I’ve got a picture book manuscript making the rounds with publishers these days. I teamed up with illustrator Jennifer Sattler, who lives not far in Saratoga. She’s incredible.
(And, clearly, she’s slumming).
It was nice to collaborate for a change. The process was refreshing, open-hearted and often hilarious — together we came away convinced that this was a good story, a meaningful story, borderline brilliant, and we were confident that it would find a publisher. Maybe a few.
That hasn’t quite happened yet. We are told that summertime is slow. Nonetheless we still received a few rapid rejections, like machine gun fire. But this time we had each other, which was new for me in this mostly solitary business.
Here’s the thing. Despite all the best advice, my usual reaction to rejection is to . . . believe it. I get defeated and figure they are probably right. And it changes the way I view the manuscript, and my own worth. I guess I do suck.
WARNING: Don’t try this at home, people!
I mean to say: That’s not a pro tip. The smart money tells us to believe, believe, believe. To hang in there, pull up our socks, keep plugging away, have faith, blah blah blabbity blah.
After one disappointing rejection, I texted Jen: “This stupid business is going to break my heart.“
She texted me back: “It’s okay. Someone will get it, it’s a great story.”
Nice, right? Just what I needed to hear. I even kind of believed her for an entire afternoon.
Last week, while out on the Cape, dodging tornadoes and sharks, I awoke to the memory of an anxiety dream. An editor replied that our book was either the best thing she’s ever read or the worst, she couldn’t be sure, and for that reason was sorry to reject my submission.
Ha, ha, ha. It felt then, and still feels now, about right.
I’ve never had great success with picture books. I’ve had seven published over the years. I’ve discovered that a typical reply from a picture book editor is that the story didn’t knock her socks off. Imagine how that feels to the writer. It’s a fair desire, I suppose — kablooey, socks blown off feet — but such an elusive, arbitrary goal to achieve. How does one knock someone else’s socks off, especially if she is wearing shoes? Simply write something amazing, I suppose.
I guess that’s the business. As we say in children’s publishing, it’s a bunny eat bunny world.
That same morning, I opened an email and learned that my upcoming novel, Blood Mountain (Macmillan, October 10), was just named a Junior Library Guild selection. It’s a huge honor and an encouraging sign at a time when the book has not yet been reviewed (October pub date). A bellwether of future success! That’s the third novel of mine that has earned such a nod from the folks at the Junior Library Guild, including Bystander and The Courage Test. I’m extremely grateful to them for shining the spotlight. Books tend to get lost in the flood.
So there we have it: Despair and small triumph before I have my second cup of coffee. What a business.
And, oh yes, I have a new book out today. It’s pub day for Bee the Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the third book in the “Big Idea Gang” trilogy.
I ain’t dead yet.