By Max Davidson - Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Welcome to part two of Overcoming Rejection, an intimate look at how I (Max Davidson) have managed to adapt to the challenges of being a full-time professional magician. Last week, we talked about five lessons for dealing with rejection, mostly focused on your mental state and your attitude. This week, I share a story and offer advice about one of the hardest realities of being a gig worker…receiving a flat-out “no” from a potential client.
A few months ago, I reached out to a theater about booking me for a magic show, something I had done with similar venues many times before. The booker responded with an immediate and firm “no”. Although I sounded “nice”, they wouldn’t even consider hosting my show.
Their reasoning? Every magic show at their theater had been a “bust.”
Fair enough. I had actually discovered her venue after attending a sold-out magic show there, but fine. Maybe she started working there after that show.
I really liked her venue, and while I could’ve moved on to find a more receptive theater, I was set on doing a show there. So I doubled down. I sent her reports of my ticket sales in that city over the past several years. I offered to put down a deposit and eliminate her risk. I told her I have a large following in her city. I built a convincing argument based on evidence.
And now I’m hosting a regular show at her venue…
It’s not a “no”, it’s a “not right now”
In show business, “no” doesn’t actually mean “no.” It just means “no for right now.” Or “no unless you give me a better argument.” People often have negative preconceptions about magic based on the fact that they barely see it. Their feelings are often centered around outdated stereotypes (more on that next week). The amount of people that have experienced a live magic show is already small, which means the amount of people that have booked a magic show is essentially microscopic.
But, bookers are surprisingly malleable when you push a little, when you give them a convincing argument, and when you prove that you really care. Most people expect “ok, have a nice day,” once they deny you, and anything else is a shock to the system.
If you’re denied, it doesn’t mean you should hit back with “well, you’re wrong.” You can use logic, data, and a bit of gusto to change someone’s mind. (For a great example of this, read Make No Small Plans by Elliot Bisnow. Or, listen to his story on The Greatest Stories Never Told podcast).
Focus on what you can control
Trust me, I’m no master negotiator. I’m quite confident onstage, but like many performers, pretty shy offstage. However, I’ve learned to turn that confidence on and off.
So if I email someone an extra time, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Another rejection? Been there.
If you truly believe you’re offering value (and I know I am), then what we’re looking at isn’t actually rejection, it is a misinterpretation of what I offer. That’s something I can fix. The fault isn’t theirs, it’s mine. It's about focusing on what you can control.
Likewise, you must give people the benefit of the doubt, especially when those people have the power to book you. Maybe every magic show at this venue really has been a bust. Maybe the one I saw wasn’t profitable for whatever reason. That’s entirely possible. And if that’s the case, then yeah, why take a financial risk? After all, this woman probably has very legitimate concerns—feeding her family, operating a profitable venue, getting good reviews, etc.
But I have concerns, too. I also need to make a living. I need to do my show to pay my rent. So I pushed a little in a simple and effective way, by sending her real data about my ticket sales, and making a promise that I knew I could follow through on—selling out her venue.
5 ways to respond to getting a “no”
Were they thinking of a different magician for their event? If not, and it’s just you, then you absolutely have room to maneuver. Suggest a different kind of show, a different price, or a different date. People are flexible.
Can you follow up with them down the line? A great thing I recently learned that Vanishing Inc Team Members Jason Silberman and Matt Szat do is reach out to a client after a gig they didn’t book you for. So, if you lost a show for June 3rd, reach out on June 4th and tell them that you hope the show went great. It’s an easy way to stay present in their mind, and prove that you genuinely care about them.
Similarly, you have to consider that the timing might just be off. Are you reaching out to a company in February that only throws events during the holiday season? Timing is everything. So, don’t be afraid to check in once or twice a year with all of your “no” people.
Can you invite the client to a public show so that they can see you work? Often, it’s hard for a client to conceptualize a magic show, and I’ve rarely had people turn down free tickets. Your generosity and persistence combined with a spectacular performance will go a long way in converting that “no” into a “yes”.
Do not get discouraged. Yes, I understand that is the cliché of all clichés. But, it’s also one that can be easy to overlook. I hope that this article has helped you realize that rejection is part of the process. Every magician, even the greatest magicians in the world, have heard “no” before. You might not always be able to instantly turn a "no" into a "yes." It might not even be prudent to do so. But when you take the long term view, there is almost always an opportunity. You just have to fight for it.
Join me again next week for the final post in the Overcoming Rejection series where we take a look at the reasons certain people hate magic, and what you can do to create a truly impactful performance that turns them into your biggest fan.
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