What To Do When You Are Rejected

Everyone around the dinner table had been brutally rejected hundreds of times. I was at a dinner with a bunch of people who had gone the self-publishing route via Amazon. All of them except for me were fiction writers and all had sold over 100,000 copies or more of their various novels.  The guy sitting across from me had just sold the movie rights to his latest science fiction series. Another woman was working on the sequel to her “young adult paranormal” series. Another guy had sold over 500,000 copies of his various thrilers. The guy sitting next to me had been very successful at his “childrens’ chapter books” series, “Sweet Farts”.

All of them had one thing in common. While pursuing the career of their dreams they had all been rejected. Some of them 100s of times. All of them were either on the verge of writing fulltime for a living or had already made the leap. Every one of them was smiling.

[See also, “why and how to self-publish” ]

How many would’ve been smiling if they had given up after the 39th rejection and didn’t go for that 40th. Or didn’t go for that moment when they decided: I’m going to take control of the creative process and not stop where the gate keepers tell me to stop.

So many times I’ve been stopped by the gatekeepers. At a job, for instance, where my boss said, “stop working on this and focus on your main job.” Or when I was trying to sell a TV show and there were only one or two decision makers and they all blocked my path for political reasons. Or I wanted to sell a company and there were only a few decision makers who could make or break what I thought then was my entire life. The stark fear I had whenever I spoke to them, knowing they had this enormous power over me and thinking, foolishly, that I had nothing to offer them.

(the author chose himself to write this bestseller)

Every day, in all aspects of our lives, we are rejected. Rejection is probably the most powerful force in our lives. Think back about the times you’ve been rejected and how your response to it changed your life completely. There are three basic responses to rejection that I’ve seen (in just the past few days I’ve seen examples of all of these).

“I suck. I can’t do this.  I give up.”

“They are stupid. I’m going to keep pushing forward.”

“Hmmmn, what can I do differently. What can I learn from this rejection?”

Obviously I’m going to ignore the first two. It could be the case that you need to give up. Or it could be the case that you should do nothing to improve and you just push forward, but that should never be the gut response (although, again, I’ve seen it as the gut response several times from various people in just the past few days/months/years/myself/etc).

So how can you take rejection and use it to push forward.

A)     Improve what you are selling/making/offering/doing – You wanted that ONE job, that ONE scholarship, that TV show, that book, to sell your company, to sell your product, whatever. And they said, “no”. Take a hard look at the product. Can you improve your offering. Can you take a step back and improve what you are doing? Maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But brainstorm first. What are the ten things you can do to improve what you are doing.

One time I tried to sell a company I had started. The company didn’t have enough clients and enough revenues. And I was a bit inconsistent about the services we were offering that made us unique. There were about 10 different areas I needed to improve and gradually I improved them all and sold the company a year later.

Another time I wanted a job. But I didn’t know enough about what I was doing. I had to improve my education, take courses, study books, study the history of what I was doing, etc.

B)      Expand the Universe of decision makers.  Until the past two or three years, if you wanted to sell a novel there were basically 5-10 decision makers. So about 20,000 people would submit novels to these decision makers (the major publishing houses) and most would get rejected. Who would reject you? Interns and assistants who had just graduated college with a degree in comparative literature who barely even looked at what you wrote.

Now you can self-publish via Amazon and it’s a great process. I explain why and how here. You just chose yourself but, more importantly, the readers become your decision makers. The universe of millions of readers will now help you make your next decisions on how to improve, how to gain more power over your creative process, and finally, how to secure power over your entire life.

This is the CHOOSE YOURSELF ERA. When I was visiting with Amazon this past week I was amazed at what a revolution this is. It’s not about an extra device. It’s about how for the first time since Gutenberg there’s an actual revolution in how you can communicate with the masses. In every way you can choose yourself now to succeed, to improve, to communicate, to extend your reach to the individuals who need your message. Don’t give up on this opportunity. In fact, “rejection” might be what forces you into it, as it did for the 20 or so authors I met last week.

