Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rejection Redux

Tonight is my last class for this semester's Writing for Children's Books at RISD, and it’s rejection night. That’s right: this is the evening that I bring in my teetering pile of rejection letters and my students look aghast for a little while. A depressing way to end? I don’t think so at all.

They’re going to get rejection letters. Everyone does. The more rejection letters they get, the closer they’ll be to an acceptance. Each one is a necessary step. Each a rite of passage. Each an opportunity to revise and try again. And rejection letters do tend, after a while, to evolve, as I explain in class.

There’s always a student who says, “You actually keep them?!”

Of course I do. I was sifting through the pile this morning and found six “positive” rejections for a picture book I’d shelved some time ago. Now I’m thinking it might be time to get that text out and revise it. Take a good hard look after letting it ferment and see what I can do to make it viable. Apparently there’s something there to work with, which I wouldn’t have considered without the letters.

As I was researching author rejection statistics, I also came across this great little interview with the wonderful Kate diCamillo who apparently was rejected 397 times (sources vary on the number, and I saw as many as 500 times) before she found a  home for the 2001 Newbery Honor book Because of Winn Dixie.

So today I thought I’d repost my thoughts on rejection from last year:

Rejection is What You Make It

My first form rejection made me cry. I think. I really don’t remember it that well, though at the time I probably felt I'd never forget the sting. In the twelve years since then, I’ve had many rejections. Somewhere along the way, ‘positive rejections’ began to outnumber form rejections, and after a time I gathered a few non-rejections—um, I mean ‘acceptances.’ Form letter induced tears have given way to forced laughter, then grim-but-determined smiles, wry sighs, and now indifferent shrugs.

All of this is par for the course. And it’s a challenging course. It’s not for the faint of heart. It will:

  • bamboozle the uninitiated
  • overwhelm the lazy
  • shrivel up the gutless
  • stymie the passive aggressive faster than they can wail, “It’s not my fault, it’s theirs!”
  • quickly teach you whether or not you’re a quitter.

 Achieving publication requires:
  • guts
  • stamina
  • passion
  • hard work
  • vision
  • professionalism
  •  a hearty dose of mindless, blind faith that success is just around the corner… or the next… or the next...
  • the belief that the journey, the lovely people met along the way, and the countless hours spent learning, creating, crafting, revising, and editing are worth the struggle
  • niceness.

Glorious and bountiful form rejections:
  • force you to be a better writer
  • show your developmental arc as a writer
  • teach you to accept rejection (any kind of rejection in *Life!*) with dignity, learn from it, shrug off any residual pain, and bloody just get on with it
  • tell you you’re probably gutsy, strong, passionate, hard-working, accepting, professional, and if you’re not already, at least on the way to being nice. And cool. And dignified. And visionary! And possibly slightly delusional, but that’s ok... You’re a writer.


  1. Great Post, Marlo- and also love the video- great way to start my writing time- reading your blog. thank you!

  2. Love the upended birdie...and your thoughts on rejection...and Kate's video. Thanks for the great post, Marlo.

  3. Wonderful inspiration for both the published and pre-published writers. We all continue to get rejections and need to read well written articles like yours that will keep us going. Thanks for sharing, especially about Kate DiCamillo. I hadn't heard that before.

  4. That was a wonderful post. My future readers thank you for the kick in the pants.

  5. Persistence is more important than truth.
    - Charles Bukowski

  6. Hah! And I just got another rejection in my inbox. Hurrah! Huzzah! Onwards and upwards... and a little bit sidewards.

  7. Wonderful timing!

    Kate's interview is excellent, and I love the last bullet point in your post.

  8. Wonderful post, and I'm so glad I came across it via a recommendation from Jennifer Cervantes. I just got another rejection, and was feeling the old tired "sigh" inside, and now I feel cheered to get on with it yet again.

  9. Encouraging. We can't control much in the publishing world, but we can persist.

  10. Thanks for this post, Marlo! Stamina and guts are what we all need and sometimes we need to be reminded. Loved the video of Kate!

  11. Thanks, Marlo. I finally found your blog due to this post! Mentor Eric Kimmel told me "Persistence and volume should be your mantra."

  12. So truet: "and after a time I gathered a few non-rejections—um, I mean ‘acceptances.’"

    It seems most writers tend to look at the negative way of things... "non rejection" vs. acceptance.

    Thanks for this post. Important to hear.