How to Learn and Understand Anything

Jon Barney is an up-and-coming writer in the Orlando, Florida area (originally from Lafayette, LA, and has a lot of big ideas about a lot of things. Jon says he has an amazing wife and two kids, and he “loves the hotel restaurant industry and corny jokes,” which makes him a man after my own heart. Jon has an interesting process about he does a deep dive into any idea, process, or event that interests him.

We live in the information age. You can access the entire world from anywhere. Add in 24-hour news feeds, posts, tweets, snapchats, marketing and you are flooded with information.

The problem we face is overload. There is no way possible to download all the information thrown at us. Our brains are like sponges, absorbing information, but it reaches a saturation point. How much water can a full sponge soak up? None. Our brains operate in the same way — if we can’t fit new information into our brains, it gets swept away, and we move on to the next piece. Or we stop taking information in altogether.

Want to learn how an internal combustion engine works? Break down the process and redefine complex terms.

Want to learn how an internal combustion engine works? Break down the process and redefine complex terms.

To understand anything, turn on your childlike curiosity. When I was a kid, I was super annoying (some would say I still am) because I always asked “Why?” Every answer I received led to more and more questions.

After my mom said “Because I said so, that’s why” a thousand times, I realized my parents didn’t have the patience or knowledge to satisfy my curiosity. Instead, they sent me to school to let someone else deal with me for a while. I kept going off on tangents because the “broad overview” we were getting wasn’t enough. I wanted to dive into each subject, but knowing everything about American history doesn’t help you pass math. To satisfy my curiosity and keep my grades up, I had to learn to understand ideas at lightning speed.

I learned from that experience how important questions are. You have to ask the right questions to find the right answers. We all know that, but do we actually do it?

Think about these two questions “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is the meaning of my life?” Which one is easier to answer? The right question leads you to the key concept in the shortest amount of words. To find the right question start with the 5 basic ones: who, what, where, when and why. Answering those will help you create a more specific question and help you find your meaning.

Break Things Down to Their Smallest Digestible Parts

Let’s say I want to know how an engine works. I go through the 5 basic questions to form the right question. Who designs engines? What is an engine? Where do they make them? When was the first engine built? Why did someone invent the engine? The answers are difficult to understand because they are written by engineers for engineers.

I take all the research I’m doing and find any words or processes I don’t know and redefine them. (Good thing I have that Google Dictionary in my pocket.) Next, I remove technical jargon and insider slang from anything I’m reading and replace them with synonyms I already know. Using words you already know frees up your brainpower to search for meaning in the idea instead of being a dictionary.

You have all of this easy to understand information but not enough memory hold every detail in. Use the KISS formula — no, not painting your face — Keep It Simple Stupid.

How do you do that? Think of a deck of cards as your information, and break it down into groups. You know there are 52 cards, 26 of each color, 13 of each suit and 4 of each value. You have to do the same thing with information and go for the lowest common denominator.

It’s actually a complex process to understand and find meaning in things. You draw on all your life’s experiences, memories, emotions, opinions, life situations, and influences just to come up with something you can understand. That’s a lot of mental computing just to see if the story about increasing oil prices will affect you.

Making It Simple Makes It Stick

I mentioned breaking everything down in common language terms earlier for a reason: There is no point in having all the knowledge in the world if you can’t share it.

I had a sales job for a while, but not very long because I was terrible at it. I couldn’t sell water in the desert. One day my sales manager explained why I wasn’t selling anything.

“Jon, no one understands what the hell you are talking about. If you can’t explain it to a 5th grader don’t say it to your prospects!”

I quit eventually because I was tired of not eating, but I also learned two important lessons. Test your pitch on someone first. And big, fancy words are nice for term papers or to impress your snobby friends at the coffee shop, but they don’t help people understand complex ideas. Teaching someone else locks the information in your brain by building mental short cuts.

Understanding anything is simple if you can remember: to be annoying, ask smart questions, play cards and that no one cares if you know what sesquipedalian means.

