In defence of rejection letters

We love stories about famous artists’ early rejections. We chuckle at the editor who rejected JK Rowling; the producer who turned down the Beatles. Here are a bunch more, they’re great stories. We sigh at their lack of foresight and say, ‘Silly person! I bet they feel stupid now!’

But they shouldn’t, really. A large part of any artist’s success lies in what their publisher or producer can do with their work: how they’d bring it to market and frame it for the right audience, how they’d nurture the artist’s strengths and work around their weaknesses. The editor or producer or curator must be the creator’s champion. They must have their own vision for the finished work, and they must feel confident they can work with the creator to pull off that vision. If they don’t, they must not go ahead.

We never hear the stories of brilliant writers, artists and musicians whose careers were ended prematurely because of a bad relationship with their champion. And yet that happens all the time. The creator–champion relationship is symbiotic, and it’s the champion’s first and hardest task to tell, on the basis of a tiny sample of work on a busy day, whether they are the right champion for it; whether this relationship will work. If they take on the creator and the relationship fails, they can kill the creator’s career. Working together will be like lighting a flame in a glass box: it will burn only till the oxygen runs out.

An editor, producer or curator who turns down a creator is a brave person making a brave decision. Good for them. It is better to let a creator free to find the right champion than to marry them badly.

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