Last fall, I read an inspiring article on Tara Lazar’s PiBoMo blog by Karen Henry Clark describing her struggle to get published. Eventually, in 2010, her beautiful picture book, Sweet Baby Moon: An Adoption Tale, was picked up by Knopf. Since then, all her manuscripts have been rejected.
She concludes, “What I’ve come to understand is that success requires more than writing a great story. You have to understand your writing journey. . . . Sometimes you land in a canyon, but you can write down there, too. I am.”
On the same day, I read an article by Joelle Han in Yoga Journal titled, “How to Fail Up.” Han states, “Sometimes falling short of your goal, or even missing it entirely, is the first step toward success.” She offers several steps for dealing with failure, but I found the first two to be the most important.
First, “Sit with the misery.” Your disappointment is normal. This is the canyon Clark talks about.
Second, “Decouple your ego from your action.” As a writer, I interpret this to mean, “Don’t take it personally.” Having weathered dozens of rejections – some from editors who had accepted my previous work – I’ve become a pragmatist. Yes, you may write with all your heart and soul, but that’s not what you are selling.
Your manuscript is a product. If your agent takes it on, she believes a publisher out there may choose to invest the time and money to print and distribute it. Maybe this won’t happen. Maybe, if you persevere, it will.
Writing and revising a manuscript is like designing and sewing a unique garment, hoping to find an editor who declares it a “perfect fit.” This may take years. In 2006, I began submitting my manuscript Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More! Poems for Two Voices, to publishers who, at that time, accepted unagented submissions. It got dozens of slow rejections. Three years later, Sally Doherty at Holt “plucked it from the slush pile. ” She loved some of the poems, but wanted some new ones on specific topics to unify the theme. Would I be willing to write them? Of course!
Five years later (in this industry, everything is slow!), Seeds, Bees was published. It received excellent reviews. Kids loved it. Teachers blogged about it. A five-star review on Goodreads called it “Brilliant.” In 2014 it was named a “notable” poetry book by the National Council of Teachers of English.
Yay for me right? Holt would surely want to publish another book of poems for two voices. But no. Though the editor loved my first book, the finance people said sales – though acceptable – were not stellar. Translation: they needed a bigger return on their investment.
Wah for me! I put the second “Poems for Two Voices” manuscript aside and worked on other projects. Recently, I reread the first few poems and decided to write more. Meantime, Ammi-Joan Paquette has sold Ten Busy Brooms to Doubleday and “nearly” sold another manuscript to Sterling. (Another case of the editor loving it but the sales team rejecting it.) Joan is also circulating two other PB manuscripts that haven’t yet found the right “fit” with an editor. We’re both optimistic.
Meantime, like Karen Henry Clark, I’ll write from my canyon. I’ll sit briefly with my misery. But I’ll keep on writing. I hope you will, too.