From the first moment I started Neopets, I wanted to be in The Neopian Times.
Okay, more accurately, I wanted to have a comic in The Neopian Times. I had found that beautiful, silly section one day when clicking all the random links I could find, and had stumbled upon my life’s goal. I mean, what’s better than having your own work published for the entirely of Neopets to see, and have others laugh and enjoy and appreciate your work?
The further I dug, the more I found: the Art Gallery. The Poetry Contest. The Beauty Contest. Where did I enter? How do I win? Where should I even start?
Looking at my account now, you’ll see that I managed to get a few things published and won a trophy or two. I’ve been fortunate enough to win the Poetry Contest a handful of times (thank you, kind judges!), am working towards around 20 items published in the NT (thank you, kind editor!), and even scored my adorable pets some nice trophies (thank you, kind voters!). However, I’m not sure if it was complacency, but I got comfortable with submitting my work until I received this Neomail:
Your Neopian Times submission was rejected because the editor did not understand your joke.
I read it three or four times, shocked and confused. The editor didn’t understand my joke? To make it worse, the Neomail concluded with advice on how to tell a joke. I was on the verge of tears, and went about reading my pets some books to take my mind off of it.
I’ve had submissions rejected before, but this was awful. It wasn’t that my comic was rejected merely because of too many submissions, but because it was JUST. NOT. GOOD. It made me feel like a failure and I began to question EVERY accomplishment I’ve made. Seriously—I went through my Poetry submissions, past articles, and Beauty Contest entries and thought with each second, “Were these just pity votes? Am I worthy of calling myself a winner in ANY of these areas? Do I actually deserve these trophies?”
You might think I’m overreacting, but it’s something that happens to a lot of people. They work all night on making their Quiggle look gorgeous for the upcoming Beauty Contest, only to find out the following week they won a total of four votes and didn’t even place 12th. Or, like me, you think of something you find silly, spend several hours drawing it out, and get told your comic wasn’t good and get tips on how to be funny! (Don’t take this the wrong way; I appreciate the feedback a hundred times over, but talk about rubbing salt in the wound).
Rejection is an inevitable possibility when putting yourself out to the public. It’s not that people don’t care about your pet, your poetry, or your art; it’s just that sometimes, people will chose other options over you. That doesn’t make them bad, and it doesn’t make you bad, either.
There are a handful of things I realized after getting this rejection letter, and it’s important for me to at least ATTEMPT to send this out to all of you (if this gets rejected, that would be the definition of ironic, wouldn’t it?). I want you all to realize that rejection isn’t a reflection of you or your work, it’s a reflection of the progress you’re capable of. Let’s look at seven things to remember and meditate on when you feel like your work isn’t “good” enough.
Take criticism openly, NOT angrily. It’s easy to throw in the towel, scream at the sky with your hands in fists, or kick Punchbag Bob until he doesn’t know what century he’s in. But you can’t open your work for others’ opinions and get mad when they don’t understand it. That would be like playing poorly during Yooyuball and getting frustrated when Crade Talvos gives you suggestions on your form (ahem, sorry … HAUNTED WOODS FOR LIFE!!). Instead of being flustered/embarrassed/ashamed/angry at their criticism, open your heart and ears to what they’re saying and reevaluate your work. You think your Lupe looks handsome, but maybe other people aren’t really sure it’s a Lupe.
Don’t think they’re insulting your work, KNOW they’re giving you suggestions to grow as an artist!
Realize their perspective. Just as with the Lupe drawing, maybe you write a silly comic that had you in hysterics, but it simply confuses the editor. YOU get the joke because YOU came up with it … but other readers aren’t in your mind and may not get the premise. Did you draw the proper context? Did you write the joke coherently? Were the text boxes in the correct spot to be read properly? There could be a million reasons why your joke is funny … but just ONE mistake can ruin the whole thing. Maybe they don’t think that type of joke is truly hilarious at all.
Remember this: it’s not your opinion that matters when you’re asking others to look at your work; it’s theirs.
You’re up against your peers. I spent three days working on my Beauty Contest entry. I went into massive detail with shading, coloring, texture, even going so far as to adding little dots to enhance the depth. I entered my submission, chatting with a few other people in the Art Chat, and when the voting was over, I was so elated to find out I placed … last. A total of two—count ‘em, two—votes. Only TWO people in ALL of Neopia voted for my amazingly shaded Neopet … and I know for a fact one was my extremely kind friend.
That means only one person who saw my entry thought it was worthy of their vote.
