Handling Rejection (From Conferences)
Sometimes it seems like a significant part of my day job is having my submissions to various conferences rejected. Off the top of my head, here’s an incomplete list of conferences where I’ve had submissions rejected from over the last year(ish)
- Agile Testing Days
- Agile Dev Practices
- Some testing conference in London whose name I’ve forgotten
There are a number of other conferences as well, but frankly I’ve lost track.
Rejection stings, for certain, but I have also come to view these rejections as a pretty good learning opportunity. After I get over the pain of rejection, that is.
First off, I always thank the organizers for considering my submissions. I can’t imagine how many hundreds of submissions conferences like DevConnections or StarEast/West get. Taking a moment to thank the content selection crew is simply good manners. (TechEd is different. It’s a total black box, impersonal process, so I never get any contact with humans.)
Secondly, I sit back and think about what might have been the cause for getting passed over. If possible, I try to get feedback directly from the selection folks; however, that’s not always possible.
I’ve found there are a number of useful aspects to consider:
- Content doesn’t fit. Maybe you’ve just missed the mark with your submissions to that conference. Some years ago I tried wedging a testing talk to an open source conference targeted more to business application developers. My abstract simply didn’t make a good case why the talk would fit in their conference. Make sure what you’re submitting will be useful to the conference organizers.
- Content lost in the chaff. You need to submit talks that stand out from all the others. “Intro to MVC” is outdated and doesn’t offer up anything unique from the 20 other MVC talks the organizers are looking through. Make a clear case of what value your session brings to the attendees.
- Content selection crew was overwhelmed. Poorly organized conferences might have too few folks on staff to get a good review in. If you’re not known to the organizers, then they may have simply lost you in the tidal wave of submissions. Networking matters. Experience matters. (I’m very thankful that the CodeMash content chairs works hard to scale out the selection crew every year to avoid just this problem. They still have huge amounts of work.)
- Poorly written abstract. It happens, even to someone who’s polished and submitted hundreds of abstracts over the last ten years. I’d like to think I’ve learned and don’t do this anymore, but it’s possible. I once wrote another blog post with some thoughts about writing a good abstract.
- Better submissions from other folks. That happens on occasions, particularly for really large conferences. Look at what did get picked up and compare your submissions to those. Note that you’ll have to do some serious stepping back and viewing things with complete self-honesty and detachment. You can’t let your own pride get in the way with false impressions. Which brings me to…
- Ego. Yes, sometimes my own ego gets in the way of submissions. Last year I put in four testing talks to a regional conference. None got accepted. Looking back I think I seriously slacked off when writing the abstracts because I felt I was well-known enough that the talks would get picked up anyway. That one stung but good—however, it was a good lesson learned. Respect yourself enough to put aside your ego and care about what you’re putting in. Remember, it’s not about you.
- Drama. Conference organizers are horribly, insanely busy during planning and especially during execution of the conference. The last thing they need is drama or worries about unreliability. If you’re a Drama Queen or King, or if you’re a flake, then you’ve got a deep, deep hole to dig yourself out of. Getting over that can take years because that sort of trust is hard to rebuild. (As a personal note, seven years ago I bailed from a half-day workshop at a conference put on by my pal Chris Woodruff. I bailed the day before the conference. It’s perhaps the worst I’m a Douchebag moment of my adult life, and I’m still beating myself up about it. Thankfully Chris is an awesome guy who was extraordinarily gracious about it, and I think I’ve somewhat atoned for it by now.)
Rejection’s not easy. I’ve gotten three rejection notices in the last two weeks alone. That said, view it as an opportunity to avoid lashing out and instead consider how you can improve for the next conference you target.
I’m already working on a few more submissions now…