Photo credit: Mj-bird (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

If You Get Angry About People Who Are Late, Maybe You’re the Problem

If you’re regularly late to meetings, you’re a terrible person who has no regard for human life, and you deserve everything bad that happens to you.

I don’t know what has crawled up people’s backsides lately, but I’m seeing variations on this theme from people who are tired of being kept waiting during meetings, while some insensitive clod blithely shows up whenever it suits them.

Greg Savage got the ball rolling five years ago with his blog post, No, You Are Not Running Late, You Are Rude and Selfish, and I’ve seen it reposted ad nauseum on Facebook and Twitter.

Angry Screaming Guy

If this is how you approach your business relationships, is it any wonder people don’t like you?

Recently, I saw someone tweet that people who are habitually late are either stupid, arrogant, or both. Then he included the hashtag #respect.

I responded, “I would think #respect also means not calling people arrogant or stupid.”

“Not if they’re habitually late,” he responded.

Talk about selfish. My time is important. My time is valuable. I don’t like to be kept waiting.

You’re not inventing a cure for cancer, you’re having a meeting. If your time is so valuable, you shouldn’t have scheduled it in the first place.

Maybe It’s You

I know it’s a symptom of the current political discourse, but I’m still surprised at people’s all-or-nothing view of humanity, elevating the smallest of transgressions into overly dramatic statements about their value as people.

Either you show up on time, or you’re selfish.

Either you show up on time, or you’re stupid.

Either you show up on time, or you’re irresponsible and you make poor life choices.

If you have this kind of attitude about your tardy colleagues, maybe you’re the problem. If you’re this uptight and easily prone to anger, look at the priorities in your life. Do you value timeliness over everything else? Would you rather have a person who shows up five minutes early to a meeting or someone who’s pleasant and a joy to be around?

Because it seems like you sacrificed the latter in favor of the former.

Yes, timeliness is something we should all strive for, and I agree that it’s frustrating to be kept waiting. But I also don’t foam at the mouth and call the other person an irresponsible turd when they’re 10 minutes late. I pull out my phone or laptop and get work done.

When you say the other person is chronically late because they don’t value or respect you, you’re probably right. They don’t respect you. They don’t even like you. You’re not a nice person.

Because you call them rude, selfish, stupid, and arrogant.

Why would anyone want to be around you at all, let alone get there on time to spend every possible minute with you? If people are regularly late to meetings with you, they’re not the problem, you are.

Try Extending Grace to the Other Person

I’ve been stood up for meetings by friends who forgot. I’ve had people go to the wrong location. I’ve had people who were involved in a car accident. And I’ve done all those things myself.

And when either of us were in the wrong, we apologized, the other person forgave, and we rescheduled. We didn’t passive-aggressively rant on social media about how “some people” were rude idiots. We didn’t trash the other person to our friends. We went about our lives and tried again later.

In short, we didn’t tear someone else down in order to make ourselves look good. We extended grace, we forgave, and we treated the other person with decency.

If you don’t like it when people are late, ask them about it. Don’t berate them, don’t call them names, and don’t rant about it online. Ask them if they’re aware it’s a problem. Explain to them how it frustrates you. Ask them to be on time in the future.

If they still can’t do it, cut them off. Stop meeting with them, stop inviting them to things, or start lying about the time, and tell them the meeting is 15 – 30 minutes earlier.

But try to be a grown-up about it. There are worse things in life to be, and worse problems in the world to stew about, like homelessness, starvation, and poverty. When you solve a couple of those, then you can be pissy about other people’s time management.

Until then, just get over yourself. Your missing 10 minutes aren’t that important.

Photo credit: B_Heyer (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Three Security Tips for Freelancers

This is a guest post written by Cassie Phillips, a blogger with Secure Thoughts, an Internet security company.

