Handling Rejection

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.

But I thought I was supreme dictator.

WHY me? Why ME? Why NOT me?

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!

SeedsBeesButterflies high res cvr 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.


Filed under Advice, rejection and success

8 responses to “Handling Rejection

  1. mariagianferrari

    Thanks, Carole! I love the sewing analogy, and it’s a practical way to approach rejection since it’s such an integral part of the writing journey 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and wisdom, Carole. I guess we all have to have some “canyon” time. I hope both of your circulating manuscripts find a home.


  3. Great post, Carole! Most people usually only hear about our successes and have no idea how much time we spend down in the canyons. I often think we should start a companion Emu blog for that awkward time AFTER our debuts: when we’ve still got stars in our eyes, but everything else we put out there gets rejected. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lindsey Lane

    Well done, Carole. I love that image: writing from the canyon.


  5. This is such an honest post. “Sometimes falling short of your goal, or even missing it entirely, is the first step toward success.” This hits home for me. I had to fail hard before I could even begin to understand what I had to do next, and what I had to do better. I’m so glad that Ten Busy Brooms made it up out of the canyon and into the sunlight!


  6. Thank you, Laurie. BUSY BROOMS had a long journey. My previous agent did not even submit it, although she did submit and sell other manuscripts. It’s nice when a writer’s persistence – and that of my wonderful new agent Joan Paquette – pays off.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, the rejections are tough, but the joys are great. The ride to publication is quite bumpy. So in this business we must balance ourselves to push forth and focus on what’s important…touching one life at a time with our books and continue creating. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Carole. It’s so helpful to connect with others in the same life boat. Wishing you many future successes.


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