Rejected - But Hopeful
Part of the publishing process is being rejected.
Last week I wrote about an idea that I was developing alongside a publisher. Since then, I have learnt that they have decided to pass on the book. I'm disappointed because I feel like I’m back at square one: Will this story ever see the light of day? On the other hand, it came as no surprise. I’d already reached the same conclusion as them - that they were the wrong fit and not edgy enough; so now I’m free to approach another publisher.
Not only that - a further three submissions of mine have been rejected, all in the same week! So consider this post a bit of a pep talk to myself.
I could just give up on the ideas. Except I believe in them. If I’d like to see them as fully-formed picture books, then it’s likely that someone else will, too, right?
So rather than feeling like it's the end of the world, I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity to find someone new to work with. And the reality, of course, is that I am not back at square one. I am well beyond the story seed stage, with a fully formed idea.
I encourage myself with the fact that many famous and successful children’s books suffered initial setback and rejection.
Here are some cracking examples:
And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street
by Dr Seuss
Seuss's first published book received 27 rejections before going to print in 1937. One editor dismissed it as, 'Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.' WRONG! Mulberry Street is still going strong, and Dr Seuss is the ninth best-selling fiction author of all time.
by Richard Adams
Rejected seven times: “Older children will not like it because its language is too difficult.” Yet one of the fastest-selling books in history, remaining in print since its initial publication in 1972.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
by Beatrix Potter
This nursery favourite was rejected so many times that Potter decided to self-publish 250 copies. 45 million sales and counting!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
Was rejected as being ‘too radical’. Which of course is why it stood out and has endured, with 15 million sales to brag on.
What planet are you from, Clarice Bean?
by Lauren Child
Child’s first book had four years of rejection before publication in 1997. She has just finished serving as the UK’s Children’s Laureate 2017-2019.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
by J.K. Rowling
After receiving twelve rejection letters in a row, Bloomsbury were the ones to take a chance on Rowling. Unconvinced by their own decision, the editor advises the author ‘to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books.’ Rowling’s last four novels in the series ‘consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, on both sides of the Atlantic, with combined sales of 450 million.’
(Most of these stats are from Best-Sellers Initially Rejected on litrejections.com. Here’s one of the best, sent to William Golding for one of my favourite novels, The Lord of the Flies: “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”)
Rejection after rejection, followed by smash-hit status. What on earth are we to make of the strange world of publishing?
I think it’s pretty simple. Editors are individuals, with their own personal preferences. We make connections with stories on a deep, personal level - and because we are all different, we don’t all respond the same way. Publishers also try and analyse the market to guess what will sell. (They are businesses after all, and need to be profitable.) So when a more unusual or unique text is presented, there may be little in the market to compare it to, leading a publisher to reasonably conclude, Nobody wants this.
I remember when I first saw a copy of The Gruffalo. I couldn’t believe it had been published! It went against everything I had learnt and observed in children’s publishing. Its main character was a grotesque monster; the book's layout was very traditional and the biggest no-no: it was written in rhyming couplets.
(At the time, very few books were in rhyme, the reason being that they complicate the translations, thereby making it harder to sell to co-publishers.)
So whoever decided to publish The Gruffalo was taking a risk on something out of the norm. Which I believe was the prime reason that it caught the public’s attention in the first place. Because it was out of the ordinary.
So if (or should that be 'when'?) a story is rejected by a publisher, it may not be that it is crap. It may be that the editor just doesn't connect with it. Or their instinct is that a different publisher would ‘be a better fit.’
I have a good feeling about which publishers to try next.
I’ll keep you posted about that contract…
Some important take-aways for would-be writers
the idea may be rejected, but don’t take it personally. You don’t need to feel rejected.
some of the greatest books out there were repeatedly rejected before finding favour with a publishing house!