Please welcome back author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom for week three of what will be a four-part series designed to encourage new and aspiring picture book authors as they navigate the perilous path to publication.
Today’s topic is Rejection, with a capital “R”. If you’ve already been sending out submissions and have received rejection letters (or e-mails) back, it’s a major letdown. I’ve been there. I’m still there. But as cold as the rejection feels, you must try try try not to take it personally. I know you poured your heart and soul into your story. But always keep in mind that publishing is a business and publishers are companies. And just like any company, publishers must make money in order to stay in business. Since publishing companies receive hundreds of submissions each month and thousands per year, and they cannot publish them all, they are very selective and choose what they believe has the potential to make money. That doesn’t mean your story wasn’t good. It just means that it wasn’t right for that publisher. Even veteran authors still get rejections.
Several years ago, when I was feeling particularly bummed over yet another rejection, I asked an anonymous editor if editors realized they hold authors’ dreams in their hands. I don’t remember what the response was, but I have since come to realize that it is not the responsibility of editors or agents to make my dreams come true. So don’t get mad, get motivated. And above all, don’t give up. If you’ve made your story the absolute best it can be, send it out again. I wonder what Suzanne does when she receives a rejection letter? Let’s ask.
Suzanne, how do you handle a rejection letter? How about 5, 15, or 25?
It’s really hard to believe that 15 someones don’t love your story as much as you do, isn’t it? Is it time to put that story away for a while or forever? Let it rest and get to work on something else. After a month or so look at it again with fresh eyes. This also applies to harsh critiques. Several of my stories (which are brilliant, according to me) shall never see the light of day. I came across a mock “rejection” letter which said, “We’re sorry to say that due to the number of similar rejection letters we have received, we cannot accept your rejection letter at this time. Good luck placing your rejection letter elsewhere.” Alas, I have paraphrased and I don’t know the source.
Love the mock rejection letter and the advice! Listen to Suzanne, picture book writers, she knows what she’s talking about.
Of course, sometimes the feeling of rejection comes in the form of a harsh critique from an agent, editor, or even a critique group member. Again, it’s hard not to take the criticism personally, especially when we’re proud of the work we’ve done. I can tell you that I am always surprised when I get a harsh critique. How could they possibly find fault in my story. But now I understand that there’s always room for improvement. Remember too, that you don’t have to make changes to your story based on critiques. You don’t have to agree with every thing that’s said. But keep in mind that agents and editors are professionals and usually know their stuff, and if you should happen to get a critique from one, I recommend you at least consider their suggestions to improve your work.
And let me add, that I would be lost without the help of my critique group, Picture Me Published (PMP). It is invaluable. My stories have improved astronomically thanks to the thoughtful suggestions of my three groupmates, Sarah, Jess, and Brooks. I highly recommend joining a group. Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel right, you can always politely drop out and search for another. My first group didn’t work out (not for lack of trying), but it’s okay because PMP is a perfect fit for me.
Suzanne, how should we handle a harsh critique?
In the privacy of your own space, dance like Rumpelstiltskin: stomp, gnash, holler and fume. Whew, take a breath and revisit the story and the critique…not necessarily at that moment – when you’re ready to hear and evaluate the suggestions. What rings true? What holds back the story? I thought “Fab Goo Taffy” was the best name ever for the candy that was traded for a time machine. My wise editor said it wasn’t insect-centric enough for my ant eating characters (A Mighty Fine Time Machine). Certain that there was no substitute, I stewed and fumed, until I came up with Buggy Bon-Bons. It’s so hard to defend an idea without sounding defensive. And even when we’re certain each of our words is precious and perfect, there is always room for rumination and possibly improvement. But here’s the biggest question: Are you willing to make changes for the good of the story?
Please come back next week for the fourth and final installment of my “Suzanne Bloom” series, in which I ask Suzanne how to combat writer’s block, what an editor means when he/she tells you your story is too quiet, and how to keep from getting discouraged. I can’t wait!
Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com.