Maintaining a successful freelance career can be difficult. Oftentimes, the biggest difficulty is finding clients who are in need of your services and willing to pay a reasonable price. There’s another difficulty that is sometimes overlooked: staying secure on the Internet.

With money being moved between multiple accounts and contact with numerous clients, continual daily access to the Internet can be dangerous if certain security procedures are not put in place. To protect yourself against hackers, identity thieves, and other online threats, here are a few security tips for freelancers that can help protect you and your money.

1. Protecting Private Data (and Money) with a VPN

Woman working on LaptopUnlike traditional jobs, freelancers cannot expect to earn a steady income. There is no single employer who is going to regularly deposit money into your bank account. On the contrary, freelancers are likely to earn money from a myriad number of sources, processed through a variety of accounts. From private bank accounts to PayPal to Google Wallet, a freelancer’s money is always flowing from one account into another. Protecting the flow of your money and any associated data is of utmost importance.

Remember that securing your finances on the Internet is not as easy as making a few clicks. If this is all you do, then you remain in an unsafe position where a hacker could see your financial information, hack into your computer or accounts, and steal your identity or just simply empty whatever accounts he can get his hands on. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the key to preventing this from happening.

A VPN creates a tunnel between your computer and a third-party server elsewhere. When you access the Internet using a VPN, your data is encrypted and your IP address is hidden. When it comes out of the third-party server, it will appear as if your computer is accessing the Internet from that origin point.

In other words, your server and your connection point remain invisible so you can remain anonymous. However, not all VPNs are created equally. Some have different price tags; others offer different speeds, and others still host various numbers of third-party servers. Do your research to ensure you’re selected the best of the best.

2. Using Trusted and Secure Freelance Contracting Services

In addition to securing your Internet connection, you need to ensure that you are working with trustworthy individuals and companies and secure websites. There are many freelance contracting services available on the Internet serving different types of freelancers. No matter which one you choose, however, you should always make sure that is a reputable service that has not been hacked. There are several ways to do this:

Use Trustworthy Services: If you’ve been freelancing for even a short while, you may be familiar with some of the larger and more trustworthy freelancing services on the Internet, such as Upwork, Elance, Guru and Freelancer. If you stick with the large and trusted services, you will be safer than looking for fringe sites that are unknown and possibly dangerous.

Check for HTTPS: Because freelancing services are responsible for collecting personal data for freelancer’s profiles, facilitating private communications, and shipping money, you need to make sure that the site is secure. One simple way to do this is to look at the URL and make sure that it begins with “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP.” The “S” stands for secure and means that there are layers of encryption being used to protect users on the site compared to the unsecure alternative. Take a look at the address bar in the screenshot for UpWork’s home page and notice the “https” in green:

UpWork's Home Page https

Note the https in the address bar. That means this site is secure. (credit: UpWork’s front page screenshot)

Use Google: If a freelance site is using “HTTP” rather than “HTTPS,” double check its trustworthiness and reputability. You can do this with a simple Google search. Simply type in the name of the service followed by words like “review,” “spam,” “scam” or “hack” to see if anything alarming pops up. For example, if there are numerous reviewers claiming that the site has been hacked or is vulnerable to a hack, avoid that service.

3. Maintaining a Secure Virtual Workspace

There are a few more things you can do to maintain security as a freelancer such as adding a few more layers of protection to your virtual workspace. A firewall will alert you when intruders are trying to access your computer or when your computer is trying to do things without being asked. Anti-spyware or anti-virus software will scan your computer regularly to watch for malware. And a password vault, like 1Password can let you create complex passwords, but store them so you don’t have to remember them all.

These are only a few of things that you need to do to ensure you remain safe and secure as a freelancer. There are certainly other ways to protect yourself. What do you do to keep yourself safe as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, Cassie learned quickly that internet security is a must. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with others because, let’s face it, freelancers don’t make much money and they need to protect their equipment as much as possible!

Photo credit: Moleshko (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

The Google Mobile Friendly Update: How Will It Affect You?

