Happy Tuesday, everyone!
One thing Susan and I are thankful for this holiday season is having Larissa and Shelley joining our blogging team! The four of us have had many conversations on how to improve As The Eraser Burns, and one idea that keeps floating to the surface is to invite more regional members to contribute guest posts, sharing their wisdom and fresh perspectives.
Patrick has published more than 100 nonfiction magazine articles and seven nonfiction books, two for adults and five for children. His latest book is Old Abe, Eagle Hero: The Civil War’s Most Famous Mascot (Kane Miller, 2010, ages 5-9).
Battling the Rejection Blues by Patrick Young
Rejection hurts, whether as a lover or an author.
Like lovers, writers respond to rejection in many ways. Some react with only minor discomfort. Others develop greater problems, including stress, anger, depression, and strong doubts about their writing skills and creativity. Some would-be authors give up their dreams and stop writing—temporarily or permanently.
Why these different responses?
I spent my career as a science/medical journalist, not a psychiatrist. Nonetheless, my reporting and reading indicate you can view rejection reactions as part of the optimism-pessimism spectrum.
Are you a high-end optimist or a deep pessimist? Do you see the glass overflowing or barely damp at the bottom? Or are you in the middle?
Ultra-optimists typically experience a publisher’s rejection with barely a passing thought. The deep pessimists may rant, rave, kick the furniture, and even stop writing—temporarily and occasionally, forever.
I’m a glass-half-empty person. For about 15 years, I overreacted to rejection letters from national magazines. Mostly, I sulked. Once, I became so enraged, I kicked the refrigerator and sprained a big toe.
I’ve succeeded as a writer and author primarily because I truly need to write. Otherwise, I become irritable—big time. So I find myself driven to the computer (formerly the typewriter), not daily, but frequently.
That persistence finally produced success. Harper’s Magazine accepted and published a two-page article about a futurist who proposed filling in most of Lake Erie to reduce its pollution and provide new farmland.
More acceptances helped eased my mind, but never totally quelled all of my dark thoughts about rejection.
However, my greatest mellowing factor was a growing understanding of how newspapers, magazines, and book publishers operated. That alone ended some automatic rejections, and improved my cover letters.
First, I had to accept a hard fact. Publishing is a business, not an art, not a craft, and not a public service in itself. So profit matters. Editors must select books that fit their companies’ business plans, policies, and budgets. So editors reject manuscripts that don’t fit, no matter how much they may admire them.
Most children’s publishers emphasize picture books or chapter books, as well as different genres—animals, mysteries, personal relationships, religious themes etc. Some publish books for all three age groups—picture books, middle grade, and young adults—but others do not.
So before sending out your manuscript, check the publisher’s submission guidelines. There your target company will tell you if it only accepts works submitted by literary agents. Those open to all comers will say whether they accept submissions by email, or those sent to more than one publisher at a time. Also, they usually let you know how many months to wait before considering your book rejected.
Rejection is part of the writing life, and some authors insist you need to develop “mental toughness” or a “thick skin” to succeed.
I’ve read that many times, but no one ever explained how to do it in a way that worked for me. I finally concluded that those writers came into the world programmed for mental toughness and I didn’t.
Let’s look at other approaches to vanquishing the rejection blues, or at least reducing them:
- Persistence can be as important as writing skills. Remember a rejection does not necessarily mean your book isn’t the next best-seller; it just may have failed to meet that publisher’s needs. Perhaps the week before your Fanny the Flying Pig arrived, the company had contracted for a similar book. Few publishers will let two such books fight each other for the same buyers.
- Plan ahead. You have faith in your book, so ready yourself to submit it again—immediately after rejection! I pick out my next publisher, often address an envelope, and make necessary changes to my submission letter. I’m prepared to brave the market again, and that, by itself, can ease rejection’s sting.
- Should an editor suggest changes in your manuscript, don’t reject them outright. If you agree, make the change(s); if you don’t, check with a writer friend or two. They might offer ego-saving suggestions.
- Finally, write to your strengths. Are you better at fiction or nonfiction, humor or drama, tales for boys or girls? Do you prefer creating picture books, or middle-grade and/ or young-adult chapter books? Focus on one level, but experiment with others.
My strength is nonfiction, but I mostly write fiction picture books. It’s a challenge and a goal I’ve set for myself. So my manuscripts go out and I hear nothing back. Still, rejections don’t hurt like they once did, and I haven’t kicked the refrigerator in several decades.
You know, I think I’ve nearly won the Battle of the Rejection Blues.
Thank you so much, Patrick, for sharing such great advice! We appreciate it and best of luck with your picture book goals.
And now … let’s keep the conversation going! How do you battle the rejection blues? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments below!
Happy writing and drawing! 🙂