Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The rest of the story

A few weeks ago, Corey at Thing One and Thing Two asked me to share the behind-the-scenes story of my journey to publishing Maggie's Monkeys, which was a fun thing to write about. It seems like many aspiring writers are heartened by hearing of a book succeeding after years of rejections.

I'm not one of those writers. I wish I was, but I have to admit that the realities of trying to get published flatten me and leave me feeling little hope. I respect writers who can keep submitting and keep believing in the possibilities of getting published even in the face of such overwhelming odds. I'm just not one of them.

Yes, Maggie's Monkeys got published -- and that experience has been wonderful. But while I'm delighted to have my picture book out there in the world and thankful for all the forces that came together to make it happen, I am not convinced it means anything for future submissions.

As I wrote in my guest post, it took about nine years from when I wrote the first version of the story until I had the book in my hands. It was rejected 18 times in the six years between first submission and acceptance by Candlewick. Those were hardly my only rejections in the 12 years or so I've been submitting. In total, I've received nearly 250 rejections on 15 or 20 different stories, ranging from picture books to YA novels.

In the three years from MM's acceptance to publication (everything moves so slowly in this business!), I detected no difference in how my submissions were received by editors. A couple other pieces got close -- once a picture book went to an acquisitions meeting, another time an editor responded to a manuscript by suggesting a particular genre and sending an example of a book whose style she thought I could succeed at. But I got no other offers. Not even on the book I wrote at the editor's suggestion. No nibbles.

I despaired of ever getting another book published and began to see Maggie's Monkeys as the end of my children's writing career. I pulled back from the whole business, tired of the awfulness of it all. There is awfulness, no doubt about it. Some of the hardest parts for me are the rejections that say an editor loves the book and would love to publish it but doesn't think it would stand out in the marketplace. In a world where librarians and independent booksellers are drowned out by chain stores and online outlets, the mix of books being published has changed. In the last couple of years, the economy has made the business even tougher.

If this were fiction, I'd write in a happier ending here. But the truth is that getting published is harder than ever, and I don't know if I have a future in it or not. I'm trying to write for myself and not focus on getting published -- trying to recapture the love of writing that started me down this path so long ago.

Meanwhile, I have the joy of a book for children with my name on it and the chance to hear readers' reactions to it. I'm delighted with how Maggie's Monkeys has been received and I've made lots of connections with people because of it. People like Corey have found their way to the story and reached out to me, and it's been one of the best experiences of my life. I try not to think of it in terms of getting a foot in the door, but simply to be happy for it as it is. As Farmer Hoggett would say, "That'll do, Pig."