Lately, I’ve started thinking about rejections. One, in particular, that was sent to me came to mind because of some picture books I’ve been reading. I decided it might be fun, as well as helpful, for me to share some of these notes from agents and publishers.
“There are too many stories about talking animals. Also, old-fashioned barnyards like this don’t exist many places anymore, so children can’t readily relate to the setting.”
This is the rejection I'd gone searching for. And, yes, it came from a major publishing house several years ago. I shook my head and smiled since many of the picture books I’d been reading were filled with barnyards and farm animals.
Here's another rejection:
“We look for picture-book manuscripts that are both surprising and delightful. This doesn’t delight me enough, and it doesn’t have enough of the element of surprise.”
Hello. Does that make you chuckle? Why bother to write a personal message for a story so lacking in every aspect? And, again, this came from a noted publisher.
I’m sure as a writer you realize that picture books aren’t typically realistic, right? Like Santa can’t really come down a chimney, and a chicken can’t actually type a letter. I’m pretty sure we’re together on that thought.
Drum roll, please! Next rejection.
“p 1 a bird chews bubblegum. Need I say more?”
I’m sure that note was supposed to make everything crystal clear as to why my manuscript was rejected. Was I smiling when I received this? I’m pretty sure not. But I can now see this is one opinion, and one I don’t necessarily agree with.
Other rejections, however, never seem funny no matter how much time passes. Several years ago, I branched out and created a non-fiction, early elementary, manuscript on wolves. After polishing it and of course including all references, I was shocked to receive a reply from a publisher that went something like this.
And you know so much about wolves, how? Because you’ve been around so many wolves in Missouri and have so much hands-on experience? I think not! Better write about things you know about.
In this case, you might notice the above isn’t in quotes, that’s because I was so embarrassed I threw away the manuscript and the rejection. Had I actually had the nerve to think I could write about wolves? At the time I pulled inside my shell and licked my wounds. I hadn’t been prepared for that kind of reply.
One of my newest rejections was also a hard pill to swallow. After signing a contract on a picture book and working with the publisher and the publisher’s chosen illustrator for several months, I got this email from the publisher:
“Reluctantly yet realistically I must tell you that I’m not able to go ahead with the publishing of XXXX. I know this decision will cause you great disappointment, and I’m sorry for that.
“The project itself has brought so many problems with graphic designers that I prefer not to deal with the challenges any more.” Etc.
Disappointed? I was crushed! By that time I had already looked at several of the illustrations and okayed them for the book. I wondered what would have happened if I’d been the one to break the contract, maybe because I didn’t care for the artwork.
By pulling these rejections out of my files, I am now able to smile. Barnyard? What a silly remark to have made. Gum chewing bird? Sure, and we don’t read about talking snowmen either, do we? Most of the replies were downright silly, yet they hurt me, all the same.
I remind myself, even now, to smile. And I do want to point out that some of the rejections I received had positive thoughts and suggestions. But this post is dealing with rejections that can bring writers down and make them think it's time to give up writing altogether. It's important to remember rejection is one person’s opinion. Of course, it’s always good to look for ways to improve manuscripts, but as writers sometimes we need to step back, take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy life!