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The pain of the cold sell and subsequent likely rejection.

If you create art or write books, you will know it someday, that pain of the cold sell.

I sent the first Snapchat to my family group.

“Going to see if they’ll carry my children’s book” I messaged over a photo of a local bookstore. I had four copies of the first installment of my children’s book series The Mysteries of Whisper Bay. I was oddly confident that I could leave a few copies in the bookstore so I wasn’t even nervous.

About six minutes later, I sent another Snapchat.

“And he says no” I wrote, taken aback by the brief but clear rejection of my offer.

This is not the first rejection I’ve had in life, regarding something I’ve created. If you get an art degree, you are just going to have to get used to it. Whether outright or subtle, attempts to sell, get hired, or promote your own work will generally run higher in the rejection column than in the win column.

That’s how it works. That’s how it works, i.e. that’s not a sign of it not working.

A sign your career in the creative field is not working well is when you’re used as a tool. A frustration I’ve had for a long time isn’t so much the rejection aspect, but the tool aspect. I don’t mind it if people don’t want what I’ve created, but I do mind it if people start treating me as a useful tool.

“Julie, I have so many ideas but I just don’t have the ability to bring them to fruition but you’re:

  • Good on the computer.

  • Know how to use the computer.

  • Know how to use the software necessary.

  • Have the software necessary.

  • Able to draw things.

  • Able to write things.

  • Etc.

…so I’m going to use you as a tool instead of an intelligent person with her own ideas and professional capabilities whose decisions might be just as valid as mine. I know you went to school and have several decades as a professional, but I’m still going to tell you how to tweak something.”

People don’t do this to their doctor during surgery, but whatever.

Rejection? Standard.

Useful tool? Insulting in time.

But this particular rejection of my work was odd to me.

The owner greeted me by name. Several clerks know me by name. I’ve spent thousands and thousands at the store over the years. During the pandemic, I made sure to let people in various social media groups know that you could shop there without worrying about masks, and that you could buy RFK, Jr.’s book on Fauci there since the Barnes and Noble store wouldn’t carry it. When I worked as a church secretary, I tried to make sure we got books from the store when feasible. Over the years, I got the foolish idea I wasn’t just a customer, but had formed a relationship.

And there was a section with local authors, including a book I’d ghostwritten.

But as I stood there with my crumpled plastic bag of four books, the bookstore owner handing back my book after barely looking at it, I was surprised and I’m certain my face showed it.

“Local authors don’t sell. I just had to return a bunch of books to one,” the store owner said, an expression of almost mild disgust or annoyance on his face. The three clerks in earshot were so busy working that I knew they were hearing it all go down and trying to be super busy working.

I’ve had some uncomfortable rejections in the past—some are really hilarious now that there’s 20 years of distance on them—but this one really surprised me on a lot of levels.

Good customer. First name basis. Decent book. Friendly relationship (I thought).

Funny thing was, I had just sold two books 30 minutes earlier, and had another two women waiting for me to tell them if they could run down to this bookstore and get their copy. I had to tell them no, that I would meet them and sell directly to them. I made more money on that, anyway, but I’d just as soon have had them go to the local store.

I do understand the local author conundrum, especially now that print-on-demand is so easy and everyone can churn out a book.

But a better option than an outright “no," particularly for a regular customer of your store, would be to have a form that each author would fill out that would describe the book, the audience, and the promotion the author would do on their own. There would be clear instructions and terms that if the book didn’t sell in X amount of time, the author had to come and get the remaining books to make room for someone else. That way, the store didn’t lose anything and stayed friendly with the local writing crowd, giving authors a chance to do well if they put the work into it.

Because here’s the thing: the local writers are also the readers.

“I’m a little disinclined to go in there for a good long time,” I told my friend. “I’ve always made a point to do as much of my Christmas shopping there as I could and not order books online if they were in that store, but I think I’m just going to take a pass this year for Christmas.”

And that's what I did.

Because it wasn’t a relationship. I was just a customer. One who spent more money than I ought to have just to support what I thought was a relationship.

I can be just a customer anywhere.

I think my family felt badly for me. That wasn’t my intention; I wasn’t as disappointed as you might expect, just surprised.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured some friends and family. “I believe God wanted me to write these books and I’m going to keep plowing ahead. This isn’t going to stop me.”

The best advice I have for the cold sell, and the likely rejection, is that it doesn’t have to affect your engine of creativity if you decide as much ahead of time. Many an art critique class in college caused me to never finish paintings and drawings until I learned, in time, that while the opinions of others were possibly useful, they weren’t final, the end-all decider, and I could push on ahead to my own success or failure.

Because at least it was mine.


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