From time to time, I like to offer guest posts to readers, provided they’re not actually commercials masked as guest posts (i.e. you’re writing it to share knowledge, NOT gain a cheap backlink to your client’s site. You know who you are.)

This is a guest post by Nate Vickery, a proper Internet marketer from Sydney, Australia. He’s also a big fan of Australian Rules football, a game I enjoy watching and don’t understand a second of.

The Internet is all about efficiency and fast exchange of information. Nowadays, when the number of different gadgets with various resolutions is on the constant rise, website developers have to adapt their sites to those new devices. We’ve all experienced pages that are not mobile- or tablet-friendly. Those pages and sites simply turn off their visitors. But in April, some great changes were introduced by Google, concerning the future site ranking when it comes to mobile searches.

How does it work?

Google experts want to award site developers and owners who make an effort and adapt their sites to mobile devices. Since April 2015, the most popular search engine worldwide has been updated and now it gives a special treatment to mobile friendly sites and pages when an Internet user does the surfing from a mobile device.

First of all, it affects only separate, individual pages and not whole websites. Secondly, it applies to search ratings only when the query is done from a mobile. Also, this mobile-helpful Google update functions in all the languages that are used throughout this search engine. The major advantage of this approach to mobile net search is that users will not have to tap their screens and wait for pages to load, since the update brings about smoother and more user-friendly exploration of the mobile Internet.

Where could this take us?

If users have troubles when trying to load a site, they won’t wait endlessly for it to load, but will simply leave the site and never come back. So, you could create an expensive and useful site that will remain unattended and unused, due to its bad responsiveness to searches from different devices.

Before the update, mobile-friendly web design had been discussed a lot, but there has never been such a bold step forward in helping mobile users get the best out of their Internet presence. If we know that today smartphone searches are overtaking the throne from PC net quests, only the sites that are functional and adapted to these new circumstances will have an increase in traffic. Eventually, websites that do not conform to these latest changes will not be ranked high and they will not have enough users to justify their existence.

The week after the update launch

This change in the site ranking service did not come out of the blue, so it sounds illogical that some well-known websites simply ignored the update. In order to become a mobile-friendly site, it is necessary to either develop a special mobile version, or apply responsive website design. The market treated differently the sites that made the changes and those that did not.

Since the introduction of the new update on April 21, a week after its launching there were some interesting data about the way websites reacted to this Internet search novelty. According to this list of winners and losers, the sites that did not adapt to the new method of Google ranking calculation in the mobile world have already fallen behind. The sites that employed either one of the ways for optimizing sites for mobile search were on the winning side.

Also, it has to be said that some sites do not care about the mobile share of the market. They are content with desktop users and have enough success and profit from PC and laptop visits.

The future is mobile-friendly

As smartphones and tablets overtake the Internet from old-school desktop computers, some changes are inevitable. Also, it is clear that most of the mobile users are teenagers and younger people. They want it all and they want it now.

Social media and video/music websites are under special pressure from that group of Internet users. Those businesses and websites that offer the most responsive and fastest service will have the highest conversion rate, which will eventually lead to a higher income and more opportunities for future investments. Websites that miss this chance and rely only on traditional Internet search have to be ready to face quite serious problems. It would be wiser to go with the flow to prevent the flow from drowning you.

The latest Google update has already caused changes in the way people find what they want from their mobile devices and it will shake the mobile web even more. The only thing site owners need to do is prepare for present and future changes to keep their sites on the winning side of the net — embrace mobile-friendly design, and stay at (or reach) the top of the Google rankings.

Nate M. Vickery is a marketing and internet marketing consultant from Sydney, Australia. His specialty is online marketing and, in recent years, website design and development he learns mainly from reading blogs of local creatives like Infinity Technologies. Aside from work, he enjoys a good game of Aussie football.

Ten iPad Business Apps You Need That Aren’t Evernote or Dropbox

If you’ve got an iPad, you’ve no doubt visited the App Store, and checked out one of the “iPad Essentials” lists for business, productivity, music, or any of the other must-have apps.

