Tales of Rejection
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 conventionally American styles of children's book illustration because his characters looked rumpled and dumpy compared to the fresh-scrubbed, athletic children then 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.
"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.”
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.
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?
How do you handle rejection?
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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 till 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.
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.
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.
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.
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
The duo behind Chicken Soup for the Soul, was rejected by over 140 publisher 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.
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Sure now it has sold over 50 million copies but Anne of Green Gables was rejected by 5 publishers before being published in 1908. I personally can’t imagine childhood without Anne with an “e” and her “bosom friend” Diana, can you?
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.
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.