It’s heartbreaking (I worked so hard!), embarrassing (who even let me enter that garbage?!), and angering (WHO THOUGHT I WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH?!?!). I waited a good three years before entering the BC again, and during a chat with a friend who was recently rejected from the Art Gallery, they said something brilliant: “It was hard knowing that the staff didn’t find my art good enough. I spent SO long making sure it was up to their standards, and the rejection hurt worse than anything. But you know what? I went to see the accepted submissions, and my jaw dropped. These people … they’ve worked just as hard as I did—probably even more. What an honor it is to be up against such talented people.”
When you work on an article, you’re going up against your peers. When you work on the fine details of your Beauty Contest entry, you’re going up against your peers. When you count the lines of your sonnet, you’re going up against your peers. How cool is that?
Imagine going on a treasure hunt with Hannah, listening as she’s showing you the ropes (literally) and explaining how to spelunk, or check for traps. You shouldn’t be offended she’s offering you advice; she’s there to guide you. Imagine going toe-to-toe against “Brains” Mortigan in a Yooyuball match (sorry again … HAUNTED WOODS RULES!!!).
NEVER think of these contests as “competitions”. You’re not there to beat out the others, you’re there to prove you’re capable of contributing. The first thing you should do right now is get the word “worthy” out of your head; no one is “worthy” of a gold trophy, no one is “worthy” of getting their poems published—you’re up against hundreds, even thousands of your peers, and you need to have it cemented in your mind that everything you contribute must meet a certain caliber.
That doesn’t mean your rejections were “lame”, “bad”, or “stupid”. It doesn’t mean your acceptances were “worthy”. They merely met the criteria of what the judges wanted!
Understand your audience. I think that Albert the Kacheek is hands down one of THE coolest Neopets in all of history … but who else would be interested in reading a 12-part series on him? You thought of a hilarious pun regarding Jahbal … but who knows who that is? (Seriously though, if you’ve never played NeoQuest then you’re missing out).
Your audience is who will read your work. If you aren’t entertaining your audience, there’s a high chance your work won’t be published. I was recently reading through some old NT comics, and realized that I laughed at every single one. Or at least, chuckled at the witticisms and puns. I began looking through the authors and saw that one in particle has had comics published since the old Neopian Times … they’ve been in the Neopian Times for years—because they know their audience and perfected their style. They know how to properly introduce characters and themes, know where to place the punchline and how to lead the joke. Take a cue from some published authors and see exactly how they do what they do! However, on that note …
Get inspired but don’t copy. Nothing is more lame than creating a beautiful design, only to see it used in a few other areas by someone who was “inspired” by it. You would NEVER want someone to copy your work, so why do that to someone else? Reading an article about the Snowager may inspire you to write your own article, but copying the theme or words verbatim isn’t cool. Viewing comics to get an idea of set up is one thing, but taking their jokes? No way.
Taking outside the box—if you can’t … find someone who can! Don’t go for the same four article ideas, and try not to write thirteen poems on King Skarl. Ask your friends or other authors to review your work or throw some ideas back in forth. An amazing thing about writing is you can collaborate … twice the ideas, twice the fun! Always give credit where credit is due though!
Be patient but persistent. Ah, the final thing. There are certain rules about multiple submissions (if your poem isn’t accepted immediately, there’s no need to resubmit it because it’s in their system; however, if your Neopian Times submission is rejected on grounds of there being too many good entries, you need to resubmit it because they’re reading a new batch of material). Enter the Beauty Contest as often as you can if you want that gold trophy, and advertise on the Art Chat! Write and rewrite and re-rewrite your poems until they’re the best they could possibly be. Work on your Art Gallery submissions and get as much feedback as possible before entering. One rejection isn’t the end of the world. A million rejections isn’t the end of the world. Be patient in your waiting, be persistent in your action.
After cooling down long enough to look over that rejected, unfunny comic without wanting to cry, I realized … the comic wasn’t funny. Okay, it was kind of funny, but it was so rushed and muddied that the joke didn’t come through the way I had intended it to. The lines weren’t clear, the text was confusing, and it simply didn’t flow like comics should. I stopped moping around and fixed the comic. No big deal.
Remember, the judges and editors aren’t here to make you feel bad about yourself. The voters who sift through hundreds of Beauty Contest entries aren’t purposely out to make you feel untalented. You’re up against a lot of talented, experienced Neopians, and you should count yourself lucky to be in the running to begin with.
As an ending note, I want to say that I’ve only had my limit success from the wonderful Neopians like you who read my work or vote for my art, and the dutiful editors and judges who sit down and go through these submissions. It’s hard to put yourself out there, and the criticism is just the icing on the cake—so what your comic didn’t make it? Who cares you didn’t win the gold? You showed the world you’re capable of contributing, and the feedback is a gold trophy in itself.
Best of luck to all of you in your submissions; take the criticism, realize their perspectives, know you’re up against a lot of good people … and always—ALWAYS—be kind to one another. Once again, thank you all and good luck!