I'm always amazed when artists thank me effusively for responding to their art submissions, especially when I turn them down.
They seem to be just so very glad that someone actually took the time to respond to them, because with most submissions they never ever hear back.
Not a positive, not a negative, not a form letter in the mail and definitely not the return of their artwork that may have been mailed.
Not even a simple email rejection. Nothing, nada, zip.
Let's Shine Some Light On This
For those artists who are used to hearing nothing back (can you ever actually get used to that?), let me shine some light on that murky area.
You see, I have the same thing happen to me when I submit my artists' work.
And believe me, I send out a whole lot or artwork to companies that are good active licensees, so-so licensees, or just prospective licensees and most of the time I hear nothing back.
How Do You React?
If it's a good licensee or if I find myself getting a bit annoyed or am just in a pleasantly feisty mood, I'll email them again and ask "Did you receive those materials from (blank) that I sent you two weeks ago? I wonder if the email went through?"
That's a very legitimate question because we've all had emails not go through, or wind up in a junk mail folder or spam filter and get discarded without ever having been opened.
Or I might re-send the original email, as that often helps get a response.
It's Often Not About You At All
What I've discovered over the years is that most often, it isn't about the artist or licensor, and it isn't even about the artwork.
Rather, it's something going on, or not going on, on the other end of the conversation that you're trying to move along.
You see, the reaction to art of any kind isn't rational and it isn't logical. The fact is, it's totally subjective.
Rejection Is Normal
If I showed the same piece of artwork to 100 people, a certain number would like it a whole lot, a certain number would hate it a whole lot, some would be interested, some would be uninterested, and some would be totally out to lunch.
The last are the "have no opinion" people you see listed in big surveys.
If you think about it, this is what retailers experience every day. Imagine the typical store in a mall or on the street.
There are attractive displays of items in the windows, and every day hundreds of people walk by the store, glance at the windows, and never slow down.
That's a rejection, as there was nothing in the windows, no product, no piece of art reproduced on a product to make it more attractive, no nothing that so much as slows them down.
When You Can Catch Someone's Eye
But a few people out of those several hundred will indeed have their eye caught by something in the window.
They'll stop, look for a moment, perhaps longer, and then either move on or go into the store.
The same thing happens inside a store, where you browse through the aisles, glancing over hundreds of products and never buying even 1% of all the products you see.
What Shoppers Do
If you're on a mission to go to a particular store for a particular item, you might stay and browse those items until you find the one you want, but chances are you'll then take it to the register, buy it, look around at what's near while you're waiting (the so-called impulse purchases, which are an important retail ploy), and once you've finished your purchase, you'll leave.
Total up the rejections you've been party to while walking down a retail street, an aisle in a mall or through a store and I'll bet you'll have turned down many hundreds if not thousands of products.
I went to Home Depot the other day and since I'm a guy, I found most things pretty interesting but they still didn't slow me down in my search for the particular item I was seeking. All told, I have no doubt I turned down literally many hundreds of products.
Companies Can Be Overwhelmed With Art Submissions
Looking at art licensing, I'll give the example of one card company that receives thousands of pieces of art every time it sends out a request for images for, let's say, a particular subject or season.
It's overwhelming, and unless the art happens to connect with initial reviewer instantly, it never makes it to the table where the committee is doing initial or secondary reviews.
The Fantasy Employee
Let's take a brief look at that initial reviewer, the one who opens the package, downloads the email attachments, or prints out the PDF files.
This initial reviewer might be an extremely pleasant, hard-working, on-purpose, dedicated, devoted, happy and focused individual who gives each piece or group of artwork the time and attention it deserves.
He or she is never distracted, never has an argument with a spouse, child or friend, never is hungry, tired or cranky, doesn't have to worry about office politics, about how he or she will look passing on artwork that others might not like, is in no fear of loss job, and is generally a wonderful, patient, and extremely secure individual.
I suspect that a person like that comes around once every hundred years and is immediately a candidate for sainthood.
Let's Get Real
I guarantee you that this is not the person who takes a first look at your artwork before passing it on to harassed, harried, and possibly hungry, tired or cranky staff up the line.
Your art may indeed make the first cut, but chances are it won't pass the second.
Often, your artwork will be filed, or simply deleted or tossed out.
Some companies have trouble keeping track of the names or sources of images that come in.
This is a real problem when a company receives hundreds and hundreds of images a week.
One of my good licensees regularly sends out an email to the most likely suspects, asking "Is this image one of yours?"
On more than several occasions I've had licensees say to me "I love this art! Why haven't you ever shown it to me?", when in fact it was sent to them when it first went on my site two years before, and has been promoted ever since.
Or they'll say "Why aren't you showing me new art?"
Again, the same situation - they saw it if they choose to look, they ignored it, they forgot about it, and then when the need arose they happened to see it again, and went "Wow! This is exactly what we're looking for!"
Off-Season, Off-Topic and Not Realizing It
There are other reasons why your art won't go through to final review. I'll mention a few of them.
If you send spring florals to a company in the throes of developing Christmas art, your submission will "go on the shelf" and perhaps be forgotten.
And if you're sending Christmas art to them when they're developing their spring/summer line, or just before, during, or after one of their major shows, chances are the artwork will be put aside, perhaps forever.
Another is that people who work in high-pressure jobs, especially during tough economic times, don't have much time to get done all that they need to get done.
Or perhaps the staffing in the creative department has just been cut and the remaining staff is going nuts.
It's Not About You!
Again, it's not about you and your art, it's about other factors being in play.
So what can you do about all this? Here are some suggestions:
1) Don't take rejections, or lack of response, personally. It's not about you and it's possibly not even about your art.
Remember that the recipient will make a fast, and very subjective, response when he or she sees the artwork. So don't take any of it personally.
2) Follow up on submissions. Use the "did you get my email" ploy I suggest above or some kind, cordial or pleasant alternative.
Don't forget about them. It could be they were just so very busy that they need a gentle reminder.
3) Keep at it. Persistence does lead to lead to reward.
Study the market as much as you can, create new art, then revise it and redo it and make sure it's the best you can do. Then start another piece and another and another and another. Just keep at it.
4) Ferret out new potential licensees. Find out from your retail survey who is creating what, look up the companies, find them at shows, network, work your contacts, use social media to promote your art and start really connecting with key people at good companies that are seeking art for their products.
Building a strong personal and professional relationship with a key person at a licensee means that your submissions have a far greater chance of being opened, looked at, and passed along for further consideration.
5) Redo steps 1 through 4, in any order you wish. Just persist, become the best artist you can be, and create art that is compelling, mood-enhancing, stimulating, inspirational or just plain pretty and promote promote promote your work.
And you'll have a decent chance of success.
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