Wednesday, May 13, 2009

rejection letters

My new picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist, was the first manuscript I ever submitted, and it was acquired by the first editor who read it. In a business where rejection letters have earned a reputation as a necessary evil and writers wait years for their first book contract, how did I make my first sale so quickly? I circumvented the slush pile, and when my window of opportunity opened, I made the most of it.


Soon after leaving a full-time management career to stay home with my two young daughters, I registered for a class about children's writing at our local community college. What began as a whim became my passion, and two years later I attended the annual conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), submitting my favorite picture-book manuscript for critique.

My story was read by author Linda Ashman, who turned out to be a valuable connection. At the end of our meeting, I asked if she'd recommend an editor who might be interested in my manuscript. She suggested I send it to her editor at Dutton. Six weeks later, I received a two-page, single-spaced revision letter. The editor loved the main character and premise--but wanted a whole new story!

I spent three months "re-visioning" my manuscript, returned it, then waited three months for a reply. But I wasn't finished yet--Dutton wanted more changes. This cycle repeated twice, and a year after my original submission, I received a contract.

My family and friends expected a copy of the finished book within weeks. I became an expert at explaining the publishing process, specifically: why my book wouldn't be available for at least two years. If only it had happened that quickly! Five years and two illustrators later, my book hit the shelves.

What I learned

I'd heard that picture books are a tough sell in the current market, and finding an agent is even harder. Taking a cue from my previous business experience, I turned my conference connection into a networking opportunity. I used my critique session to politely and professionally ask for assistance toward my publishing goal, and it worked.

Once I created that opportunity, I had to make the most of it. The revision letters I received were daunting, but I knew that making the requested changes could get me one step closer to a sale. My editor's advice was spot-on and helped make my good story great.

I never imagined it would take five years from contract to finished book, but I learned the process is surprisingly lengthy. Many variables, including an illustrator's availability, production timelines, and list management affect the final publication date. This waiting period, however, allowed me to develop other aspects of my writing career and make new contacts that were helpful when my book eventually came out. I sold stories to anthologies, taught a writing class, and wrote articles for local and national magazines. This freelance work also helped pay for additional writing conferences.


Create your own opportunities. Many publishers are closing their doors to unsolicited submissions; those who still accept them often receive a staggering number. Writing conferences, professional organizations, and even book signings provide ways to connect with editors, agents and authors in person. While most will not accept manuscripts at the event, they will often share contact information for future submissions.

Be open to suggestions and make revisions. After submitting my original manuscript, I thought the hardest part was over. But it was still to come. Yet, by working through the changes, I learned about story rhythm and character development, lessons I'll apply to future manuscripts. Listen to the advice of professionals, and keep an open mind.

Make the most of down time. Once the manuscript is out of your hands, keep busy by updating your contact files, brainstorming marketing ideas, or exploring a new writing genre. Even nonwriting time, used efficiently, can help you accomplish your writing goals.

Ruth Spiro has been published in FamilyFun, CHILD and Woman's World. She is a contributor to several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. Lester Fizz, BubbleGum Artist is her first children's book. Web:

Source Citation:Spiro, Ruth. "Lots of revisions, waiting led to 'overnight' success.(Breakthrough: A writer's success story)." The Writer 122.6 (June 2009): 14. Popular Magazines. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 13 May 2009


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Len Wilson

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