I developed a serious interest in writing during my days as an elementary school teacher. I filled notebooks with humorous observations, opinion pieces based on current events, poetry, song lyrics, and — because I was a teacher and a dad — lots of stories for children. The stories weren’t very good at first, but eventually, some of them compared well with the ones in the libraries and bookstores. I thought one of my stories was so clever and well-written that I decided to send it to a major picture book publisher.
This was back in the days before email, when authors submitted hard copies through the U. S. Postal Service. I live in Wisconsin, so, allowing time for delivery to New York and back, I expected a response in five or six days. I started eagerly checking the mail every day.
Six months passed and still no word. Maybe my envelope had gotten lost in the mail. I hoped so because now I was so thoroughly filled with doubt over the quality of my story that I didn’t want an editor reading it anymore. But one day, there it was in my mailbox—the self-addressed envelope with my familiar handwriting.
This was it! The children’s story that could pave the way to my new career as a writer. I ripped open the envelope and pulled out a small slip of paper. On it was a list of statements, with a check mark in the box next to the one that said: “Not for our list.”
What was that supposed to mean?
The whole thing was enormously discouraging. Looking back, I don’t know why I persisted at this horribly unpleasant game, the rules of which were simple: 1. Take months to write a story, fixing and changing it until it was “perfect.” 2. Send it in. 3. Receive a rejection slip with no explanation. 4. Repeat.
But something kept me going, and my prospects improved. The rejections continued, but on one of them, an angel in a distant office building, had scrawled a few words of encouragement. “I love your main character, but sorry, I must pass. Good luck with it elsewhere.”
A few weeks later, a similar note was written at the bottom of a different rejected manuscript, with some additional words I had never seen before: “Feel free to send me something else.” I took the family out to dinner to celebrate that rejection.
Then a few acceptances came. A teachers’ magazine purchased an article. A local history was published by the state historical society. Stories appeared in Highlights for Children and Ladybug magazines. There were also, of course, many rejections, but, offset by occasional acceptances, they didn’t hurt so much anymore.
Through it all, I learned that rejection is a big part of the writing process. We are going to hear ‘no’ much more often than ‘yes.’ You don’t catch a fish every time you put your hook in the water, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Every writer is a bit nervous when first sending a submission for publication. Is it good enough? Will the editors like it? What if they hate it? What if…? What if…? What if…? Excellent questions.
The fact is, a writer’s first submission to a publisher is (almost certainly) going to be rejected, and the rejection is going to hurt. But we are not bumbling teenagers, teetering on the edge of emotional devastation, asking for a date to the big dance. We are serious writers asking a publishing company to enter into a business agreement with us. The editor is going to say yes or no, plain and simple. If he doesn’t want our story, all right. No hard feelings. Just another business deal that didn’t work out. There’ll be other opportunities.
It isn’t easy, but we must try to keep a lid on our emotions. When we shop in a clothing store and leave without making a purchase, the clerk doesn’t collapse in grief over our decision to not buy a shirt. Similarly, editors are shopping for stories to publish. If they choose not to buy from us, we can be like that clerk.
Let’s not forget, there are numbers of reasons why a publisher passes on a manuscript. We don’t have to assume that they hated it. Or that they think we are terrible writers. If we must assume, why don’t we assume something more positive?
- They already had something similar.
- They liked it, but the timing wasn’t right.
- The market was down, and I caught them at a bad time.
- The editor didn’t have a good eye for adventure, or the right sense of humor.
- The editor was having a bad day and made a mistake. (In 1962, an executive at Decca Records turned down the Beatles, saying, “Guitar music is on the way out,” which is proof that decision-makers can be wrong.)
Rejection continues to be a part of my life — I still hear ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’— but in the life of a writer that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It wasn’t until after I was offered my third picture book contract that I started expecting my submissions to be rejected. What a liberating change that was for me. Now, when the expected occurs, there’s little negativity. And when the unexpected happens — an acceptance — time to celebrate!
It’s all in the attitude.
The last time I had a story rejected, I’ll admit I was disappointed…for about two minutes. Then I rejected the negative feelings and sent the story to a different publisher, with the hope that the next editor would show better judgment.
Mike Leannah is a former elementary school teacher, a father and grandfather, and a writer of fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. He is the creator of We Think With Ink®, a series of instructional books for writing teachers. His picture book Most People, published in 2017 by Tilbury House, won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in the Peacemaking category. Another picture book, Goodnight Whispers (Familius), is being published in the summer of 2018. Mike lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, with his wife, Geralyn, and dog, Tonto. You can find Mike on Twitter @MikeLeannah. Please visit www.michaelleannah.com.
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION (from Stacey):
This giveaway is for a copy of Most People. Many thanks to Tilbury House for donating this prize. For a chance to win this copy of the book, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Wednesday, June 6th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) U.S. mailing addresses only for the book.
If you are the winner of this book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MIKE LEANNAH. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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