October 29, 2012

Curses! Rejected, again!

Today, author Traci McDonald shares her thoughts on rejection and inspiration.

I can’t stop reading the letter over and over. "We appreciate your submission; unfortunately it does not meet our current publishing needs.” But when the words become branded across my mind, I no longer need to read the rejection again.    

I must be crazy. I am not a writer. I’m a hack, an amateur, a dreamer. What was I thinking? All these thoughts plague my heart and mind as I wipe away bitter tears to hold my manuscript’s wake.

In the backlash of rejection, there is no room for inspiration. I drown in the desperate need to understand what went wrong. I’ve read that lots of published work should have been in the rejection pile. Why did others get published and not me? What can I do if I want to be a writer?  Do I possess the talent to write?  

The things that once inspired me now remind me that I am not good enough.  I am tired—tired of feeling like a failure, tired of being beaten down, tired of my defeatist attitude. Eyes drying and pity party complete, I have two choices. I can believe the doubt and fear and give in to despair, failure, and comfort food, or I can fight back. I can let rejection become my inspiration to work harder, learn more, and try again. I can find out what the publisher’s ‘needs’ are. I can find another home for my work. I can laminate the letter and keep it as a trophy for when I am a published author.

Walt Disney went bankrupt eight times trying to build Disney Land. Babe Ruth struck out more times than he hit home runs. If we believe the nay-Sayers are correct, then they are. If we take rejection and turn it to inspiration, then we are truly authors.

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October 22, 2012

Another Look

You submitted your picture book manuscript to an agent.  But in only a few weeks she sent a rejection.  On the bright side, she offered some useful suggestions.  So you tweaked your manuscript based on her advice.  Now you’d like to send your revision back to her for another look.  How should you approach this agent?  

Begin your email by reminding her that she has already read the manuscript.  Ask her if she’d be interested in taking another look.  Give the title.  Tell her that she had provided helpful feedback and that your work has been revised. 

In the next paragraph include the word count, the age group, if the story is a simultaneous submission, and any other distinguishing features that make the story marketable.  Then describe the story to refresh the agent’s memory.  Be sure to answer these questions:

Who is the main character?
What does the main character want and what gets in his way?
What launches the story?
What is at stake?

In the last paragraph give your bio. Close by thanking her for her time.  Remember to include your email address or contact information.

There’s no guarantee that a second look will garner a nod from an agent.  But when you approach an agent using my suggestions, you will come across more professionally.  Your letter will make an agent take notice.  And chances are she will send you a thoughtful reply.  

October 15, 2012

A Second Pair of Eyes

I write articles for the University of Kentucky Arboretum newsletter.  Recently, the editor wanted a piece about the new mural that was installed in the Children’s Garden—250 words, easy peasy.

The educational director of the Children’s Garden explained that the mural was conceived by a local artist.  Then children painted the background with bright colors and glued on over 1,200 bottle caps.  Besides portraying some of Kentucky state symbols, the mural shows how art can be made with non-recyclable items. 

After learning about the mural and seeing it for myself, I knew I could crank out the article in a short period of time.  I outlined the material and composed questions for the educational director and the artist.  The piece came together nicely with a focus on the process of making the mural and its significance, along with some lively quotes. 

My husband reviewed the piece, as he does with all of my work.  Giving him about five minutes, I waited for his seal of approval.  But no.  He handed it back to me with comments written in the margins and question marks scribbled on the page.  My explanations weren’t clear enough.  Details were missing.   Some sentence phrasing was awkward.    

So, back to the drawing board.  I edited the article for clarity and used some of my husband's suggestions.  “Much better,” he said with a nod.  I had forgotten that despite the brevity of an article, another pair of eyes is always needed because it’s hard to step away from work and read it objectively. 

After the revision, the mural article is still within word count.  Its focus is tighter and the explanations are clearer.  Without a doubt, the article is much improved.  I am thankful for the insight and kindness of my second reader.  He makes my work more worthy to submit. 

October 8, 2012

Writer's Remorse

Now you’ve done it.  You realize after the fact that you’ve submitted an article to a children’s magazine editor before it was ready.  Of course, at the time of submitting you thought it was perfect, oh so publishable.  So how did you discover the piece went out too soon?  Clue:  Several months have passed and you've yet to hear back from the editor.  

This prompts you to read your article again.  And then that’s when you discover the piece could have been better.  You feel lousy.  Paragraphs could have been constructed more sensibly.  The word choice could have been livelier.  As a whole, the writing could have been tighter.  But it’s out of your hands and now awaits an editor’s decision or at worst, has landed in the rejection pile.

At first, you might feel regret or even embarrassment.  But this is only a little stumble on the path of publication.  It happens.  Though you can’t change the situation, you can have a new outlook. 

Don’t give up on the manuscript.  Review the piece.  Ask yourself what can be improved.  You might need another reader to point out parts that need tweaking.  You may need to read the work aloud and edit places where the pacing is lost or where a reader might trip on the wording.  You may need to overhaul the beginning to hook your audience better.  Or, you may need to wrap up the conclusion with a tie-in to the opening paragraph.

While you await the editor's decision on your work, read more books, blogs, and articles on the craft of writing for children.  Afterward, you'll find that you have gained a different perspective.  This is because you’re growing as a writer.  So learn from your mistakes.  Dismiss your regrets and move on.  Consider this experience an opportunity to improve your writing skills.    

October 1, 2012

Submitting, Again

Congratulations!  You submitted an article to a children’s magazine and it was accepted for publication.  As you write your next article for the same publication, consider this piece of advice:  Be professional when you submit again. 

For example, one of my science articles was published in an outstanding children’s publication.   Thinking I could write another piece for the magazine, I simply queried the editor very informally.  Think:  a one line snappy email pitch.  She immediately wrote back to me and berated me for not following the guidelines (which stated to send a professional query with clips). I thought since she had published one of my pieces that I didn’t need to be so formal.  Wrong.  So wrong.  

Editors have preferences when it comes to submitting.  Some want a professional query each time you write to them that includes specific details like a bio or clips, while other editors will consider a more casual letter.  

Every time you query, formal or not, always include the basics:  the title, the word count, the age group, the submission date, and a brief synopsis of the article. Always read the guidelines. They may have changed since your last article was published.  And just because you’ve published before with a publication doesn’t give you a green light to submit informally.  Some editors just won't stand for it, as I found out.  In the end the editor refused to consider my work again.  This is a harsh example, and I’m willing to bet a rare case.  But use this example as food for thought.  Unless you know it’s okay to write a casual letter, play it safe:  stick to writing a professional query.