Friday 10 July 2015

Surviving Rejection

Encouragement and Advice
from EDGE Author Sara Grant

I received my first rejection letter in March 1982 when I was thirteen years old. Seventeen magazine felt that my poem The Unnoticed Love didn’t quite suit their current editorial needs. (Is it ironic or just unfair to receive a form rejection for a poem about being rejected?)

But the dissuasion started a few years earlier in elementary school when I turned in my first proper 
My first rejection letter
creative writing assignment. I always knew I wanted to be writer. I was thrilled that at long last I could demonstrate my skill. I was sure that my teacher would recognize the genius of my short story titled Adventures in the Bread Drawer. This would be my moment. My teacher would probably read it aloud to the class as an example of excellence. This would be the start of my illustrious writing career.

But alas no. When my teacher returned my story, it looked like a study in blood splatter. My teacher loved grading with a red ballpoint pen. The pages were covered with glaring red corrections. Back then I couldn’t spell and my grammar and punctuation were rather – shall I say – inventive. (This was the dark ages before computers – and spell check.) This was my first crushing artistic rejection. (I shared this anecdote recently at a school assembly and the head teacher came up to me afterwards and said the same thing happened to her. Young discouraged writers unite!)

Those were my first rejections, but they certainly weren’t my last. I’ve received more than my fair share of rejection letters from agents and editors on both sides of the Atlantic. I considered them badges of courage. They demonstrated my commitment to my goal.

The path to publication can be long and bumpy. I don’t know a writer whose past isn’t littered with rejection. Tenacity and openness – your willingness to listen and learn – are the real keys to getting published. I know so many writers who never finish a novel or worse yet, let a rejection signal the death knell of their writing careers.

I’ve heard writers say things to the effect of “I’ll give it a year” or “if I don’t get an agent with this story, then I give up.” Please don’t. If you want to be a published writer with every fibre of your being – give it as long as it takes. 

Sure, getting published is about writing an original and compelling story, but it’s also a little about luck and a lot about things that are out of a writer’s control.

So how do you keep the faith in the face of rejection?

When I submit a manuscript, I immediately start the next story. Not the next book in the same series but a brand new original work. I don’t pin all my hopes on one project. Sometimes we must abandon stories – maybe not forever. (I blogged about leaving my dark past behind.) Maybe in a few years the market will change or you will discover how to revise your story to make it publishable.

Why not consider writing something completely different? If writing for teens, experiment with a story for young readers. If drawn to romance, try horror. You might be surprised that your writing sparkles when you experiment with an unexpected genre, or writing for an older audience suits your writing style better. Finding a publishable story can be similar to singing karaoke. I love Bon Jovi but when I tried to sing Living on a Prayer it was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe the stories you enjoy reading aren’t the stories you should be writing.

One of the many wonderful things about being a writer is that no writing is ever wasted. The novel you think will be your ticket to publication may, in fact, be an apprentice piece that hones your skills and paves the way for the novel that will lift you from the slush pile. That character you adore might find a home in a future story. That world you’ve created might simply need new inhabitants.

I often say I should be the publishing poster-child for ‘never give up’. I received my first rejection letter in 1982 and my first book deal in 2009. My advice: Write with passion. Revise with zeal. Experiment. Read and learn from fellow writers. Persevere in the face of rejection. Enjoy the act of writing. And in the words of the 1980s rock band Journey but usurped by the TV show Glee – Don’t stop believing!

Upcoming Event for Writers
Sara and the Book Bound Team will offer a one-day workshop – From Idea to Acquisitions – on Saturday 19 September 2015 in Edinburgh. Whether you have an idea or a completed manuscript, this workshop will help you fine tune your idea and pitch package as well as offer insider insights into publishers’ acquisition processes. For more details, visit

Undiscovered Voices
Submissions are open for Undiscovered Voices – an anthology with the aim of helping writers and
illustrators of children’s fiction find agents, editors and ultimately readers.
Undiscovered Voices has launched the careers of nearly 30 writers and illustrators, who have gone on to publish more than 120 books. These authors have been nominated for and won an amazing array of literary prizes: including the Carnegie Medal, Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, Branford Boase Award, Blue Peter Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and nearly 30 regional awards.

I’m on the team that organizes the competition. I love watching the submissions roll in and dreaming of the talent we’ll discover. If you are un-agented, unpublished and a member of SCBWI, please submit your work for consideration in Undiscovered Voices. It’s one road to publication – not the only one.

About Sara Grant
Sara Grant has worked on both sides of the editorial desk. She has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Her two YA novels – Dark Parties (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Europe) and Half Lives – are futuristic thrillers. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. Sara is currently developing a new action-adventure series for tweens with Scholastic. She leads writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as part of Book Bound and guest lectures at the University of Winchester.
Twitter: @authorsaragrant

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