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Rejection Letters Don’t Kill, Only Maim A Little.

Updated on February 19, 2020
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As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.


My Experience

When I graduated from high school, a fresh-faced, naïve, girl hoping to conquer the art world, my plans were to go to college and get a degree in graphic design. Unfortunately, my father was sure this would be tantamount to career suicide with starvation looming in my future, so he put his foot down, literally. My choices were dealing with it or get married. I was unaware of the alternate possibility of student loans so… I got married. College and art went out of the window, replaced by dinners and diapers.


That Was 40 Years Ago

After the kids all left home for futures and careers of their own I decided to try my hand at an art career again. I wanted to illustrate books, specifically children’s books, but any books would do. I started by sending out resumes, samples and query letters to every publisher I could think of. I got a book of listings of publishers and sent queries to all them. I was sadly rejected everywhere. This was a setback. It stung at first. Knowing my own self-debasement and propensity to depression, I only sent out 3 queries per week, because I believed if I received more than 3 rejections per week I would fall into the bottomless pit of despair.


Back Up And Try Again

After a year of so, I started rethinking. Maybe you can’t just break into books just like that. Maybe, I formulated, you have to work your way up. So I began sending samples of my work to greeting card publishers and poster design printers. The consensus that I received back stated that they were looking for “lines” of cards not just single cards; a line is 12 to 13 cards of similar design or theme. With that in mind I created a line of angel cards, a line of teddy bear cards, a line of Americana cards (cards with National monuments and flags), a line of Native American nostalgia cards, a line of beach kids cards, a line of animal cards (lions, tigers and bears, oh my), and a line of cartoony little girl cards. All of them were rejected summarily.

Rejection form letter
Rejection form letter | Source

Form Letters... The Worst

To add insult to injury, all the rejections were form letters stating due to the volume of submissions, they could not send me a personal note, but the form letter was so they could respond in a timely manner. Also, most of them stated that my cards and artwork was too similar to submission they already had or that it didn’t fit their editorial needs at this time. I got so tired of seeing that particular sentence that I wanted to scream. Instead, I filed it away. I saved all of them. Mostly so that someday I could pull them back out and laugh at them. However, I didn’t feel much like laughing right then. I felt like I tried everything. What else was left to try?


Children's Magazine Craft Articles

That’s when I read an article about a writer who just couldn’t break into the publishing market, and she was frustrated at all the rejections. She had my attention. She said she had found out that children’s magazines were always looking for craft articles and projects that children could do with little to no adult supervision. She wrote an article about a craft and was immediately published, then she found that once the editors knew her they were more receptive to possibly published an article on another subject. She was in. And I thought THAT’S IT. I know crafts. I’ve done tons of crafts with my kids… kid-tested, mother-approved. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer but I did know how to put one word in front of another and then I could do some illustrations to go with it. Sure enough, it worked. I got my first article with illustrations published. I was overjoyed. But it was only the beginning.

Illustrating for Children's Books

Still Dealing With Rejection!

I still received a few rejections here and there; not as many as before but still, they stung. One day I received 3 rejections on the same day. I thought about crawling into a hole and dying there. Then I got mad. Good and mad. I thought, reject me will ya! I reject you! So I went to my keyboard and typed up my own form letter rejection of rejections. It went something like this:

My Rejection of Rejection Form Letter

Dear Publisher,

Thank you for sending your rejection of_____________________________________

back to me. I appreciate your time in reviewing my work. However, I am unable to utilize your rejection for the reason(s) stated below.

____ It is too similar to one I’ve already received this month.

____ It seems too old and needs to get with the current times.

____ It shows a lack of foresight concerning my talent and future popularity.

____ It is too short. I could use a little more feedback.

____ It does not fit my current financial needs.

____ This type of rejection is usually staff-written. Needs an editor’s touch.

____ Other______________________________________________________________

I am sorry to send you a form letter but with the volume of rejections received each month it would be impossible to correspond to each rejection individually. Thanks again for the opportunity to review your editing insights. I wish you success in the future of your publication (but doubt it without my talents enhancing your production).


Denise McGill

Disgusted but Gifted Artist/Writer


How do you handle rejection?

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What I Thought...

Here is what I thought: some office assistant at the publishing company will open this along with thousands of other daily queries, get a good laugh and toss it into the circular file. She got a laugh, I got a laugh, and it only cost me 45 cents worth of therapy.

Over the Moon

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My photo composite of my cousin (twice removed) showing how a good book takes you away.
My photo composite of my cousin (twice removed) showing how a good book takes you away.
My photo composite of my cousin (twice removed) showing how a good book takes you away. | Source

What Happened...

There is what happened: The following week I received a phone call from the publisher. When I answered the phone and he told me who he was, all the color drained from my face, I stopped breathing and I wasn’t sure how I was going to call 911 for the paramedics while this guy was on the phone with me, because I was sure I was having a heart attack. Intuitively he heard my labored breathing and quickly stated, “stay calm, I not going to publish your piece.” Now I’m having a heart attack and I’m mad. Why not, I managed to stutter. He said he received this rejection from me in the mail and didn’t quite know what to do with it. I laughed. Then I told him I hadn’t intended for anyone but the office assistant to see it, laugh and throw it away. He said that’s what happened. She saw it, laughed and started passing it around the office. Then she decided the editor needed to see it, and there we were. He said it was clever and insightful. He had never received a rejection before. I told him it was about time because he had sent plenty to me. That’s when he told me that their small publication had recently gone to black and white to save money and he felt my artwork warranted full color which he could not give me. Now if he had just told me that upfront he would not have received a rejection from me. Haha. Still, he felt the rejection was so astute that he wanted permission to publish it in a piece about handling rejection.

He created and produced several series videos and dramas for the church but won't send them to publishers for fear of rejection.
He created and produced several series videos and dramas for the church but won't send them to publishers for fear of rejection. | Source

Don't Let Rejection Get You Down

My point is not to take rejection too seriously. It hurts but it isn’t fatal. I know someone who has allowed his talent to be put on a shelf because he simply cannot handle the sting of rejection letters. He got one and it was all over. Friends, even Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections before the 28th publisher decided to take a risk on an unknown children’s book author and illustrator. That’s 27 publishers who are kicking themselves right now! If I cannot take at least 27 rejections, I’m not worthy of the title: children’s book illustrator.


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