. I wanted to perform exclusively in the casinos. That meant auditioning . . . over and over and over.

Plainly put, auditioning sucks. In my case, usually it took place in the middle of the day, on a stage, in an empty room. No audience to feed off of. Just an entertainment director, or maybe the entertainment director plus a few suits from marketing or accounting, sitting at a table, watching and judging. Sometimes leaning in and whispering to each other. Sometimes looking bored. Meanwhile, you’re trying to perform your heart out. You want them to like you, to hire you. You need to pay the bills. You need to feed your passion. I don’t think I was ever at my best during an audition. I was always nervous. Sometimes my mouth got so dry, my lips stuck to my teeth.

For you writers out there, imagine sitting in the same room while an editor reads the manuscript you just handed him/her. Being right there while they judged your work. When they decided to either contract you or reject you. Worse, what if someone from the marketing department and PR department were there, too. Imagine how you’d feel when they leaned in and whispered to each other about your story. In front of you.

Uh, huh.

Back to performing…. Generally I wouldn’t find out until a day or two (or sometime a week) later whether I got the gig. The entertainment director would notify my agent of his/her decision. The agent would call me and either I’d whoop for joy or cry. Rejection stung. Big time. The absolute worst was losing out on a job, not because you weren’t talented enough, but because of the way you looked. I’ve known singers who lost gigs because their hips were too big. One, because her ankles were too fat. Yes, that really happened. Once I lost a job because of what I was wearing. The casino president was there and said I looked like I should be standing on Pacific Avenue. For those of you not familiar with Atlantic City, that’s where the hookers hang out.

A) I was wearing a customized dress that I spent a lot of money on. A design copied from a dress in Vogue magazine. Sexy, not slutty.

B) If you liked my performing, how about just asking me not to wear that dress Mr. Stick-Up-the-Butt? I had a ton of costumes in my closet. Ah, but that would be too logical.

As you might have guessed from the above tone, I grew cynical over the years. But I also developed a pretty thick skin. So much so, that when I received my first rejection letter from a publisher for a manuscript I’d submitted, I didn’t cry. I was disappointed. Really disappointed, but I wasn’t crushed. At least I hadn’t been sitting in that room when the editor read and judged my manuscript. Don’t get me wrong, rejection is never fun. Especially when your work gets rejected time and time again. However, I wanted to see my work in print so badly… I so very much wanted to pursue a career as a published author… that I continued to ‘audition’ over and over until I finally landed ‘the gig’.

Years later, even with several books under my belt, I still ‘audition’ every time I submit a new proposal. And then there’s the added risk of reader rejection. Not every reader will like your work and some will have no problem trashing you all over the Internet. Do I feel a sting from bad reviews? Absolutely. But from someone who used to make a living on stage and survived hecklers, drunks, and plain rude people who had no problem saying something like “You suck” right to my face… I can endure a snarky written review. I can even take it when someone says to my face, “I don’t read those kind of books” or the ever popular, “Oh. You write those trashy bodice rippers.” (The latter really burns my buns, but that’s another post.)

The point to my ramble here is that it’s rare that we’re handed our dream on a platter. Most of us have to pay our dues, and that often involves rejection in some form or another. The trick is to feel the sting then let it go. Taste is subjective. If you want something, go for it. Fight for it. Hone your craft and never give up.

When all else fails just remind yourself that opinions are like buttholes. Everybody has one.

What about you? How do you handle rejection?

SIS Beth


Cat said...

I usually whine to my friends, who then kick my butt into a better mood, hahahahahaha

Yes, I believe I've had a Beth size footprint on my behind before. . .

Oh, and I'd much rather teach a classroom full of unruly teens/drug dealers/gang members than perform in front of ANYONE. It takes a lot of nerve to do that and actually enjoy it. My girls love to perform, I'd rather eat paint.


Sisters-in-Sync said...

I don't deal well with rejection. Friends and fans used to always tell me that I should audition for Star Search or American Idol (which I am too old for anyway) but the thought of standing there in front of judges and having them comment about my performance or worse yet, my appearance, was enough for me to be satisfied with where I was in my life. Beth, I love that you touched on the silly reasons for not getting a gig. I think it's a great topic that I may address sometime. If I'm here to sing then why should it matter if my ankles are too fat? Can't I just cover them up? Anyhoo, great post!

Beth Ciotta said...

Actually, Cat, I think it takes a lot of guts to teach a class of unruly teens.... You are amazing as a teacher and a writer. And, okay, you may not like to perform on stage, but you do love to dance! :)

SIS Beth

Beth Ciotta said...

Okay. So either Barb or Brenda chimed in. I should know which SIS wrote that, but since they are both American Idol/Star Search material I don't! Although Star Search my be before Barb's time. Hmmm.

At any rate, yes do please write a post on the subject. I, for one, am most curious!

SIS Beth

flchen1 said...

Terrific post, Beth--I do think that for many of the arts, you need a somewhat thick skin to succeed, just because being "good" is partly talent and skill and partly popular opinion, which can mean jack squat. I'm NOT good at letting things just roll off (maybe it gets easier the more you do it?)... and I think you also need to really love what you do more than you care what other people think and know that you're good at it more than what other people might say. I'm not so good with the self-validation thing ;p

And whoa, hats off to you, Cat--that's a hard job!! Thanks for doing it!