And it’s not just novels. It’s everything. Can you widen the audience for your product? Online dating has expanded the decision makers in your relationship life. And youtube has greatly expanded the universe of tastemakers who will define  your fate. I hate to say it, but Justin Bieber uploading youtube videos of himself (and now exceeding two billion video views) greatly increased his chances of success instead of trying to go the same route as everyone else – up through the traditional 5-10 record labels deciding your fate. All respect to the kid who chose himself and made it work.

[See also: “How to Get 100,000 Facebook Fans”]


C)      Improve your approach.  You keep getting rejected in bars? Find a different place where the odds aren’t stacked against you. Nobody is responding to your networking emails for “10 minutes of your time please?” Then offer something. Give something for free so people see value in your approach immediately. You keep cold-calling customers and they hang up? Find a different way to get distribution.

D)     Change Up, don’t Give Up. I was the guy who “gave up” on the 39th try when trying to sell a novel I had written. Sometimes the odds are just too stacked against you. Maybe it would’’ve worked on the 40th try. I don’t know. But I’m glad I gave up. I “changed up” instead. Instead of focusing on fiction as the only creative medium I started looking at both TV and the brand new world wide web as creative media. Which led to a job at HBO. Which led to my first company focusing on building content-heavy websites for entertainment companies.

I didn’t give up on being creative. I expanded the power  of my creativity by not limiting myself to one domain, vowing to return to book-writing later, vowing to return ultimately to fiction-writing. Maybe I’ll do it, maybe I won’t. But the “Change Up” certainly released me creatively and I was able to use it to build both my financial life and creative life. We’ll see if it ever comes full circle.

[See also, “How to sell 300,000 novels” ]


E)      Improve your authenticity. Social media can also be called “Individual media” as opposed to “Group Media”. Instead of a large group broadcasting your effort, you can build up your own presence by establishing your Facebook platform, your twitter presence, your linkedin, quora, pinterest, blogging, amazon, slideshare, scribd, reddit, etc presence. All of these channels are used to create authenticity for your offering. Each follower, fan, etc you are personally able to sway over to your side of the world continues to establish your authenticity regardless of who is “rejecting” you. This is how you choose yourself and build your own platform rather than relying on the whims of a meager few.

F)      Ask for advice. Someone rejected you? Poor baby! Now, after your mourning is over, ask “why?” You’re going to be rejected all your life. In every way. It never hurts to understand why. Sometimes they will even tell you and, in those cases, it’s a guarantee that you will remember.

G)     Dance with failure. You just got rejected? How did you deal with it? Did you cry? Did you give up? Did you think to yourself, “why do I ALWAYS fail?” Did you think to yourself, “those guys are STUPID for rejecting me.” Understand your reaction to failure. What can you do to improve  it.

The other day I read that 76% of the universe is comprise of “dark energy”. IN other words, we have zero clue as to what it is. And another 20% is “dark matter”, i.e. matter that we have zero clue what it is. And only 4% of the universe is actually made up of matter we understand. In other words, after Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, and 2000 years of collective exploration of what the universe is made up of, we’ve basically failed. In fact, the more knowledge we got, the more we realized how badly we were failing. We used to think we had it down. But now even the Big Bang theory is in serious question. We just suck at understanding the world around us.

Do physicists cry themselves to sleep every night because they have failed so bad? Of course not. This failure has only given them opportunity to discover more. It’s opened up vast landscapes of potential understanding that can actually help us understand what the universe is, and in that understanding, help us understand who we are.

(was largely either wrong or, being generous, incomplete)

Not every failure is an opportunity. But figure it out. Look at the times you failed. How many, in retrospect, were opportunities. About two years ago I had a billionaire that wanted to give me about $50 million to start a fund. A mutual friend of ours blocked it for some reason I still don’t know. At the time I was upset.

Now  I’m grateful. I’ve done so many things since then that I’m very happy I did and I never would’ve done if I was busy running a fund. Thank god I got rejected! I never  would’ve done this blog, for instance.

H)     Acknowledgement of the Process. The NORMAL thing is to be rejected. To get rejected by jobs, your kids, friends, family members, relationships, businesses, publishers, everyone. As Dashama put it in her recent email to me: a third will like you, a third will hate you, a third won’t care….no matter what you do.

