Monday 21 July 2014

Manuscript Rejection no Big Deal!

Many new writers are often discouraged from furthering their careers because publishers reject their manuscripts. The successful writer is often one who persists in the face of rejected manuscripts – and repeated rejections at that. My YA novel, The Last Refuge, a book about children who are victims of domestic violence, took five years of submissions before it was placed with the 16th Australian publisher to whom I sent it. Hodder Headline published it in and subsequently sold rights to Denmark and Italy. The book was highly commended in the Australian Family Therapy Association Awards.

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God published by my husband Bill Condon was entered in eleven different book competitions by his publisher (Woolshed Press); it was short-listed in only one (which it won – the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award). It didn’t even get a CBCA Notable Book Guernsey!

In this article I tell of other children’s authors’ quests to have book manuscripts accepted, who persisted despite numerous rejections to finally receive a publishing contract.

Escape by Deluge by Edel Wignell was rejected for seven years by every Australian publisher, many of whom cited it as being 'too local'. Finally it was accepted; rights were then sold to the UK, USA and Sweden, and the book remained in print for five years. Edel reports that one of her manuscripts went out 53 times before acceptance!

Vashti Farrar has found that manuscripts she submitted many years ago which were rejected as too way out at the time, have in most cases found a niche somewhere. At that time she was writing a number of spoof fairy tales before Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes appeared, although her efforts were not in verse. One case in point was the original version of Princess Euphorbia – then called The Prince Frog, which Vashti wrote when Princess Anne got married to Mark Phillips. “Amusing, but too extreme” was the basic rejection message. However, she eventually sold it to NSW School Magazine as “Green Piece” and then resold it to Addison Wesley Longman as a SupaDooper: it was then re-issued by Pearson Education as a play. By this time of course, it was no longer seen as too way out, just wacky.

 Another manuscript, Vashti says, was rejected by a publishing house with the message it would never be accepted by teachers because it used words with dropped h’s and g’s. Again, NSW School Magazine snapped it up and reprinted it and it has also been taken as a play by Pearson. Vashti says, ”Apart from all the usual reasons for manuscripts being rejected, one should not forget that writing themes and styles do go in and out of fashion and it might be wise to stick it in a bottom drawer and try rewriting it in 6 months or a year’s time.”

Wendy Orr’s junior novel, Ark in the Park was rejected by “about” six publishers, with comments such as “too sad for children to relate to,” and “a sweet story but an awkward length” before being published by HarperCollins in 1994. It went on to win the 1995 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, and has since been published in the UK, USA, Japan, France and Italy. Although Wendy is not sure of the book’s total figures, it is still in the Educational Lending Rights’ top 100 list (that is, books purchased by educational libraries in Australia.)

Sue Bursztynski has had experience of submitting a children’s non-fiction manuscript several times and not succeeding with the book itself, but using the material from it for something she did succeed in selling. Her book proposal on the subject of horses didn't go through, but the re-written sample chapter on the Australian champion race-horse, Phar Lap, became an article which not only sold, but was requested for e-publishing in the US. Sue’s archaeology book proposal ended up as a book for the education publishing industry and she got an article out of it.

Sue says, “I wrote a couple of books for Allen and Unwin, for the True Stories series, back in the early/mid '90s. One was on monsters (Monsters and Creatures of the Night,), the other on women scientists (Potions to Pulsars: Women Doing Science). Bits of both books have been re-printed elsewhere, by the publishers' arrangement, and she later received a couple of hundred dollars from the re-print of a chapter of her first book in an Asian school textbook.

Sue submitted a proposal for a book on horses. Editor Sarah Brennan liked the idea, but the book didn’t proceed, so Sue re-worked the chapter on Phar Lap and sent it to the NSW School Magazine, which published it. “They don't care what you do with an article after they've published it,” Sue says. The SM editor passed on to her the information that a company in the US called SIRS.COM wanted to re-publish it on CD ROM. They search children's magazines around the world and ask for materials they like. Sue received another US $100 for it. SIRS.COM re-published a few of her articles.

Sue also produced a proposal on archaeologists, but Omnibus, her publisher at the time, had decided not to do any more books in the Extraordinary series, so she peddled the proposal around until she sold a shortened version to Nelson for an education book. That book has since sold over 31,000 copies. A section of the original proposal became an article for Sydney Morning Herald.

HarperCollins simply loved Sue’s proposal on the subject of freaks and medical curiosities. Unfortunately, it was too politically incorrect for Book Club and they simply couldn't raise the money to publish it. She re-worked the sample chapter, did further research on another proposed chapter and sold two articles to School Magazine.

The message from Sue – also from Edel Wignell and other children’s writers is, if you don't sell your book, don't despair – you can always re-cycle!

Janette Brazel reports that two of her books were 'grunge' in nature and had been doing the rounds of publishers for over 12 months. Hector the Protector and Leave it to Weevil  were both accepted by Limelight Publishing, the sixth publisher to which they were submitted.

Pam Graham tells that ten years ago she wrote a story for nine to twelve-year-olds: over the years she submitted it to fourteen publishers.  After a few rejections, a letter came offering to publish her story.  “I was elated until I read that I was expected to pay $8,500 for them to go ahead with it. Nowhere in the info about this publisher did it say they wanted the author to pay costs,” said Pam. She continued submitting her story to other publishers, both small and large.  Some time later, after reading the first three chapters, Macmillan asked to read the rest of the manuscript.  She sent it off but it was returned about eight months later.  Then, after reading the complete manuscript, Queensland University Press asked if she could add about 10,000 words and re-submit it.  She did so, without success. 

Pam says, “When I first began writing, I was told it was a definite no-no to send a manuscript to more than one publisher at a time.  Because I stuck to this 'rule', by the time I got each rejection it meant that an average of six months had been wasted.  This really eats up the years.  

“A few months ago I submitted it to a publisher who organises primary school reading series for a major publisher and was rewarded with success.  Admittedly, publishers' requirements change as do their editors, and I have now signed a contract with one of those fourteen who had already rejected it.”

These are just a few tales from published Australian children’s writers who have persisted with submission – and also recycled rejected material – until they’ve succeeded in selling their work. My most consecutive manuscript rejections is 47 – and then, voila! Success!

For the past 30 years I have kept records of my manuscript acceptances and rejections. Looking at records for the past seven years, I note that my average acceptance rate is 12.5%; this means that for every eight manuscripts I submit, one is likely to be accepted. Whether this indicates I’m a ‘successful’ writer or not, I don’t know. What is a fact, though, is that in 30 years I’ve had well over 120 books published and countless stories, poems and articles.

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to be aware that publishers reject more manuscripts than they accept; consequently you will also receive more rejections than acceptances. Persistence is the name of the game!

Some of Dianne (Di) Bates' books have won national and state literary awards; others have sold overseas.  Di has received Grants and Fellowships from the Literature Board of the Australia Council and has toured for the National Book Council. Di worked on the editorial team of the NSW Department of Education School Magazine; she was also co-editor of a national children’s magazine, Puffinalia (Penguin Books) and editor of the children’s magazine, Little Ears.

In 2008, Di was awarded The Lady Cutler Prize for distinguished services to children’s Literature. Her latest book is a junior novel, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). Currently Di works as a freelance writer and manuscript assessor. Her website is  


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