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Hi! SIS Barb here, that was Bren earlier. We all get rejected. If we didn't, we'd probably be stuck up, conceited snobs. So...rejection keeps us real. We grow from embarrassment and pain and hopefully one day can laugh about the bad times and revel in the good ones!!! But yes, I agree it is very hard which is probably why I never sought the big time and made myself somewhat content with the medium time!! LOL.

SIS Barb

Beth Ciotta said...

"I think you also need to really love what you do more than you care what other people think and know that you're good at it more than what other people might say."

Wise, wise words, Fedora. I can't top that.

:) SIS Beth

Beth Ciotta said...

New mantra, folks.

"Rejection keeps us real."

Thanks, Barb.

:) SIS Beth (ditto on the medium time)

Olga said...

Beth, you're right, rejection stings. But I believe that everything happens for a reason (well, with some exceptions, when I see innocent people suffer), and maybe the rejection happened because this agent/publishing house/editor wasn't the best fit. And if there are any positive comments in rejection (and often there are), I try to be grateful and take it to a better level.

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Olga, I believe everything happens for a reason, to. Although sometimes I'm not sure what that reason is...

I agree with your method of looking for something within a rejection that you can turn around and use to your advantage. A smart attitude that will take you far!

SIS Beth

Tori Lennox said...

I probably won't handle it well, I fear.

Olga said...

Thanks, Beth, and I hope so!

Brooks Conner said...

Button holes?

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Tori, you may surprise yourself!

Olga, hang in there!

Brooks, read it again. :)

SIS Beth

Richard said...

Beth (well, especially; but SIS, et al), you're "dangerous!" "What about you? How do you handle rejection?" Such questions make me think (and I HATE thinking too much!). I truly am not sure, as I have carefully either been able to or have chosen to AVOID it. In short: per my ARTISTIC life, re: music, art, PC-skills, etc. I have always had the fortune to "fall into" situations. Band after band, I've just known the "right folks," never really had to audition, good enough to make it work. PERSONAL life --- MANY rejections --- LOL! And I have NEVER really dealt with them well INSIDE --- but I've always been able to "rise above and move forward;" well, as far as anyone REALLY knows;). Ditto for any artistic endeavor I have pursued with ANY amount of passion.
Here's why your GREAT, HAPPY (to me!) success with writing makes me "nervous:" for YEARS, this person and that (especially, KUDOS for your support, Adam Pace) has said I should write/blog/whatever.
A) I write my "best" when I'm in (for instance) an "Edgar Allen Poe" frame of mind (if you think past genre and understand "condition," then you get it ... if not, c'est la vie!) ... NOT good in the long run!
B) Pretty much EVERY time I write a song lyric, blog, etc., once I read it the NEXT day, I find it to be regurgitaion/pap/self-serving/STUPID/etc. and I delete it. (Self-defense mechanism? Heading rejection off @ the pass?).

So, it's late and I will leave it at this:
As much as I truly ENJOY your writings and artistry, Beth; as much as I am enthralled and happy for your success; I am 10 times past that knowing that someone I know (a little, overall) got PAST any and all their inherent fears of rejection (as much as you can - I GET it;) LOL!) and has found INDEPENDENT UNIQUE SUCCESS throwing their thoughts/passions/beliefs/fantasies out to the public! AND i wish the same success 2 the other two B's, if they truly give it a go!
G'Nite! And, keep this up, "Miller-Girls"!

Beth Ciotta said...

Richard, perhaps you're not battling 'fear of rejection' as much as 'fear of success'. Sounds strange, I know. But it's actually pretty common. If you 'try' and 'succeed' then you'll be presented with a whole new list of challenges. The pressure will be on to make deadlines and to meet expectations.

Either way, it all boils down to the question: How bad do you want it? :)

Regarding your kudos and support of my dream and that of my sisters, Bren and Barb, we thank you!! Encouragement is a grand thing!

SIS Beth

Richard said...

Good point/hypothesis about "fear of success," Beth. I have NEVER been comfortable with kudos, so maybe I've extended that apprehension. "Calling Dr. Freud! Dr. Freud --- clean up on aisle 7!";) I know one thing for sure --- gotta stop treating your blog like it were Dr. Phil --- LOL!
Have a great day!

Sherry Tew said...

Rejection. That is a tough thing to handle in any circumstance. As I have gotten older, I have found it easier to accept rejection knowing that it isn't always an absolute reflection on me. Sometimes it is a reflection on the person(s) doing the rejecting and their issues. Possibly that attitude comes with a confidence in my own capabilities. I appreciated all 3 sisters' perspectives and completely agree with Barb's statement that rejection keeps us real! A little humility is good for the soul now and then.

Beth Ciotta said...

Sherry said.. "I have found it easier to accept rejection knowing that it isn't always an absolute reflection on me. Sometimes it is a reflection on the person(s) doing the rejecting and their issues."

I've read something similar to this before, Sherry. A self help book, I'm sure, when I was trying to ramp up my confidence. :) Wise words and a great attitude!

SIS Beth

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