Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rejection - and More Rejection

The story of an author's life is rejection.

At the very least, any author's life is going to have a considerable amount of rejection in it: rejection of manuscripts by editors, rejection of published projects by disparaging reviewers, rejection of even critically acclaimed work by some reader somewhere who just doesn't love our book, story, article, or poem.

I've had rejection throughout my long career. You could say that I got my start as a published author by getting rejections. . . from myself. When I worked as an editorial secretary at Scholastic almost 40 years ago, I submitted manuscripts to Scholastic under a pseudonym - and I was the one who had to type my own rejection letters. Over the intervening decades plenty of projects have been turned down even by editors who loved me. I've gotten my share of hurtful reviews, including one from The New York Times so scathing that friends all around the country sent me messages of condolence. I am hardly a stranger to rejection.

But lately it seems that I'm getting more rejections than ever before.

Part of the reason is that it's simply tougher to get a book published these days. I used to be able to get a contract for a book from a one-page synopsis if my editor was enthusiastic enough about it. Nowadays, awakening an editor's enthusiasm is just the first of many hurdles that have to be cleared: editorial enthusiasm; approval at a meeting of the entire editorial staff; approval from the editor-in-chief; and then approval at an acquisitions committee meeting at which marketing and sales staff are also present. And nowadays, there are so venues through which authors receive reviews, such as the website Goodreads, where thousands of strangers can weigh in on the merits of one's work. The people who decades ago would have hated a book of mine in private can now voice their hatred in public - and do.

The world has simply become a more rejecting place.

But part of the reason I'm getting more rejections than ever before may have to do with me. I'm getting older. This doesn't mean I'm getting fail and feeble! But it may mean that I'm getting not just old, but old-fashioned, clinging to a literary style shaped by the books of the mid-20th-century I so loved when I was a child. I need to keep on growing and changing. But getting older can also mean getting a teensy bit, well, more tired, and also maybe a teensy bit more accepting of that fact that I'm unlikely ever to write the Great American Novel - a teensy bit more contented with the modest-but-lovely success I've had.

Last year I posted on this blog a list of my recent rejections. I just re-read it. I listed five rejections there:
1) rejection of a proposal for a chapter book series from my publisher;
2) a second revise-and-resubmit report on a children's literature journal article;
3) disappointing spring royalties;
4) disappointing attendance at my sessions at a children's literature festival I attend every year;
5) rejection of a proposal to speak at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference.

In reviewing this list almost a year later, I now note that:
1) I just received a rejection on ANOTHER proposal for a chapter book series from the same publisher. I still don't have that contract in hand. WAH!
2) The journal article has been published, much better for yet another round of revisions, and I'm enormously proud of it: "'Better Times Are Coming Now for All People': Wartime Dreams and Disillusionment in Rufus M."is now available in Children's Literature in Education.
3) My fall royalty statement returned to its usual level; the spring dip was an anomaly rather than a forecaster of a trend of decline;
4) I was invited back to that same festival for this spring even though the festival now has a new director - and is now paying attending authors twice as much as before.
5) I just presented a talk at the Denver Children's Book Authors Salon that was probably the best talk on craft I've ever given.

So: one rejection (the most important one, alas!) is still haunting me. I rebounded from the other four just fine.

2017 has already brought me two painful rejections, both on book projects. I can't say I'm not worried. I am.

But I'm not terrified.

Rejection is just part of an author's life. And it just so happens that I am an author.

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