When "No" Means "Not Right Now"

Earlier today I was chatting with my friend Marcia, a fellow artist, marketer, and entrepreneur. She reminded me of one of the most important rules of selling in business: “No” doesn’t always mean no, sometimes it means “not right now.” A smart salesperson who senses that the door isn’t permanently closed will continue to check in with the prospective buyer from time to time in the hope that “not right now” will someday become “yes.”

Artists should take the same approach when asking for representation in an art gallery. You may submit your portfolio and never hear from the gallery manager, but that “no” could mean “not right now.” Or you may actually get to the interview stage but then learn that you haven’t been accepted into the gallery. Again, depending on the circumstances, that could mean “not right now.”

Ultimately, the only time a “no” is a “never” is when your work absolutely doesn’t belong in the gallery. They sell ultra-contemporary, and you paint classical still lifes. They sell ultra-traditional, and you make found-object sculptures. If your work is simply not a good fit, the answer will always be “no.” But then, you shouldn’t even be asking. Do your homework.

So if you’ve done your homework, you know you’re a good fit, and you still get a “no,” take it as a “not right now.” Maybe they want you to have a stronger track record of sales. Maybe they want your prices to be a bit higher, but you’re not ready to raise them everywhere else. Or maybe your work is too similar to another artist currently represented right now. So wait two or three years, and ask again. Either your situation or theirs may have changed, and now you might be the perfect fit.

And in the meantime, continue to send them occasional postcards or promotional pieces, just to keep them informed of your evolution. Don't give up. The top salespeople in any business will tell you that persistence pays.


I’m willing to guess there are artists out there who’ve been persistent with a certain gallery and eventually heard “yes” when they’d earlier been told “no.” Please share your stories and advice. What changed to turn the situation in your favor? Let’s connect!

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