I got my first syndication rejection this week, on Tuesday, February 5, 2014. I'm not surprised, by any means, but it's naturally still a little sad.
There are good sides to it, though. For one, I can now count myself among some of the best company in comics. Bill Watterson was rejected by syndicates for five years before he got a nibble for a strip submission that would eventually become Calvin and Hobbes. (That's right, even Calvin and Hobbes was initially rejected.) During that time he made six (six!) attempts at getting syndicated. And now I've made my first. I've completed one revolution around the sun, made my first round trip, completed my first full lap. I have a sense of accomplishment, success or no. A sense of achievement: I have achieved, if nothing else, rejection. And there is some success in simply having made the attempt, because that, in and of itself, is no easy task.
The other good thing is that my rejection included notes. Some kind soul at Universal Uclick Editorial took the time to give me a really good critique. You'd think criticism would be hard to take, a difficult pill to swallow, but strangely it's just the opposite. Not only do I totally agree with the critique, but again I feel a certain pride at having gotten it via this process that artists go through. I haven't really been a part of that process as much as I'd like over recent years, but it's one I respect and enjoy a great deal. Engaging in it with industry professionals makes me feel like I'm actually doing this thing — whatever this thing turns out to be — in a real and earnest and tangible way.
Moreover, this reviewer had some really encouraging things to say. He or she liked my drawings and storytelling and was really positive about the parts of the strip that I liked best myself. Hearing things like this from an essentially anonymous industry professional — someone who looks at this kind of thing all the time, with no motivation to sugarcoat anything — has really helped affirm for me that my work is decent and worth pursuing. That really means a lot to me.
Of course I'm a little bummed by being rejected. But I see now why people recommend focusing on process rather than goals. The process of seeking syndication has been incredibly edifying, challenging and rewarding for me. It's forced me to try harder, to push myself and to think really hard about my work. It's given me a much clearer understanding of who I am as an artist. And it's made me a better cartoonist on every level.
Taken all in all, it's really hard to be that sad.