Rejection Stories & Advice From Published Kidlit/YA Creators
Ah, rejections. It’s part of the business, before and after publication. If you’d like to get straight to the poll results, feel free to browse the original Twitter thread about writer rejections.
As someone who has received many rejections over the years, I am well acquainted. In the years I was trying to get my middle grade novels published (and I am renewing my efforts this year), I also wrote nonfiction. Learning how to put together queries, keeping track of responses, following up – not only did these skills come in useful later on, but the rejections helped me develop a thicker skin. I did get paid for quite a few articles published in print and online venues as well as a nonfiction book with Writer’s Digest Books. I even got paid for some of my poetry, though again…I received many more rejections than acceptances.
As for my renewed middle grade efforts, I know I have a better chance now than I did back when I first started but I’m still bracing myself, just in case. Another reason for this post: I’ve been seeing posts from some people on social media who are discouraged after not being able to sell their first or second book mss. Important reminder for these people: REJECTIONS ARE PART OF THE PROCESS, BEFORE *AND* AFTER PUBLICATION. You need to develop a thick skin to survive longterm in this industry, believe me.
But don’t just take my word for it. I decided to post a poll on Twitter:
Huge thanks to all who responded! I encourage you to read through the replies; there were far too many for me to include all of them. I’ve also interspersed some other advice I’ve found useful, or advice based on my own experiences.
Just some of the responses and tips:
Many of the respondents lost count of the number of rejections they received before getting their first book contract. Some mentioned hundreds (“at least!”).
When encouraging someone who is going through rejections, be wary of using phrases like “YOU GOT THIS,” especially if you don’t know the person’s full context; they may have heard the phrase many times already as they receive many rejections over many attempts over many years.
You may be thinking that you’re being encouraging when you say “You GOT this!”, but the other person may be thinking, “Clearly, I DON’T.” I speak from experience. If you’re reading this and cringing because you’ve used this phrase with someone you don’t know well…no worries. We know it’s well-meant and meant to encourage, not frustrate. I find it’s different if the “you got this” is coming from someone who is already familiar with my history, like my critique partners.
I encourage you to browse the following quotes as well as the entire thread on Twitter for other nuggets of wisdom and encouragement you could share with your friend, or feel free to point them to this blog post.
And again….HUGE THANKS to all the book creators who took the time to share their own experience with rejections as well as encouragement!
Rebecca Gardyn Levington agrees with the above. “Stop using the term ‘rejection’ and remember that a PASS just means you haven’t find the right home YET.”
Remember that whether or not your submission is accepted may not have anything to do with the worth of your work, but more about personal opinion.
Some book creators point out that there are MANY reasons why an agent or editor may have turned down your mss that have nothing to do with you or your work. Perhaps there’s another book on their list that would compete or they’ve just accepted a mss similar to yours, for example. Or maybe they just woke up on the wrong side of the bed and are in an off-mood (world news, perhaps) when they pull out your mss to read.
It’s ok to be disappointed when you receive a rejection. Commiserate privately with a friend you trust, set a time limit for grieving (for me, it’s one day), then move on.
Many of the respondents advised NOT to just wait for news after you send our your mss. Start working on your next project!
Be aware that even after you get your first book contract, chances are good that you will STILL continue to receive rejections, at least if you want a longterm career in the business – because (I assume) you will continue to be creating new projects which may or may not find a home. I used to think “I just need to get that first contract and them I’m set” but quickly learned this is NOT the case. I believe that in many ways, it’s more challenging AFTER that first book contract, because your expectations are higher.
Try to think of it like this (it’s what I did through my many years of rejections, to help keep myself sane 😁): the more rejections you receive AND still keep going, the thicker your skin will be. Think of it as training camp, getting ready for the big leagues. I remember thinking “but what if I never REACH the big leagues” but tried very hard to push that away by going to the next project, thinking up new ideas, trying new approaches.
If you received a personalized rejection rather than a form letter, say some, take heart. It means that even if your work wasn’t the right for that person, they still saw enough value in you and your work to take the time to personalize.
As Karen pointed out above, read over any personalized feedback in your rejection letters. I advise WAITING at least a few days before taking action on any feedback, and then again only if you agree.
Remember that it just takes one YES.
Keep working on new projects, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Find a critique group whose members are kindred spirits, whose publishing experience is around the same level or higher than yours.
Learn how to accept constructive criticism. But also learn how to THINK before making any changes based on that criticism.
Collect your rejections and put them somewhere. That way when you DO get published, you’ll be able to count them up and encourage others. Shannon Hale called them her battle scars and laminated them into one long roll.
Know when to put a project aside. Don’t give on that project; think of it as just putting it on the back burner for now. I have done this with both middle grade and picture books.
Carolyn’s advice about “don’t forget to experiment with something new” definitely hit home for me, because that’s how I got my first big break into children’s books!
Several of the respondents (like June) mentioned that they queried too soon on some projects. It’s easy to do this; I’ve done it as well. You’re excited and hyped about a book idea or a book you’ve just finished drafting, want to get the submission or query out there ASAP. I’ve learned from hard experience to let my darlings bake.
Don’t rush to query! Several of the respondents mentioned that they wished they had spent more time before sending their work out.
Don’t just focus on the end result. Learn how to enjoy the journey. This is one reason it’s important to try to write the books you know you will enjoy writing, rather than writing to trend. Because in the end, if you have to put the mss aside, you will have at least enjoyed the process. If you didn’t enjoy it, then aim to have learned something new from the experience.
Look at rejections as a chance to learn and grow.
My early instinct was always to put away or hide the rejections as soon as I received them. Rejection? ARGH! Don’t want to think about that rejection anymore, maybe the next letter will have good news. What I *should* have done: look more carefully at the constructive feedback I now see in some of those early rejection letters, consider revising the mss and re-submitting.
Look at the manuscripts that didn’t get published as “practice mss” or “learning mss” – at least that’s what I do. 😄
It is OK to be disappointed, frustrated, upset when you receive a rejection. Trying to pretend you’re fine when you’re not is not healthy. What I do: commiserate privately with trusted friends and family, write in my private journal, go for a walk, send it out again, move on to something new….sometimes all of the above! But do give yourself permission to grieve if you need to; I strongly advise setting a time limit, though. For me, it’s a day or two – then I force myself to do something new, else I’ll just keep falling down the wallow-selfpity black hole. RESIST the urge to post publicly about it, at least not right away – and NEVER EVER mention names.
Also, don’t dismiss the possibility of self-publishing (but do your research first)! Here’s a reply from Sarah Mensinga, a traditionally published book creator who decided to self-publish:
Thanks to award-winning G.S. Prendergast for sharing a photo of just a few of their rejections over the years:
As you can see, rejections ARE part of the writer’s life, both before and after publication. Don’t hang all your hopes on one manuscript. Remember that so much in the industry is subjective.
Thanks to all who replied to my poll! If you know of someone who is struggling with rejections and needs some encouragement, feel free to point them to this blog post or the original thread on Twitter.
And I’ll close with some final advice from Alastair Heim’s response:
“Do the work. Don’t quit. It’s the only way to serendipity.”
Good luck with your writing, all! Do you have additional advice? Rejection stories? Comments? Please post below or add your reply to my original Twitter thread about rejections.
Did you enjoy this post? Feel free to browse my other Industry Surveys and Polls over the years.