You’ve certainly read all the “Five (or Ten) Must-Have iPad Apps for Business Productivity” that all say you need Evernote, Dropbox, and the Kindle Reader. In fact, if those were the only articles you read about your iPad, you’d think there were only five apps ever made for it.

And because I’m tired of the same retreaded crap that appears in most 101-level articles, I tried to come up with ten iPad Business apps that are not Evernote or Dropbox.

iPad Screen Shot

  1. Type on PDF: This iOS app lets you open a PDF and type on it or sign it. If you’ve ever received a PDF without any form fields, but have Adobe Acrobat, you can drop in your form fields, fill it out, and send it back. Type on PDF lets you do this without using (or even owning) Acrobat on your laptop. The interface is a little cumbersome, but it sure beats messing around with Acrobat just to fill out a simple form. You can also add photos and draw on your PDFs.
  2. Docusign: If you just need to sign PDF documents, like a tax form or contract, use Docusign. I upload contracts and use it to get signatures from new clients. It can import documents from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Evernote, and Salesforce, plus many others. Create your saved signature and drag it on to any document that needs it. It works just like Type on PDF in that it also lets you add text boxes, but it’s a little harder to do.
  3. Feedly: Now that Google Reader is going away, the big question is what feed reader should people switch to. I like Feedly because it works on my Android, my iPad, and my MacBook. It has a magazine-like layout, which makes it work more like Flipboard, but it imported my entire Google Reader account. Ziin is another possibility if you don’t like Feedly.
  4. Chrome: If you’re a serious Chrome user on your Mac or PC, you don’t need to give up the interactivity. Chrome for the iPad has saved my bacon a couple of times. For one thing, it syncs up all the passwords and bookmarks from my MacBook, which means I can use my iPad to access a website when I don’t have my laptop handy. For another, I can sync up open tabs from laptop to iPad too. That way, if I want to read something later, I just leave it open as a tab on my laptop, sync it, read it, and shut it down.
  5. Penultimate: Alright, I lied a little. There is something from Evernote on here, but it’s not actually Evernote. Penultimate is the pen-based note taking program. You can handwrite notes (which are searchable both in Penultimate and on your Evernote, regardless of where you use it), sketch ideas, and even color. But if you’re going to whine about it, then I’ll suggest Bamboo Paper from Wacom instead. It does the same exact thing, including sync up with Evernote. Both programs are available inside the Evernote Trunk.
  6. Moleskine: Another note taker, especially if you don’t want to use Evernote, or if you’re a Moleskine junkie. This is a typing and handwriting note taker, which lets you merge and upload notes as you take them. It’s especially cool if you don’t like the iPad Note’s yellow legal pad and cousin-to-Comic-Sans font.
  7. MindMeister: A great tool for visual thinkers whose ideas and brainstorming spans outside the traditional item-by-item of the list. Sketch out your ideas and create diagrams to illustrate them, then upload them to the MindMeister.com website for further access and sharing. MindMeister has a free version and a paid version.
  8. Drafts: A straight up text-only typing program, Drafts uses Markdown language for formatting. Markdown language is the big new formatting and writing language that’s used for cross-platform tablet writing. If you know it — and it’s simple to learn — you can write blog posts and articles on your iPad, and format them by surrounding headlines, bold, and italics with +’s and *’s. You can then upload the articles to your blog or website. I’ve used it to cover WNBA basketball games in the past, and may give it a shot at the Indianapolis 500 this year.
  9. Countdown Star: I have to confess a family tie here: my brother-in-law created Countdown Star. It lets you set times and dates of special events, like holidays, conferences, birthdays, and anniversaries, or other important dates like the one I entered, “Pitchers and catchers report.” Countdown is available in a free or paid version, and works on iPad and iPhone.
  10. News Republic: If you read a lot of news, you have a couple choices: tap through different news apps like NPR, USA Today, and your local news apps, or scroll through News Republic. This app pulls in news stories from all over in a variety of different topics, including news, politics, sports, science, tech, and entertainment, plus others. It’s a nice alternative to Flipboard because it gathers from news sources I’ve never even heard of.

