I got my score sheets back from a recent contest in which I did NOT final and can I just say …. OUCH! I got hammered to various degrees by all three judges. Hey, I know. It happens. Not everyone is going to like what you write. I get that. This particular manuscript has done really well on the contest circuit, scoring high even when it didn’t final. So these judges’ sheets kind of stung a bit.
And it got me to thinking. In this business I believe how we handle rejection is at least as important, if not more important, than how we handle success. I’ve only been writing seriously for a little over two years. In that time I’ve received low contest scores, rejections from publishers and from agents. While it smarts each time it happens, I’ve never really considered giving up. Does that make me a grown up, a writer or a masochist? Maybe a little of all three?
I came into this endeavor with a bit of an advantage. I’ve been singing in vocal contests since I was sixteen years old. Trust me, judges in voice contests never even HEARD of the word subtle or positive reinforcement. Their job is to get people they feel are wasting their time OUT of the business. They’re really good at it too. The first couple of times I got dumped on by voice judges I was ready to quit. I even cried a few times. Then that idealist girl who just KNEW she was destined to be an opera singer would pick herself up, dust herself off and well …. you get the picture.
That attitude got me through high school and even college and graduate school. I just kept working on my craft, pushing myself and gradually the comments and criticism got better and so did I. The problem was I was a five foot nothing, ninety-three pound soprano with a voice that sounded like it should come out of a six foot heavy set woman with a horned helmet on her head, a breastplate and a big spear. They just couldn’t figure out what to do with me.
I auditioned for a number of American opera companies out of graduate school. Nobody had a spot for me. The comments ranged from “We’re not quite sure what kind of soprano you are.” to “You sound like Maria Callas on steroids.” Hint : He didn’t mean it as a compliment! Now I really wanted to quit. Years of voice lessons, college courses, and practice, practice, practice and for what? That’s when my grad school vocal coach said something that changed my life.
“You’re selling oranges to people who only want apples. You just have to find the people that want oranges. Once you do your voice will take you anywhere you want to go.”
I’ve been thinking about that bit of wisdom a lot lately. With all of my successes on the contest circuit I still don’t have an agent or an editor. I haven’t found the people who want oranges. I know they’re out there. I just need to keep looking. I don’t need to write like all of the people who are selling books like hot cakes. I don’t need to change my manuscript to suit every judge who reads it in a contest. I just need to keep telling my stories, keep working on my craft and pushing myself and believe that those orange lovers are out there somewhere waiting for me to bring the oranges.
And the music career? I sent a tape to a voice teacher at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. He asked me to come to Austria to audition in person. I did and he accepted me as a student. I got a job the first time I auditioned and then a contract and the rest is history. My voice took me to Salzburg, Budapest, Amsterdam, Canterbury, and dozens of other places. Turns out Europe is full of orange lovers.
So, how about you? How do you handle rejection? Does it make you mad, sad, more determined? Do you keep your letters of rejection? Do you throw yourself a pity party and invite all of your friends? (I do this on occasion. Great for the soul.) My voice teacher also said :
Success is the best revenge.
Here’s hoping we all get to enjoy our revenge.