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Rejection and Children’s Book Publishers

Updated on August 12, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

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.

Books take you on adventures.
Books take you on adventures. | Source

The Illusive Book Publisher

As an artist and illustrator, trying to find a publisher is one of the most difficult problems we face. I have several children’s books that I have written and illustrated but couldn’t find a single publisher interested. All the craft books and coloring books have been self-published. It would be nice to find a publisher for the illustrated children’s books but so far I have been rejected at every turn. Even agents have rejected me. It makes it hard to keep your equilibrium. And then I see all those who went before me who were also rejected.

When I researched other great writers and illustrators, it was amazing how many were also rejected by multiple publishers, even though the books they finally published were best sellers. It seems to me that publishers have no idea how popular a book or author is going to be ultimately.

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”

— Tony Robbins
My daughter's self-published children's book "The Trouble With Being Normal"
My daughter's self-published children's book "The Trouble With Being Normal" | Source

Dr Seuss

Getting the first book that he wrote and illustrated published (And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street) required a great degree of persistence; it was rejected 27 times before being published by Vanguard Press.

Wind in the Willows
Wind in the Willows | Source

Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows was born out of bedtime stories that Grahame made up for his son, Alastair. He received several rejections including one; “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” The novel did sell, 25 million copies worldwide.

Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are | Source

Maurice Sendak

He found it impossible to work on any project that didn't resonate with his personal sensibilities, and selling publishers on his personal vision was extremely difficult. Time and time again, he found rejection with advice to imitate more conventional American styles of children's book illustration because his characters looked rumpled and dumpy compared to the fresh-scrubbed, athletic children in fashion. What’s more, is the Where the Wild Things Are character was considered far too controversial and rude for his time. He was criticized for having a character who would talk back to his mother and act the way he did, plus the end of the book he didn’t get punished for his behavior. Still the book has been hugely popular.

Olivia
Olivia | Source

Ian Falconer

"I came up with the story about four years ago for my niece, Olivia," explains Falconer, who based his heroine on her. "It got better and better, so I got in touch with an agent at a large agency which shall remain unnamed. They loved the illustrations but wanted me to work with a published writer. I really didn't want to give it up, so I put it away." He put Olivia the Pig away until children's book editor Anne Schwartz gave it a shot and even then Falconer was told the book was "too long, too text-heavy and overly sophisticated." After being rejected and reworked, Olivia the Pig finally saw the light in 2000 and the rest is history.

Illustration for The Frog King
Illustration for The Frog King | Source

J.K.Rowling

The first few publishers she sent it to flatly rejected the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, because it was too long for a children’s book. At that time she was so poor that she couldn’t afford photocopying and hand-typed each manuscript she sent. Even after getting an agent, her book was still rejected until one publisher actually gave it to his 8-year-old daughter who devoured it and wanted more. Only then did the publisher take a chance on a book that would bring in more than the gross national product of Bolivia.

“Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.”

— Alfred North Whitehead
Sketches for character illustrations
Sketches for character illustrations | Source

Alex Haley

After writing for 8 years and receiving 200 consecutive rejections, Roots finally becomes a publishing sensation, selling 1.5 million copies in the first 7 months, and going on to sell 8 million copies. He is a strong person to withstand 200 rejections. Crushing.

Source

Louisa May Alcott

Little Women was not only rejected, but the author was told to “Stick to teaching.” That takes rejection to a whole new level. Still in print 140 years later it sold millions of copies.

Source

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

The duo behind Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by over 140 publishers because, They all said it was a stupid title, that nobody bought collections of short stories, that there was no edge – no sex, no violence. Why would anyone read it?” They went so far as to go to a publisher with guarantees of people who had pre-ordered the book; 20,000 of them. And still, they were rejected. Finally, a publisher on the brink of bankruptcy snatched the title up and watched as basically, every English speaking person in the world bought a copy.

Annie of Green Gables
Annie of Green Gables | Source

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Sure now it has sold over 50 million copies but Anne of Green Gables was originally rejected by 5 publishers before being published in 1908. I personally can’t imagine a childhood without Anne with an “e” and her “bosom friend” Diana, can you?

Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit | Source

Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Peter Rabbit started life as just a story she told a sick child but was so popular with the children that she felt it would do well published. She did all the illustrations herself in watercolor and presented them to all the London publishers she could find but was rejected by all. So she took money from her own savings and printed 250 books at her own expense and when almost all sold she thought she would print more when she was approached by one of the publishers that had at first rejected her little book. Those little books are still in print and charming children all over the world; over 45 million copies sold.

“Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.”

— Lincoln Steffens
Animal Farm
Animal Farm | Source

George Orwell

Unlike some of the others on this list, Orwell was a well-known published author when he turned out Animal Farm. But no publisher in the UK or US wanted to upset Russia or Stalin during World War II. It wasn’t until 1945 when no one seemed to care about upsetting the Russian leader that the book finally got published.

A page from my children's book The FairyTale Alphabet Book
A page from my children's book The FairyTale Alphabet Book | Source

Final Thoughts

It is worth it to keep trying even in the face of crushing rejection. Who knows how long it will take or what the rejection will fuel in your future creativity. Sometimes it is the adversity that fuels the best creativity. Never give up.

Comments

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 days ago from Fresno CA

      Kathy Henderson,

      Thank you for those words of encouragement. I believe it. As long as I never give up on myself, there is still hope. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      Kathy Henderson 

      3 days ago from Pa

      I am sorry you are discouraged, putting our work out there is like releasing our child into the abyss of judgment.

      Truth is the possibilities of impact are great as long as you never give up. If the dream happens, it's only as valuable as those that it touches. Keep allowing your work to be that imprint for someone, regardless of rejection. Rejection is based on opinion. You will find the right opinion one day. Blessing to you

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 days ago from Fresno CA

      Eric Dierker,

      I'm glad you haven't given up getting your book out there to publish. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 days ago from Fresno CA

      Mary Norton,

      That is good to know, isn't it? I feel hopeful myself just doing the research. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I just keep coming back to this. Powerful. This time I remembered graduate school on the way to a doctorate. I would write some of my papers just to stick a stick in my pompous "Professor's" eye. I graduated in the ten percent. (bottom that is ;-)

      But I forgot about that experience. Thanks much. I am now on the road to publish.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 days ago from Ontario, Canada

      So inspiring to know that many of these great authors have had so many rejections before they enjoyed success. There is still hope for many of us.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      4 days ago from Fresno CA

      Heidi Thorne,

      I'm sure it is why so many of us choose the self-publishing method even though it means the marketing is solely on our shoulders. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      4 days ago from Fresno CA

      Marie Flint,

      I agree. I'm sure the publishers are out of touch with the general public. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      4 days ago from Chicago Area

      Very inspiring! True, the traditional publishing route is a tough one that requires a huge amount of persistence. Thanks for sharing!

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      4 days ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Denise, I relate to your experiences completely. I guess the key is to enjoy thoroughly the creativity of the moment. There is so much talent in the world, and publishers don't know what they want. Keep happy and "keep on keeping on."

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 days ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Lum,

      Thanks for the insight. I didn't know that. So many were so underestimated! Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      5 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Denise, another author/illustrator who was rejected by "every publishing house in New York" was Tasha Tudor. Finally, they (editors) GOT it and understood her mission. Thank you for this encouraging article. Don't give up.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 days ago from Fresno CA

      Dana Tate,

      I've self-published myself because it is such a tough market. If the greats before us had so much trouble that should say something. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      5 days ago from LOS ANGELES

      I've heard it's extremely difficult to find a publisher that's why so many writers give up. I figured I would self-publish. This is a tough market.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 days ago from Fresno CA

      John Hansen,

      Oh, I really believe that publishers know very little about the general public and what they really want. All they know is how to print a book. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 days ago from Fresno CA

      Rochelle Frank,

      That's exactly right. Most of us DO give up too soon. Rejection starts to feel like all you will get to you stop trying. These success stories prove that's not true. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for writing this Denise. It gives us all hope and encouragement, and says publishers really know nothing lol.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 days ago from California Gold Country

      Persistence is powerful. Most of us give up too soon.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I figure that them telling me that I already told them is good enough.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      6 days ago from Fresno CA

      I'd love to hear what your daughters think. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I figure that I should not comment. My children tell me more stories that I could ever relate.Perhaps my daughters would have a different take.

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