It’s actually ABNORMAL to “get close” to not being rejected. It’s even more abnormal to be “accepted” or to “succeed” in some conventional sense. So acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal to feel rejected over something. And it’s perfectly normal to fear it for the future. In fact, to do otherwise would be to reject reality.

But also acknowledge the successes. The things that occur that are abnormal. The things you do to improve. The things you learn on the road to choosing yourself.

Don’t fall back into a story (“I always get rejected”) that is more fairy tale than reality.

I)        Stay in touch. It’s hard for me to not to burn bridges. I tend to do it too much. But I’ve found great success when I’ve not fallen into the burning bridge pattern I often succumb to.

Example: I once tried to sell an early company I started to Omnicom, thebig ad agency. I met with the woman who made these decisions for Omnicom. She felt we weren’t ready yet.

Every month I sent her an update: new clients, new sales numbers, number of employees. I also offered to help any of the agencies that Omnicom had. One time I called her on behalf of one of my clients to see if she could recommend any agencies within the Omnicom family to help one of my clients. In other words, I offered her real value.

After about a year of me doing this every month she rallied about three of the agencies within Omnicom to come over and check out my company. All three made offers. Did I accept any? No, but I was able to leverage those offers into a better offer from someone who came completely out of the blue.

I hate the phrase “life is too short”. Sometimes it feels very long to me. But it’s certainly too short to spend any time on hard feelings. Everyone is just trying to get by. Both the rejected and the rejecters. Nobody is free from this. So let’s all keep in touch to make it a tiny bit easier to make it to the finish line.

J)       ???:

What am I missing in this? I’m certainly missing a lot only because we’ve all been rejected in different ways. What’s your favorite technique to get through it and move on?


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  • Francesco

    I just published my first non fiction book and I can’t really talk about rejection, but you understand that you simply can’t please everyone. There will always be someone not happy and satisfied with what you wrote. And for 5 “acceptances”…there is always 1 rejection..at least in my case. Moreover, there are people enthusiastic about your work and other people, also dear and close friends, tha simply laugh at you and tend to become naysayers. I suppose this is a form of pseudo rejection too.

    I think you’re right on the money when you say that it all depends on how you react to this. And we’re not only talking about rejection itself, but tons of personal tragedies or simply put hard times that we experience. You want to learn out of them, understand what you did wrong or maybe just re-invent yourself, or you want to flush your life down the toilet? It’s up to you.

    thanks for this article James.

  • Jakob Jenkov

    For every 1 positive event in life, there are always 5-10 negative events, I find. Rejections. People who don’t believe in you etc. Focuse on the positive events, learn from the negative, and then forget them.

    An easy way to forget negative events (your failures) is to look at what you do as an experiment. What will happen if I do this? Submit a book? Write this blog post?

    The purpose of an experiment is to learn. Success or failure, you always learn something – and in that perspective, every experiment is a success.

    I don’t agree that burning your bridges is always bad. In my life, I have often been stock in what I do, until I closed the door behind me to that employment, burned the bridge so I was forced to move on. This is also one of the core principles in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. When you burn a bridge, you fight harder to get to the next point. When you can always conveniently go back over the bridge, chances are you will.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I agree with that “experiment” approach.

    • http://twitter.com/runningdmc Dawn Casey-Rowe

      That’s a really good thought…sometimes we keep the bridges as safety nets.

  • http://twitter.com/SmartyCassie Cassie Piasecki

    Last night as I pressed the “save and publish” button on Amazon, I heard your voice saying “I choose myself.”. Because of you, James, I saved myself from the rejection of a publisher and went straight to self publishing. I am excited to see what happens next. Thank you for the motivation!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Cassie, thats great. I’m going to look up your book once Amazon puts it through their process so it displays on the site!

      • http://www.itsmecassie.com/ Cassie Piasecki

        James…even though I am just seeing this reply NOW (I never realized I could dig back and find responses) you brought tears to my eyes. You rock.

    • Bill

      Way to go, Cassie!

      • http://www.itsmecassie.com/ Cassie Piasecki

        A late, but heartfelt, thank you!

    • kamalravikant

      That’s great, Cassie. James is the reason my book is out in the world as well.