So how’d we do? Any apps you’ve never heard of? Any good ones we missed? What outstanding iPad business apps do you use that don’t appear on any “Essential Business Apps Everyone Has Already Heard of” list?

Our Content, Like Our Music, Sucks: Challenge Your Thinking

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but today’s music isn’t as good as it was when I was growing up. It lacks soul and depth and is not nearly as good as the stuff I grew up listening to.

My parents said the same thing about my music, only I have science to back me up.

According to a new study from Scientific Reports, researchers performed a quantitative analysis of nearly 500,000 songs. What they found is that since the 1960s, music has decreased in timbre (sound, color, texture, and tone) and pitch (chords, melody, and tonal arrangements). What it has increased in is loudness.

Ourorboros, the snake that eats its own tail.

This is the Ouroroboros. It’s also how we’re coming up with new content ideas.

It’s understandable. Artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix were pioneers in music. What they did took real artistry. But as record companies decided what we would hear on the radio, and signed artists who are marketable rather than talented, music has become so homogenized, groups like Nickelback are considered “pretty good,” while songs like “Call Me Maybe” and “Baby” go gold.

If you’ve ever thought today’s music all sounds the same, you’re right. And it’s not because you’re getting old.

 

It’s Happening To Our Content Too

This sin of sameness is happening to the rest of our popular culture. Movies are predictable and identical — hell, they’re remaking movies that aren’t even 30 years old. Books are formulaic and characters are painted from the same palette (food-obsessed mysteries starring female detectives who are also chefs and have rich divorced friends overrun my library’s shelves). Every TV comedy tries to be Friends or Cheers.

Even the online content we create resembles each other’s.

Part of this is just the sheer coincidence of big numbers. If you and I each write a blog post about blogging lessons we’ve learned from watching Tennessee Tuxedo, that’s a pretty big coincidence. Until you realize that with a few million bloggers, it’s more surprising that two people don’t write about it.

A bigger part of this is laziness and a lack of creativity.

Too many of us draw inspiration from each other, like some Ouroboros. David writes something that Sheila likes, so she writes about it. Helen likes what Sheila wrote, so she responds to it. Meanwhile, Steve is inspired by Sheila and writes his own interpretation. Of course, David is a big fan of Steve’s, so. . .

Ouroboros. The snake that eats its tail.

Very few people are able to come up with a shiny new idea at all, whether it’s movies, books, TV shows, or blog posts. As Mark Twain said in his biography:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

 

Be Original. Everyone Else Is.

It’s not that we shouldn’t try. It’s not that we should give up. But we should be willing to experiment. We should be willing to break out of the rut so-o-o-o many of us are in. Stop trying to win readers and increase traffic. Start writing stuff that’s interesting to you and makes you happy.

Be a pioneer. Take the road less traveled. Boldly go where no one has yada yada yada.

For one week, stop reading other people’s stuff. Stop being inspired. Stop seeking new nuggets of wisdom in other people’s rivers. Turn on the creative faucets, put on your thinking socks, and come up with some of the wackiest shit you can, and see what you can do with it.

  • Everything I Needed to Know About Networking I Learned From a Banana
  • What Baseball and Corn Flakes Have in Common
  • What My Day Would Be Like if I Had No Personal Gravity

Turn your idea into a 300, 400, or 500 word blog post. Don’t write it to appeal to readers. Write it to stretch your thinking. Write it to find new connections and patterns where you’ve never seen them before. Write it so you don’t sound like every other blogger and content creator trying to jump on the latest Twitter hashtag, hoping to eke out a few extra readers.

Be yourself. Better yet, be someone you haven’t been yet. Come up with the weirdest idea, turn it into a blog post, and then leave a URL in the comments section.

