How to Survive the Rejection of Your Children's Book
Rejection from publishers may be inevitable, but it doesn't have to be painful every time. Author Mary Hertz Scarbrough demystifies the process and provides ideas to help you cope with the different types of rejections you may encounter while writing children's books.
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Hang on while I convince you that rejections can be good as well as bad, like Jekyll and Hyde and a few other types in between. Or, since this article is about writing books for children, let me use some examples from children’s literature.
There’s the obviously terrible, horrible, no good, very bad rejection.[i] It sucks. Time will lessen the sting, but sting it will. End of story (but not necessarily the end of that particular manuscript).
At the other end of the spectrum you’ll hear Little Blue Engine, saying, “I think I can – I think I can.”[ii] You don’t have an acceptance, but you are probably getting closer.
In the middle of this imaginary spectrum, you feel like you’re a member of the Robinson family.[iii] You think you might be stranded on this island forever. Actually, all the while, you’re learning new skills – important ones.
There are further gradations of each of these categories. Moreover, you can bounce between categories at any point in your career. I’ve previously talked about the fact that rejection is inevitable, so my goal today is to demystify it and make it bearable – help you bring out your hidden Pollyanna[iv].
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Rejection
You’ve sent off your magnum opus. Then...silence.
Talk about depressing. Alas, such silence isn’t uncommon. You can lay some blame at the feet of your fellow writers, because some of them (dare I say many) value quantity over quality. They submit manuscripts that aren’t anywhere near ready to see the light of day.
Once you start accumulating rejections, reward yourself. Why? Every rejection could be bringing you closer to an acceptance.
These days, many publishing houses let you know upfront that you'll only hear from them if they are interested in your manuscript. Since it can take an editor an eon or three to work through the slush pile to get to your submission, you are left wondering (aka, obsessing) whether you have actually been rejected or whether your just-perfect manuscript still awaits discovery. Or maybe your manuscript is lost. These questions will probably dog you at 3 am.
Back in the mid-90s, I proposed a timely topic to a big-time parenting magazine. I had a writing background but not a single freelance clip. I was sure that was about to change, however, once an editor read my idea. Some days I would actually call my home answering machine (remember those?) to check for the editor’s call. I blush at this naïveté.
Gak. This waiting game is stressful, stressful, stressful. Here's how to minimize it:
- Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can possibly be (I can’t stress this enough).
- Only submit your manuscripts to well-chosen publishers or agents (choosing where to submit is a huge topic, to be addressed another day).
- Research where you can send the rejected manuscript next.
- Simultaneously submit the manuscript to several publishers/agents, if permitted in their guidelines.
- Immerse yourself in a new project while you wait to hear.
I waited at least 6 months for my form rejection – a half-sheet that had been photocopied many times. Ouch.
And I had no clue whether anyone thought it was a good idea, or whether they had laughed about it. (I still think that particular idea was good one, but I’m also well aware I’ve submitted some horrendous clunkers.) As Jia Jiang said in this TED talk, a rejection like this can feel incredibly impersonal and yet personal at the same time.
Once you start accumulating rejections, reward yourself. Why? The only way you can get an acceptance is if you are submitting. Every rejection could be bringing you closer to an acceptance. So acknowledge your progress. Caroline Hatton’s method is to give herself a small treat – a latte – after 7 rejections.
If your form rejection includes a checklist, you might be able to discern some ways to improve your manuscript before you submit elsewhere. It depends on how specific the checklist is, as well as the reason that’s checked. “Doesn’t fit our needs” can be code for “this manuscript is poorly written,” or it can mean that you have a promising manuscript, but the wrong publisher.
Okay, so now what?