  • chimera

    I have been rejected at work for my ideas. I used to be removed out of projects and meetings for speaking up. I think I dealt with it by persistance. 4 years and now my opionions are valued and welcome

  • Pedro Anjos

    In February I was rejected from my interviews for a summer internship at McKinsey and BCG that I really wanted. Instead, that summer I decided to go to São Tomé and Príncipe, in Africa, and volunteer in whatever I could do with my skills. If I had succeeded in the interviews I would never have seen such beauty, both natural and human.

    Now I’m studying finance, so I guess it’s still unclear if that summer helped me professionally, but I loved it personally.

  • Koorosh

    Be curious towards your rejections….be genuinely curious as to what they are trying to tell you

    Ask yourself these 3 questions in regards to rejection or any other situation in life

    1) why this

    2) why now

    3) why me

    Dont ask in a judgemental way or in a victim mode…but genuinely be curious to know the answers and to know what opportunities comes after the rejection

  • http://en.gravatar.com/petrd1 Peter D

    You just made my Monday. Time to go out and not get rejected. But if it happens I will have a better perspective on it. Cheers James

  • http://twitter.com/ORaiden Onkar

    There is one more important thing that helps in dealing with rejections – feedback. Some how people are afraid of asking feedback or just don’t care about it. Most of the time reasons why are rejected are trivial and easy to take care next time. And even in process of asking feedback the rejections can get converted to acceptance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucille.windsor Lucille Windsor

    Fresh ideas on how to use rejection in your favor. How dare you put the responsibility back on us?

  • http://sickofthegrind.com/ A-ron

    My favorite technique is to get frustrated and quit after the very first rejection. A girl said “no” to my date offer, they’ll probably all say no. Someone didn’t like what I wrote in my blog, no one will like it. Then, go through all the ways you can think of why this one rejection happened. I’m not good looking enough. I’m not exciting or adventurous. I’m too stupid. I don’t know anything about writing. I’m not as good as X. etc. After that, mope around and feel sorry for yourself for weeks at a time before having another mediocre go at it.

    I think rejection, at least in my case, is proof of everything I believe is “wrong” with me.

    • joe

      A-ron – I struggle with all of that as well. It’s hard to overcome because rejection reduces the amount of attempts you’ll make, and what we should all probably due is use rejection to increase the amount of attempts we make. Almost like the blackjack strategy of doubling your bet after every lost hand. That said, it’s very hard and I face the exact same feelings when I get rejection.

    • guest

      In reviewing your post, it appears your greatest problem is “I” and “me”. Focus outside of yourself, focus beyond the self-centered, and you’ll not only be happier but you’ll probably find success, as well. People, by nature, don’t like to hang w/ the ego-centric, the moping, the whining.

  • Scott

    James I just published my first book with help and inspiration from your columns. Colorado to Alaska: A Hitchhiking Journey (non fiction). I am doing a free promotion this week on the Kindle version if any readers here would like a free copy. Please write me a good review on Amazon if you enjoy it. http://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Alaska-A-Hitchhiking-Journey/dp/1478352051/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

  • kevin faul

    J) Remember. Remember that you’ve done the work, not them. Remember that you’ve prepared for this minute and this opportunity, they have not. Remember that you saw the opportunity, they did not. Their rejection may only be because you are the visionary, the ideateur and the entrepreneur. It takes energy, individuality and courage to believe in something new. Most people will not believe it until they see it…100 times…and hear about it from 100 friends. Remember that their rejection may indicate that you’re truly onto something good and something unique and not running with the pack that’s repeating what’s already been done. If you’re rejected, CONGRATULATIONS, you can remember that you’re headed in the right direction.

  • http://mefrain.blogspot.com/ Efrain

    Throughout the years I’ve always wondered why bad things happen to good people. Or even, why good things happen to bad people. I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe we’re all the same. good and bad are the same thing to the universe. Or it doesn’t know the difference. So rejection should not be seen negatively, but instead an opportunity.