Let’s see what you got.

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds (Flickr, Creative Commons

Stories of Rejection to Soothe the Artist’s Soul

Yesterday, I wrote about how it’s a good idea that some people quit their art after receiving a couple of rejections.

If you really love your art, you won’t let a few haters keep you from it. That’s because it’s a passion, not a daydream. It’s not a whim. It’s not something you do during commercials. It’s what you do instead of everything else, every day.

If you’re easily persuaded to quit, just because someone somewhere didn’t like what you were doing, then quit. Quit now. Quit wasting your time in pursuing something you don’t really love, just because you thought it “sounded neat.” Save the rest us the hassle of climbing over you later.

railroad spike

One of these things could hold a ton of rejection letters.

For the most part, the editors, publishers, and judges are pretty smart. They’re not know-nothing mouth-breathers. They know what their publication or venue needs, and they know you’re not the one to fill the spot they have open.

But occasionally, there are those who, well, pass up a good thing, and will be remembered long after they die as the poor schlub who let [insert blockbuster artist here] slip through their fingers. These are some of the stories we writers tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better after receiving yet another rejection:

  • Stephen King used to hang rejection letters on a railroad spike, because there were so many of them. After he became famous, he found an old, rather nasty rejection letter. He pulled out the original story, which was not very good, and sent it back to the same magazine that had rejected him. They were so excited to get a story from the master of horror, that they made sure it got into the next issue, and emblazoned his name on the cover.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was once rejected with the line, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.” The Great Gatsby went on to be published, with that Gatsby character intact, and is now ranked #2 in Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century
  • My favorite book, Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, is #7 on Modern Library’s list. But it was rejected by several publishers, including one particularly facepalming line, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. . . Apparently the author intends it to be funny — possibly even satire — but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”
  • Speaking of Stephen King, his book, Carrie, was rejected with the line, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” I always love to hear from editors and producers who “know” what the public wants, only to find out they have absolutely no clue.
  • e.e. cummings’ very first work, The Enormous Room, is considered a masterpiece of modern poetry, but it very nearly didn’t see the light of day. cummings had to self-publish the work, because it was rejected by 15 publishers beforehand. But he at least dedicated the book to the 15 publishers who thought that his work wasn’t good enough.
  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury agreed to publish Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. And they only accepted it because the chairman’s 8-year-old daughter had been given the first chapter to read, and then demanded more. Bloomsbury auctioned the US rights to Scholastic for $105,000, and then Rowling went on to make more money than the Queen of England, over $1 billion. Meanwhile publishers like Penguin, HarperCollins, and TransWorld had all turned the book down because it was 120,000 words long.

In doing my research on this post, I found something interesting, and the biggest, most important lesson out of all of this for us artists: James Joyce, like every other artist, had received many rejections over his career. Dubliners was rejected more than 20 times. But more importantly, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (#3 on the Modern Library list) was only published after he re-wrote it several times.

That’s the key.

Joyce reworked and reworked one of his most famous novels many times before it was finally accepted. While artists like to console themselves with stories about Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, and the idea that our original work is an undiscovered masterpiece, the more common outcome is that we have to take Joyce’s path and rework and redo our original work several times before it meets the acceptance of someone who’s willing to pay for our efforts. We like to think that the people who turn us down are idiots, but with a few exceptions, they know what they’re doing.

The Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowling’s of the world are, quite literally, one in a few million. They’re the outliers.

For every Stephen King, there are tens and hundreds of thousands of manuscripts editors will encounter over their lifetime that are an absolute waste of paper. So if you were rejected by a publisher, call them all the names you want in your own home, but never write back and tell them how stupid they were.

Brush yourself off, rewrite your manuscript again, and find another publisher.

Do as Frank Sinatra said, and live the best revenge through massive success, so that one day, your name and your editor’s name will be put on a list like this.

Photo credit: wizetux (Flickr, Creative Commons)