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Tales of Rejection

Updated on July 14, 2019
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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.

The Illusive Book Publisher


Rejection Is Hard To Take

Yet acceptance is all the sweeter when you have faced rejection several times. That is the life of the writer and illustrator. It seems all the great literature of the world has had to rise above a sea of rejection. These are only a few of the books and authors that have known rejection.

Books are filled with adventures.
Books are filled with adventures. | Source

Personal Experience

I personally have had dozens of rejections for my illustrations and it is difficult to take when you know you have something good, something worthy to offer and it isn’t recognized as valuable. It isn’t about reaching for fame or success, it’s about having a message and a voice that matters for the greater good.



William Joyce

"If you really love to write and you really love to tell stories and you really love to draw, you just have to keep doing it no matter what anybody says. I sent my stories off to publishers for five years and got a good jillion rejection slips for all these different reasons: 'you can't do books about boogers,' 'you can't do books about dinosaurs,' 'you can't do books about this.' And you know, it all turned out to be wrong. If you really want to tell stories, do it and don't be dissuaded."


Dealing with Rejection

–Garry McKee— Professor of Senior Design Presentation at AIU

You don’t matter!

Oh boy… That is a tough thing to hear. It’s tough to even say it. But the good news is that I don’t matter either. So what does matter? Well, in design it’s really only the audience and the design itself that matters. We aren’t here to be “design stars,” or to achieve some kind of minor league celebrity. Great designers serve their clients by connecting with the audience. So be great and forget “self.”

My Rejections

In my own experience, I began sending my artwork to publishers once my kids all left home. I figure it was my turn to focus on me and my work. But I was rejected summarily. So I began creating greeting card designs. I figured to get published you had to start small and work your way up. But my cards were all rejected en mass. So I figured maybe if I create some poster designs; I mean posters are big right? And someone has to design them. But the posters were rejected everywhere. I began to be worried that my artwork was no good. We artists aren’t usually the most self-confident individuals.

How do you handle rejection?

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Form Letter Rejections

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?

The adventure of books is the best.
The adventure of books is the best. | Source

I Reject You Right Back!

Personally, I can’t take too much rejection in one helping. I only sent out 2 or 3 submissions per week knowing that more than three rejections in one week would send spiraling into a depression that wouldn’t be easy to dig myself out of. That’s when one day I received 3 rejections all in one day. Hard to take. I thought about sitting down and crying but instead, I got mad. I mean really. Reject me will ya? I reject you! I began talking to the form letters (a sure sign of instability on my part) and decided to reject them right back.

E.E. Cummings

I’m not sure I would have the courage to do as E.E. Cummings did and write on the dedication page of his best-seller, The Enormous Room: “With No Thanks To” and list all 15 publishers who rejected the book. That is a great sense of humor.

Story about my sister, rejected for publication.
Story about my sister, rejected for publication. | Source

Children's Magazines

Later I started sending artwork along with small craft articles to children’s magazines. I had read that children’s magazines are always looking for craft projects that children can do with little or no adult supervision. I knew a few cute crafts and decided to write about them. Along with my illustrations, the articles got published. I moved on to little stories with illustrations and small history articles with my own illustrations. I’m not really a writer but I am not terrible at it, so the magazines were getting a two-for-one deal: author and illustrator. This could be how Maurice Sendak started.


Publishing Success

As time goes on, I am encouraged by the many rejections I have received, knowing I stand in the footsteps of greats who have gone before; all of whom were also rejected. I binders full of rejections are numerous but don’t outnumber some who were rejected. So I continue to work toward the goal of so many before me; published author/illustrator.


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