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Rejection Does NOT Equal Dejection: How to Handle a 'No' in Art Licensing

Late last year I had been contacting the art director of a fabric company, trying to get a licensing deal for some of my collections. I had been emailing them for over four months, once every month. They didn’t respond in the beginning, but when they did, here’s what they said:

“Sorry I didn’t get back to you. Unfortunately we need much more elaborate artwork to justify paying a licensed designer.”

This is rejection. An outright ‘no’. Nothing more than that, and that is exactly why rejection should not matter.

In an ideal world, rejection should not matter. But we don’t live in utopia, and no wonder, one ‘no’ affects us to a great extent. The extent to which we are affected by the ‘no’ varies for each one of us, depending on our perspectives.

So, how does the feeling of rejection manifest?

My first reaction to that email–my first ever outright rejection in the world of art licensing–was to tell myself, “My art is useless! My art is too simple. It isn’t worth a company’s money. I’m not good enough!”

Here are just a few directions your fear of rejection of might take:

Low self esteem.

You might have mustered up all the courage you could to hit the send button on that pitch email. Suddenly, all that courage means nothing. You want to go hide your face somewhere (though you know it’s a personal email that no one else would read).

Negative self-talk.

Think imposter syndrome–the way I reacted. You tell yourself that you’re not good enough, not worthy of appreciation, your art doesn’t deserve to be out there in the world.

Being overly sensitive

This is my state of mind most of the time. You want to mope about, pity yourself, or bawl your eyes out. You remember the rejection for days on end and refuse to let go of your dejection.

But remember:

Rejection does not equal dejection.

Rejection is natural, common, and often needed. Yes, you read that right; rejection is necessary. Admit it, despite all that research, we have at some point in our careers, contacted a company that doesn’t quite fit our style or our price tags. Rejection is what helps us weed out such companies.

So how do we keep ourselves from feeling disappointed every time someone says ‘no’ to our art?

Here are some pointers to make it easier for you to deal with rejection:

Practice doing things that make you uncomfortable.

We often fear being rejected even before we take that crucial, first step. But believe me when I say this, do what makes you uncomfortable the first few times and you’ll get used to it. I don’t know about “practice makes perfect” but practice definitely makes things easier.

I drafted my first pitch email and sat on it for a month before I gathered the courage to hit ‘send’. I waited. I waited a long, painful wait of another month only to get not a single reply from any of the companies I’d emailed.

However, this time I didn’t let the fear of hearing a ‘no’ stop me. I kept sending emails, often with no response, sometimes hearing a “no” until I developed a thick skin. So, that email I spoke about in the beginning? It didn’t hurt me at all.

Expect rejection. Prepare yourself for it but don’t spiral into depression.

I’m not asking you to be cynical, but expect to hear a ‘no’ or not hear back at all. This way you can be prepared to face that rejection as it comes.

When we factor in the possibility of someone refusing to work with us (for whatever the reason may be), we are less likely to be affected when such a scenario does occur. Being prepared is also a good way to ensure we don’t go down that moping path that I spoke about earlier.

Prepare a good response.

When we are upset, our first response is to ghost the prospective client. While you might say, “Does it even matter when they don’t want to work with us?”, I’d insist that not replying isn’t the right thing to do.

They don’t want to work with you now. This means that they might want to work with you in the future. There could be so many reasons a company might not be able to work with you at present (I will list some of those reasons shortly).

When we respond to a rejection email professionally, we can keep our communication channels open. This works in our favour when we want to pitch to that company again, six months or a year down the line.

Here’s an example of a response I use:

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I understand that now is not the right time to take this forward.
Would it be okay if I add you to my monthly art newsletter? You'd receive one email from me every month with new artwork.
I am looking forward to an opportunity to work with you sometime in the near future and I’d love to keep this conversation going.

See how I didn’t let things get bitter (and sneaked in a mention of my art newsletter)?

Don’t take rejection personally.

There could be several reasons why someone might say no to your art. Here are just a few of them.

  • They can’t afford you.

  • They don’t work with independent artists.

  • They already work with artists with a similar style.

  • The timing isn’t right.

Change your pitch

Sometimes how you frame your email could be the reason you get a ‘no’. Have you started with a warm hello? Have you introduced yourself? Have you given a reason as to what your art can bring to the table? Have you shown the client that you’ve researched the company products and style?

Spend a little time analysing the emails you send, and jot down what works and what needs to be changed. The next time around, try talking about your art differently from your previous pitch. Pitching your portfolio is an ongoing process, and that’s why you’re allowed to keep what brings you results and swap out the rest.

Analyse your presentation

Your pitch emails aren’t the only thing you need to look at with a critical eye. Our beautiful art requires beautiful and strategic presentation.

  • How large are your portfolio sheets?

  • How clear or blurry are the images?

  • How large are your files?

  • Has the company you’re pitching to, given specifications for file submissions?

  • Have you followed these guidelines?

  • How much space are you dedicating to your designs?

  • Are mockups and colour palettes taking up a lot of space on your sell sheets?

Remember to follow portfolio sheet best practices when sharing designs with the prospective clients, to ensure that there is a better chance of them showing interest in what you do.

Now that you have a few strategies up your sleeve, put these into practice and pitch your art with more confidence. The goal is to eventually embrace rejection just as it is and nothing more than that. But till we can train our minds to do that, forgive yourself if

you do take rejection to heart; it is absolutely normal.


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