Follow the Yellow Brick Rejection Road
By Gayle C. Krause
We’re all familiar with the road Dorothy took to Emerald City. I’d like to use her journey to explain why we, as children’s writers, follow her same path.
As we perform our daily chores of creating characters, revising stories or submitting manuscripts we dream of the place over the rainbow (the publishing marketplace) where we’ll someday be recognized as a bonafide children’s author. Our question is very much like hers…
“If others fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can’t I?”
We dream. We write. We create. We submit. And ultimately more often then not we get rejected. I’ve heard established authors declare they could wallpaper their homes with all the rejection letters they received before they were published.
To quote Donna Jo Napoli: “Every rejection you receive is a brick in your road to success.” (April 2011- SCBWI Pocono Retreat)
So, in the beginning of your writing career you may feel like you’re going around in circles. Your road proceeds just like Dorothy’s at the heart of the Yellow Brick Road in Munchkin Land. (your writing space) And then you meet a mentor (Glinda), someone who gives you advice about ways to improve your writing, another writer, perhaps a key note speaker at an SCBWI conference. She sends you on your way with newfound enthusiasm and your writing journey begins.
As you make your way into the fields of children’s publishing you find a critique partner, who offers you support, advice and knowledge (The Scarecrow). You encourage each other to sub. At first, to non-paying magazines just to get publishing credits and then to children’s print magazines in the paying markets. With luck you may receive your first paid publishing credit, but more often than not you also start collecting rejection letters.
Then you attend your first SCBWI conference. As a new, motivated writer you make another friend, (The Tin Man) a peer who offers to exchange manuscripts and cheer you on. This crit buddy addresses the heart of your work. You meet in person and online, congratulating each other’s tiny successes.
And then it’s time to attend a national conference. You brave the big, unfamiliar cities, New York and Los Angeles. Your crit buddies stay behind because of family or financial obligations, but your passion drives you. You swallow your shyness, close your eyes and jump into the fracas. You meet yet another writer (The Cowardly Lion) hiding in the crowd, waiting for someone to encourage him/her to jump in, too.
Together, you gain knowledge, experience, and inspiration and are ready to submit your precious manuscript to agents and editors that granted you that opportunity by attending their seminar or speech.
You painstakingly check your queries, synopses, pitches, and manuscripts and follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Once you hit send, or mail a thick envelope, you fly high for a few days, like (the Wizard) in his hot air balloon. You wait for days. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months and sometimes even years.
When the deadline for notification comes and goes you realize your dream may be turning into a nightmare. Maybe it is being considered at an acquisitions meeting. Maybe it’s on the bottom of a huge slush pile. Maybe your manuscript is lost. Maybe (The Wicked Witch of the West) has destroyed it.
And then you go to the mailbox, either the one on your front porch or the one on your computer and first you get one, then three, then ten rejections. Some writers throw them away. Some file them away. But the discerning writer builds their road to success. Each rejection takes its place in their Yellow Brick Road.
Some authors have a short road. Others have a long one, but make no mistake, every famous author does indeed have their own version of that road. You gather your writing buddies to console you. They offer encouragement, support and a writing prompt. And you start writing again.
The writing journey begins again and this time the end of the rainbow is closer. Maybe we even get to fly over it and join the other famous children’s writers doling out advice to the new writer, who sits alone at their computer and dreams of finding their place in the publishing world. (Emerald City).
As you read those rejection letters, some personal and specific to your story, others a generic form, you try to decipher what the editor or agent means when they say they are sorry not to have better news for you.
--When editors say: Your lesson or message is too heavy handed, or – Your story may not be the kind a child will ask to hear/want to read over and over again, they mean your theme needs work.
--When editors say: Your story is too thin they mean the premise is weak. Or it may be too predictable, too clichéd, too wordy, too long, slow-paced, too quiet, lacks a dynamic plot to move the story forward. Sometimes when the author tries to be too quirky the child may not understand the clever concept behind the story. Stereotypical characters and predictable events also score a rejection. Story may feel disjointed with too many flashbacks, subplots and characters. And for picture books, it may appear to be
too episodic. These rejections all deal with plot.
--When editors say: Your story is not child-like enough they mean your voice isn't right for the age-level or experiences of the audience. POV may reflect that of the author rather than the child. It may also lack tension or emotion to appeal to the reader. Character or dialogue may not be believable. Writing may be forced or stilted. These rejections reflect the personality of the narrative.
--When editors say your use of language is forced they mean your writing doesn’t feel natural and in the case of rhyming manuscripts the rhyme may be near or slant rhyme or rhyme for rhyme’s sake that does not intrigue.
--When they say they cannot relate to your characters they mean they are flat or one-dimensional, clichéd and standard or not well-rounded or fully fleshed out. There may be too much emotional distance between the reader and the characters.
--When editors say it’s not right for our list they mean your manuscript doesn’t measure up to house standards.