COMMUNITY LEARNING HUB: ONLINE MODULES

6.8 THE GIFT OF REJECTION

Whether you call it a pass, a near miss, or a ‘not this time,’ there’s nothing that can really take the sting out of a rejection. A walk, a slice of cake or a chinwag with someone who understands might soften the blow, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the story you put your heart and soul into, hasn’t been snapped up like you’d hoped. 

However, all is not lost! 

No wasted word, character or plot

I’m of the opinion that no word, character or plot point is wasted. You might not know it at the time, and some rejections take longer than others to recover from, but these things have a strange way of finding their way into future work. 

As an example, back in 2016 I sent a story to a publisher about a child and penguin. The editor liked the humour and felt there was potential, although said she’d found the first person voice a bit limiting. She invited me to rewrite the story in third person, and I agreed. I was pleased with the rewrite and third person perspective gave me scope to add to the humour. Unfortunately, the editor had gone a bit cold on the idea. They didn’t like it enough to take it further and so that was the end of the line for Luke and his penguin. 

Or so I thought!

Requesting a rewrite

My agent sent the revised text out on submission and it received high praise from several editors at Quarto. But…they asked if I’d consider writing the text in dialogue only, with a more unusual animal character. Apparently, there are already quite a few famous penguins out there! 

I obliged and the text was taken on. I rewrote the story, changing the penguin for a duck and the boy called Luke became a girl called Dot. I had to change the title, too…but several months later How Selfish was born!

If only it was that easy…!

Back to the drawing board

On request, I’d written a few further titles and short pitches for the acquisitions meeting in case the concept was developed into a series. At this point, the team felt How Rude! would be a stronger title to lead the series with and not How Selfish! Of course, this text didn’t exist…

…yet! Back to the drawing (or writing) board!

Dialogue-only books can appear ridiculously easy to write, but in my experience they’re absolutely not! In fact, with a word count of around 60 words, I think How Rude! might have been the trickiest to write yet. Did you know there are lots of different, but closely connected, kinds of rude?! Neither did I! 

Phew! Sometime later both texts were acquired, and the illustrator Olivier Tallec began to work his magic, bringing the characters, Dot and Duck, to life. (Cue, more revisions and changes!) All in all, I’d been working on the penguin/duck story on and off for four years. How Rude! published in 2018 and How Selfishwas welcomed into the world in 2020. 

Resilience is key

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that for writers resilience is key. However successful someone appears, rejection is par for course. I’ve had funny, fiction texts rejected that have been reworked and accepted as lyrical, non-fiction. Rejection isn’t nice, but it’s what you do about it and how you handle it that matters. 

Like many authors, I look back now and cringe at some of the drafts I sent on submission. Those who’ve taken the WriteMentor seven week online picture book course recently will have had the pleasure (?) of seeing a text of mine from 2013! I also spent far too much time on manuscripts that were never going to hit the mark. I was convinced that my story ideas were fabulous and that other people just couldn’t see it. 

Resilience is key

Fast forward a few years and now I see that I learned something in all each and every rejected manuscript. There was a nugget of something special in story one, but they weren’t right for the market. This ‘failure’ taught me steps to improve and succeed. Even for those submissions that didn’t receive personalised feedback, I was able to look back and see my own mistakes in time. Through rejection, I learned so much about crafting stories, about the literary industry and about myself as a writer. Rejection hurts, but it can also help. 

Be flexible and creative with feedback

People say that there’s a lot of ‘luck’ in publishing and I believe this to be true. But I also think it’s important to be creative with feedback and most importantly, flexible. You just never know where a piece of advice or feedback might lead! 

I’m so very glad that I have been open to working in this way. Dot and Duck are brilliant characters to share at festivals and events. Children love the interactive role play! 

In my experience, how you handle rejection is much more important than the dreaded deed itself.  

(But of course, it still SUCKS! …and that’s ok)


Clare is a children’s writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts – sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015 and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. She also writes for the Maverick Early Readers scheme. You can find out more about Clare on her website http://www.clarehelenwelsh.com and by following her on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh

Clare is also our Writer in Residence for the Hub, and teaches our online Picture Book course.