Rejection is a New Yorker cartoonist’s constant companion. We are rejected every single week we submit work to the magazine (I’ve heard tales of contributors selling up to a half-dozen drawings out of one batch, but I’ve yet to hear of a contributor selling their entire batch. Please advise if that’s ever happened). Example: I submit cartoons weekly to the magazine (there is no set number despite the myth you may have heard that we must, or have to send ten a week). If I’m very very lucky, one of the submitted cartoons will be accepted. The rest, the rejects, are then added to a pile in my work room. In the photo above is the pile that’s accumulated over the past year or so. Eventually I’ll move that pile to storage where it will join its rejected friends from years/decades past.
Some time ago — fifteen or twenty years? — I made a stab at organizing my rejects. I bought plastic bins that held file folders. I labeled the folders “Dogs” “Cats” “Police” “Food” “Knights” etc., etc.. This organization came in handy when someone would ask for submissions for a collection of drawings about dogs or cats or food or whatever. As the era of themed cartoon collections cooled, I found though that it was wasted time organizing for the possibility of a request for themed cartoons. So that organizing effort ended (although the plastic bins with their folders still exist).
Many cartoonists take their rejected work and try to find a home for it elsewhere. I know of at least one cartoonist who is very successful doing just that. I used to submit rejects to other magazines back when there were a good number of publications using cartoons. Below is a page out of a ledger I briefly kept in 1977. I quickly realized keeping track of stuff wasn’t my thing. You see on the page below across the top of the ledger the magazines I was submitting to the summer of that year — the summer when I broke into the New Yorker: The New Yorker, Esquire,The Saturday Evening Post, Changing Times, Quest, Dawn Dusk, Playboy, Medical Economics, New Woman, and The Ladies Home Journal. Judging my from my entries I wasn’t doing very well until August of 1977, when the New Yorker bought “Nothing will ever happen to you” — after that things started to improve (with the exceptions of The Ladies Home Journal and Medical Economics — nothing of mine ever “clicked” for them).
Over time, the number of publications using cartoons has dwindled. Most of the action these days is online, where the pay is little-to-none. “None” is usually disguised as “exposure” as in “we don’t pay, but your work will get plenty of exposure.”
So what to do with these weekly rejected drawings. Over the years I’d sometimes come across one that seemed it needed a second chance, and so off it went to the New Yorker. Sometimes a resub (as they are called by cartoonists) is accepted, and published. I once was even asked to send in resubs. It was around the time my wife and I were expecting our first child. My then editor, Lee Lorenz sent me a letter saying something to the effect of: “Please send in a bunch of resubs — I know you’re going to be busy for awhile.” There have even been weeks I resubmitted a drawing that had just been rejected. My personal favorite rejected cartoon is the one below. I did the unthinkable: convinced of its merit, I stubbornly resubmitted it the very next week after it was rejected. It was accepted (and published December 21, 1998). Hey, you never know.
Mostly though the second chance for a resub (my resubs, not other cartoonists) is its last chance — and that’s okay. I’ve always felt these rejects were necessary to do to get to the drawing that makes it through to being accepted and published. The rejects are invaluable steps to the printed page. I’ve realized in the past few years that I rarely, if ever, send in resubs anymore. Emma Allen, the New Yorker‘s current cartoon editor has yet to see one of my drawings submitted twice. There’s no grand plan here — it’s just how it’s working out.