  • Ted Scarborough

    The key to success in sales (and we’re all in sales) is a ton of rejection. I believe in “ask and ye shall receive”, and keep doing it!
    A great salesman once gave me this gem by writing it on a whiteboard:
    Some will Some won’t So what Who’s next

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevenstcroix12 Steven St Croix

    Wow! I never knew that. That fact puts a lot in perspective when it comes to our little humdrum satisfaction in thinking we are so smart. Thanks for the post James!
    -The other day I read that 76% of the universe is comprise of “dark energy”. IN other words, we have zero clue as to what it is. And another 20% is “dark matter”, i.e. matter that we have zero clue what it is. And only 4% of the universe is actually made up of matter we understand. In other words, after Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, and 2000 years of collective exploration of what the universe is made up of, we’ve basically failed.

  • APN

    Feel, Think, Act-first I feel the rejection,the emotion of failing. I then take time to think abou it. This is where I clear my head and think about improvements . Then I Act on those learnings and move on down the road.

  • http://twitter.com/soyroberto roberto シ

    Somehow I’d forgotten what is like to be rejected, in this new country where I live, I’ve experienced it and hard, but to be honest it’s made me understand more about me and what I’m capable of. When I recalled all the times I’ve been rejected and by whom, it amazes me that I got up and continued. Good post Altucher :D

  • Another John Miller

    I just turned 60 and just got downsized (double talk for we are firing everyone so we can relocate and hire cheaper elsewhere). Will start out on my own trying selling now. Biggest fear is dealing with the frustration of 30 rejections a day cold calling. Have my first 100 catalogs here ready to deliver and website should be up in a week or so. Great post James. And because of your writing I even started a blog. Don’t know if it will ever take off but it is fun writing it. They can fire me, they can reject me, they can kill me, but they can’t stop me from having fun!

  • http://twitter.com/southrnliberal Joffe

    Favorite survival technique: I’ve come to work to die today. Only when you are ready to die are you ready to live.

  • Amy

    When you started failing at businesses, how were you able to convince those around you that this new business may be your big idea? After failing so much, did anyone laugh at you? How do you handle the naysayers, especially those closest to you?

  • Amy

    When you started failing at businesses, how were you able to convince
    those around you that this new business may be your big idea? After
    failing so much, did anyone laugh at you? How do you handle the
    naysayers, especially those closest to you?

  • Jon Clark

    Breathe and go release some endorphins by exercising. This gets the brain back on track to think clearly.

  • http://www.zahndrew.com/ Andrew Zahn

    Enjoy making mistakes! Such helpful advice because you’re doing it, working hard, and learning!

  • http://twitter.com/mctiller Martin Tiller

    After teaching First Grade for several years, I finally started working with an illustrator from Elance to complete my children’s book. Don’t know how successful it will be. But I realized one day that a book has a far greater potential to give me a raise than waiting on my school system. Which currently offers 0% chance of a raise. Finishing the book beats sitting around and complaining.

  • http://thewritedata.com/ Joseph Choi

    Great post. Reminds me of the time when I returned back home Peace Corps. I had applied to about ~250 jobs everything from fortune 500 companies to crap companies. I had gotten 35 interviews or so but had never bothered to change my approach until later on, 8 months later to be exact. When I did I got an offer. Should have done it sooner or better yet created my own job!

  • sweetlikepeach

    Is there more power in acting like nothing is bothering you? Or is it better to be assertive and take a stand? Does it really matter?

  • spurkus

    The most impressive advice I’ve heard about rejection came from Jia Jiang “Rejection is nothing more than someone’s opinion” which so often is not even true. Opinion like assholes everybody has one the difference is in what you believe. “Choose yourself” I love your book James referring to it often, not just a read but a life style.

  • Daniel Alsterholm

    Fiddling with the pink slip received today from my employer, I try to tune in on the positive undertone of the message, but get lost somewhere between F) and G). What’s wrong with the usual 10 bullet statements you give, James, and, instead, give us this alpha exercise that only makes me lose the thread? Moreover, you don’t even finish off with a tenth and final statement, but with a question ;) My frank reply to your J)-question is DENIAL, but that would not fulfill the expectation of an upside ending, would it? I am just beginning some serious self-healing here and I will stay tuned to your posts, James and anyone else with a positive message. Myself, I believe in being the author of my life and the numerous rejections I faced were sought by myself as a prerogative for change. What do you think of that hypothesis?