What to do if the world hates your idea

One of my most popular blog posts ever, how to write a book, generates tons of comments and e-mail every week. Here’s an interesting one I couldn’t help but respond to:

David wrote:

Great article, gave me lots of inspiration and hope. I just submitted a proposal to O’Reilly, and it was rejected within 30 minutes. Very efficient, and very nicely worded, but devastating nonetheless. What do you do if you think you have a great idea, but the world disagrees?


The first rule of creative work
: expect to be rejected. Ask anyone who reviews creative work of any kind, whether it’s screenplays, music demos, or book proposals, and they’ll tell you they reject a ratio of at least 20 or 30 to 1. Sometimes it’s 1000 to 1 in the case of movie actors or works of fiction. There is nothing wrong with you or your work simply because you have been rejected. Rejection means you are doing something many others want to do and it’s hard work.

Ask any writer, including the famous, how many rejection slips they’ve seen. They’ll laugh and tell you about how they papered their wall with them. Seriously, rejection is part of the game. I note many of these stories in The Myths of Innovation. The Star Wars screenplay was rejected by almost every major studio. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance was turned down over 100 times. Stephen King, J.K. Rawlings, John Grisham, you name it, they’ve been rejected. Do not give up hope: instead, use rejection as fuel. Prove them wrong. Get better at your craft. Work harder, and when you’re finished, send them a signed copy with your warmest regards.

Fear & doubt kill far more dreams than failure. -Jeet Banareet

In some ways how you handle rejection is self selection for creative work – if you cant handle a few rejections from publishers, how will you handle a few bad reviews of your finished book? No matter what you do, if you’re making something, many people won’t like it. In fact the more popular the thing is, the more people who will pick on it and for increasingly trivial reasons.

As I mentioned in the post, one major advantage of living in 2008 is how cheap it is to make things yourself. The only approval you need to create something is your own. You can self publish a book, make a video or a bunch of mp3s for just a few hundred bucks. If the world isn’t behind you, to hell with the world – do it anyway. The only thing stopping you is you. After you make the thing you imagined the world may respond very differently than it did to just the idea alone.

(Update): Of course you do need to consider now and then that the world might just be right, in some small way, about something you are missing. Perhaps you’re idea isn’t all that good, or you’re not explaining it very well, or it needs to be focused and directed in a different way. One of the best skills creatives need to learn is how to convert criticism into useful feedback.

13 Responses to “What to do if the world hates your idea”

  1. John

    Here’s a quote related to your post. “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

    From the introduction to Founders at Work.

    Reply
  2. Working Girl

    Hey, love that comment. People are always afraid others will “steal” their ideas, when the real problem is that you can barely give them away!

    Very good insights about the submission, and the rejection, process. It’s never easy, but the important thing is to keep reminding yourself that the rejections are a means to improve your work.

    Reply
  3. Vic

    David,

    At least you received a response. I submitted a query to O’Reilly and THEY NEVER RESPONDED. I’m fine with the rejection, it’s not getting a response that doesn’t sit well with me.

    Reply
  4. David

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the advice. I downloaded Chapter 4 of the Myths of Innovation, and loved it, especially the section on the differences in perception between the proposer and the recipient. There’s also great hints on how to make the proposal more acceptable. I’ll be getting my copy on the weekend.

    I’ve learnt that the proposal needs just as much work as the content, like the first chapter. There’s not much difference between selling your idea to a publisher and selling your book to potential readers.

    Reply
  5. Jim Rait

    Really interesting… always found creative ideas need to be shared but expect rejection (don’t show you expect it though!). Build a circle of ‘critiquers’ that can worry your ideas (not you) and so add value to it… its a bit like the difference between offering someone an egg… if they reject the offer… even with explanation. you still have only an egg. If you offer an idea and they critique it… you will walk away with at least one idea but bigger or even several ideas. Reminds me of the 4-stage adoption process….
    “At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, and then they hope it can be done, then they see it can be done – then it is done and all the world wonders why it wasn’t done centuries ago.”
    Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

    Reply
  6. Tim Forrest

    Rejection… on planet earth? By fellow human beings? Now THAT is really funny. LMAO

    T

    Reply

Pingbacks

  1. [...] See the full entry here. This entry was posted in learning to write, technique and tagged rejection, submissions. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Realistic versus wanted dialogue [...]

  2. […] Many people won’t listen to or read your work, that’s true. And that’s also fine. Just don’t stop doing it because of them. Pursue it for you. If you want to make it big, remember that success is always just one more attempt away. Don’t give up, even when no one is listening. If you are still convinced you need planet earth to hear your voice, then you should read what to do if the world hates your idea. […]

Leave a Reply

* Required