I have accumulated a big, beautiful pile of rejection letters over the years. I believe the more rejection letters you get, the easier it is to let them roll off your back and keep writing. But what really makes my pile beautiful is that I have identified some interesting patterns in the comments.
After submitting an animal poetry collection for about a year with no luck, I noticed that multiple editors commented that they especially liked my hibernation poem. This worked out perfectly because I love to wear pajamas, and I love to hibernate. I pulled that poem out, created a plot for it, and turned it into the picture book HIBERNATION STATION, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus.
For another project, I wrote a young chapter book about a beetle with super powers. Several editors commented that the concept was fun and unique. This feedback let me know I was on to something. But as more and more time went by (and rejection letters piled up), my agent and I both knew my chapter book was not taking flight. But hold on – wait a minute: I had done a LOT of bug research! I couldn’t let it all go to waste. I wasn’t ready to put this one in the drawer. I love to reject rejection.
I took a step back, went for a younger approach, and turned my rejected beetle into a trio of stink bugs who save other insects from harm. SUPER BUGS to the rescue! In addition to creating a rhyming story, I added my favorite bug facts as back matter. I was thrilled when a Scholastic editor quickly embraced my new version. Illustrator Bill Mayer ended up running the bug facts on the endpapers in both the front and the back of the book.
A manuscript transformation can happen in many ways, and it doesn’t always happen because of rejection. Transformation might include a change in character/s, plot, format, style, length, focus, audience….
For more examples of manuscript transformations, I checked in with my two favorite author Lizzes (This is a plural term for more than one Liz, but I might have made it up.)
Liz Garton Scanlon
Liz Garton Scanlon says that when she and Audrey Vernick teamed up to write a picture book in the epistolary form, they tried DEAR TOOTH FAIRY, DEAR DENTIST, and many other DEAR attempts. They shared a bunch of different drafts with editors, and their agent, Erin Murphy. But they had no takers.
I’m so glad Liz and Audrey didn’t give up. They eventually succeeded when they co-wrote DEAR SUBSTITUTE, which was published in 2018 and won numerous awards. The main character has to deal with a change in routine when substitute teacher Miss Pelly arrives.
Liz says, “It finally became clear that DEAR SUBSTITUTE was the ticket — child-centered, funny, relatable. And so that’s the one (thanks to editor Rotem Moscovitz and illustrator Chris Raschka) that sprang to life in the end.”
When Liz Kessler was living on a boat in England, she thought of a poem about a girl who lived with her mom on a boat and had a secret – she played with mermaids. Liz says, “One day I was sitting at home staring into space (a very important part of any writer’s life), and a couple of lines came into my head, which I quickly scribbled down…”
Liz thought maybe she had the seeds of a picture book. One of her author friends showed it to an editor, and the editor encouraged Liz to try turning the poem into a novel. Liz wrote one chapter and went on from there. She worked on the manuscript over time while in a degree program for creative writing. The result was her debut middle-grade novel for kids ages 8-12, THE TAIL OF EMILY WINDSNAP. When Emily goes into the water for her first swimming lesson, she discovers she turns into a mermaid.
Literary agent Catherine Clark placed the book with Orion, and Candlewick acquired rights to publish it in the United States. THE TAIL OF EMILY WINDSNAP was published in the United Kingdom in 2003, and there are nine swishy books in the series. The books have been translated into 25 languages and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.
To the drawer? Not so fast!
I think book creators shouldn’t be so quick to put projects in the drawer. I know sometimes the drawer is unavoidable. I have things in the drawer for sure. But I always take time to seriously consider whether there is anything at all that can be saved, expanded on, revitalized, or rejuvenated in some way. And I never throw manuscripts away because I want to be able to open up the drawer any time.
I’m always thinking: Could this manuscript be transformed into something totally new that could catch an editor’s attention? Just maybe…
One thing is for sure. I love to imagine the possibilities!
Thanks for reading & see you next time!
P.S. Congrats to Rebecca Gardyn Levington for winning a copy of THE LOST PACKAGE from my last blog post!