Thursday, 28 June 2012

My Favourite Rejection by Jane Clarke

Like many people, I started off with a couple of years of unremitting rejection before going on to be published.  These days, even with an agent, and lots of books behind me, I have around a 3 in 4 failure rate for getting picture book stories published, so I can claim to be experienced.  If I send a story to my agent and she just comments ‘that’s very sweet,’ I know it’s doomed from the start.



The stories my agent likes enough to send on to an editor sometimes go on to be accepted, but they’re frequently rejected at various stages in the publishing process. It’s disappointing when an editor loves a story but can’t get it past marketing - and it’s most disappointing when ‘low sales projections’ mean the project is ditched after contracts are signed and colour artwork is in (something that has only happened to me once, I’m pleased to say).

One of the advantages of having an agent is that a gentle’ no’ filters back to me – often leavened with humour. I couldn’t help a wry smile when the news of the rejection of a story called Chirpy Chicks came to me in an email entitled ‘not so chirpy chicks’.  These days, I take rejection philosophically (after all, nobody got hurt or died) and by the time I hear that my agent has done all she can for a particular story, I’ve already moved on to other ideas.  And I prefer to think positively – a 3 in 4 failure rate is a 1 in 4 success rate. YAY!

I’m often not given a reason for a rejection, beyond ‘not strong enough’ or ‘not right for our list.’  But just occasionally the reasons are very specific, and can even make me laugh. My favourite rejection concerns a picture book story about a dung beetle:

 ‘…we enjoyed reading your story, but we felt that the pictures would be too brown…’

Do you have a favourite reason for being rejected?


37 comments:

  1. I've just had one that says that the story is 'too commercial'. Doesn't that mean that it would sell well? Isn't that what publishers are after?!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'd think that'd make it a winner!

      Delete
  2. Really enjoyed this, Jane. And Pippa, that's a new one to me! It's like code.
    I had a story with kangaroos (kangaroos were intrinsic to the story). I was told that outside of Australia, the problem was that not many children would know about kangaroos (especially in the USA). I suspect that if they'd truly loved the story they'd have got around that. After all, what of AA Milne's Roo and Kanga?!

    Whilst another story was rejected because the characters were spiders. Seems too many people don't like spiders.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Read this one to an American friend - currently rendered speechless

      Delete
    2. Were they in shock because they'd just heard about kangaroos for the first time? :P

      Delete
  3. Kids don't know about kangaroos????? Amazing! I had someone tell me that 'kids don't like stories about talking animals any more'. Editors used to say 'kids don't like stories with wizards in any more'....Oooh, you've got me started, now, Jane! I'll have to go and have a lie-down.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In the early days, before I had an agent, I sent something to Transworld, and never heard back. Two years later I sent them another one. Their reply: 'We were glad to hear from you again, because we quite liked the story you sent us previously. Unfortunately the cleaning lady mistook it for rubbish and put it in the bin, so we were unable to respond.' Too much information!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Love your post, Jane! And your dung beetle rejection made me laugh out loud!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I chased up a ms once and was told that yes 'it has been rejected and destroyed'. They really didn't like it.
    Great post, Jane and heartening to hear your acceptance rate!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh dear! Made me snort with laughter, Addy :-)

      Delete
  7. I had a rejection once, where, scribbled on the complements slip, were the words "Sorry, Nick, but I really didn't understand this at all!"

    Given that the same book had got a couple of full MS reads from other agents, I just had to shake my head and wonder what would have made sense!

    ReplyDelete
  8. My favourite rejections are the helpful ones - one suggested I join SCBWi which I did and stayed - another gave me 4 pages of notes even though they felt the story wasn't right for them. The worst are the ones who say 'I guess we've left it too late so we're going to pass'! Nooooooo........

    I think I prefer them being filtered by my agent but sometimes I miss the interaction with the publisher - you know, like a naughty child craves attention of ANY kind. That's me. Kick me if you like but just notice I'm here :o)

    ReplyDelete
  9. My very first rejection said no, but that they liked the story and it had potential... and 'the ending was particularly satisfactory'. My husband has since been know to say, after finishing a really bad book: 'the ending was particularly satisfactory...' I don't think that's actually what they meant and it wasn't bad for my first ever rejection but it's stuck with me. I've had a similar 'pictures too dark' for a book about a girl and her shadow character (rather than too brown!). Thanks for the post, Jane. Always good to share rejections!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I recently had a flattering comment - 'unique storytelling' (they still turned it down). 'Too gentle' is another no-no. Oh, and what about, 'we already have a pig'?

    LOVED your dung beetle rejection, Jane. And 'kids don't know about kangaroos' - WHAT?

    Kathryn - being totally ignored is the pits - I'm with you there, and it even happens when you're agented.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. particulary enjoyed 'we already have a pig'

      Delete
  11. I love you beetle rejection too ....

    My best one to date:

    "I rather like this ... but there are some parents who may not thank us for encouraging their daughters to jump out of trees."

    ReplyDelete
  12. (And though I LOVE YOU - beetle rejection, I also love YOUR beetle rejection, ahem ...)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great post, Jane, though I though kids couldn't get enough poo!
    My favourite rejection was for a picture book where the characters were bouncing and stretching and climbing and wobbling and falling and the comment was 'it will all be a bit too static.! Jill Atkins

    ReplyDelete
  14. Definitely not my favorite but certainly my most common from lit. agents is "My present client list is full and we are not taking on any new ones at this time",

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post.

    Mine are:

    "like the story but we can't see how you can make a tortoise cute enough for a picture book."

    "Everyone in the office roared with laughter at your story but we're not sure parents would want to share with their children."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. now I really want to read the second one, Lynne!

      Delete
  16. I was just about to submit my manuscript to a publisher when I noticed this post, and I'm so glad I read it first. I'm 99.9% positive I'll get a rejection, but it's great to know that all you published authors (I've got a book coming out next year, but I don't feel even nearly published yet!)are often rejected and take it with such good humour. When the inevitable rejection lands in my inbox I hope I can see the funny side.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck, Elli, glad this post helped a bit.

      Delete
    2. Just received my rejection. Ah well, 'twas to be expected...

      Delete
  17. This is great. Re. 'too brown', that's exactly what I thought about The Incredible Book-eating Boy.

    ReplyDelete
  18. My all-time fav came during school holidays - it was a form letter neatly signed in large schoolboy printing, 'Willie'. Somehow I didn't feel my ms received a full consideration!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I loved reading all these post. It still gives me hope yet :-) I havent got a specific rejection that sticks in my mind but I have had a ms returned to me though without a rejection letter to accompany it!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I am not published, so all I have had are rejections! But, actually, just a few because I have just started submitting. This post was so good for me to read. I laughed at the dung beetle rejection...so funny. I haven't gotten upset with my rejections...of course, I am disappointed but thanks to folks like you sharing, I realize it is part of the road to publication. I figure I have to get some rejections under my belt before I'll get a "yes".

    ReplyDelete
  21. Great blog Jane! I had a similar one to Nick, three agents asked for the full and are all still interested (crossed fingers). Email from number four agent said 'Knew from the synopsis it was a definite no and your writing did nothing to change my mind.' Had to chuckle at the harsh honesty! I'd have been quite disheartened if that had been my first reply. Just shows how subjective it all is!

    ReplyDelete