Poetry Friday: How to Write a Poem, and why rejections aren’t bad (even though they suck)

Although I’d been planning on posting something else today, I thought it might be beneficial to share something I posted on Facebook earlier this past week; something that gained quite a bit of attention and created a healthy discussion.

Went through 25 rejections!

The past two weeks I’ve received more rejections than I received all of last year.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve sent more submissions out in the past 6 months than I did last year, perhaps it’s because I finally got around to following up with a number of editors I’d been waiting on.

Regardless the reason, rejections don’t feel good.

“No” doesn’t mean “Stop;” it means keep going.

I’m not going to act like rejection doesn’t bother me and that everything is sunshine and lollipops. Rejections aren’t fun, I won’t argue with that. But I don’t get depressed by them.

Went through 14 rejections!

Folks who are new to the publishing industry need to know that rejections are going to be a part of their life now. Personally, I went from acting to voice acting to writing – so rejection has been something I’ve had to live with nearly all my life (to say nothing of my nerdy high school years).

The particular rejection I had posted about was for a manuscript for a poetry collection I co-wrote with David L. Harrison, one of the most incredibly talented, successful children’s poets in the biz. Although I’m running out of potential options for publishers to submit to (I’m unagented and can only submit to a limited number of houses), I shared the news of this rejection not to seek pity but to remind my friends and followers that even the most highly-esteemed writers like my co-author hear the word “no” sometimes.

For example, my recent picture book Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2021) was co-authored with Father Goose himself, Charles Ghigna, and it went through 25 rejections before editor Naomi Krueger saw my pitch on the #PBPitch Twitter event back in October 2019 and asked me to send her the manuscript. 25 rejections – and that was with the gravitas of Father Goose’s name attached to the project!

 A partial list of the 25+ rejections Charles Ghigna & I received for “Once Upon Another Time” before editor Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books bought it.

A quick Google search of famous books that were initially rejected reveals myriad famous titles like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Steven King’s Carrie, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Even my friend Laura Numeroff’s first If You Give a Mouse a Cookie book went through 9 rejections, with one of the editors telling her there was no way they felt the book could possibly be profitable.

Let that sink in. Just about every person in the free world has at least heard of that book (it’s been a Jeopardy question at least 3 times!), yet the editor saw no way it could be profitable. The editor wasn’t mean, short-sighted, or ignorant; she was simply not a good fit for the book.

Went through at least 8 rejections!

Sometimes editors just don’t see your vision, that’s all. My picture books are published by several different publishers because not all of them believed in all my manuscripts – and that’s ok! The ones who DID believe in them produced gorgeous books I’m proud to call my own.

Maybe you submitted a dinosaur book to a company that already has too many dinosaur books; maybe you submitted a humourous meta-book to a company that prefers inclusive, cross-cultural themes; maybe you submitted a 1st-person POV book to someone who doesn’t like 1st-person POV (don’t laugh, I know of at least one!).

Fact is, there could be numerous reasons – many beyond your control – why your manuscript was rejected.

So if you’re hearing the word “No” a lot lately, remember that it doesn’t mean you should stop what you’re doing; it means you need to simply check that editor or agent off your list and move on. Or better yet, check them off the list for THAT manuscript, and send them another! After all, if it’s a numbers game, then you’re doing yourself a favor by eliminating all those unecessary numbers.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this: each “No” gets you closer to a “Yes.”

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How to Write a Poem

Open your eyes.
Open your ears.
Brace yourself
to face your fears.

Open your mind.
Open your heart.
Open your soul,
……….tear it apart.

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©2021 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

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It’s Poetry Friday! If you’d like to check out all the poetry links and fun, be sure to head over to Rebecca Herzog’s little home on the web, Sloth Reads, for the complete roundup!

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I continue adding to my “Wit & Wordplay” videos ! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) to learn how to write poetry, appreciate it, and have fun with it. From alliteration and iambs to free verse and spine poetry, I’m pretty sure there’s something in these videos you’ll find surprising! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and if you have young kids looking for something to keep busy with, I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website.

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You can purchase personally-signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018)and nearly EVERY book or anthology I’ve been part of!

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17 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: How to Write a Poem, and why rejections aren’t bad (even though they suck)

  1. authoryvonafast

    Thanks, Matt… i have yet to be published in the children’s market…
    Why can’t David Harrison use his agent to sub the book?
    I’ve all but given up looking for agents…
    Do you have any tips on who would publish a non-fiction rhyming science PB? (that is the latest one of my works pronounced ‘submission ready’ by my crit group). Though i have not had much success with the others… i do go through bouts when i don’t submit (like the past two months). But i know i need to start again…

    Like

    1. David is unagented, as well, Yvona – although he does have more contacts than I, so we are pursuing all available avenues. As for your ms, there are plenty of publishers who might be interested, like Charlesbridge, Holiday House, Kane Miller, and others…they all publish creative NF and have open submissions, as far as I know. Good luck!

      Like

  2. Denise Krebs

    Matt, thank you for the encouragement. I have yet to submit any poems for publication, but I may be getting ready to give it a try, and this helps. “How to Write a Poem” is spectacular, especially: “tear it apart.”

    Like

  3. Rebecca Herzog

    Thanks, Matt for the reminder! I joined Poetry Friday right around the time that Flashlight Night was published and it has been amazing to see all of the yeses that you have gotten since then! Every year, I set a goal for the number of “no’s” I want to have by the end of the year. It keeps me moving forward with submissions and helps take a bit of the sting away when I get one because it’s working towards my no goal. Have a good week!

    Like

  4. margaretsmn

    I needed to read this today and every day. When I get a rejection I feel defeated and want to give up. And I know I need to submit more. Thanks for being a cheerleader for rejections.

    Like

  5. Well, that’s pithy and succinct, the kind of thing you pin up on the wall near your writing desk!

    I’m really interested in the idea that “even with the gravitas of” an established poet’s name we could still be seeing rejections. There’s a part of me that hopes a big name wouldn’t count for too much–think of all the folks who don’t (yet) have connections across the children’s poetry world, who are emerging voices that don’t come from comfortable, well-connected, poet-down-the-street type places. I know the world isn’t fair (yet), not really a meritocracy–it does matter who you know. But of all the spaces in the world, I would love for children’s book publishing to be one where it matters much more what you have to say and how you say it. I think we’re getting there, which makes it harder for people like you and me to continue at the center–but that’s got to be a good thing, if a tough thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, I know what you mean; if only the established, well-known writers are getting the deals, there’s no room for folks like us. Still, one would think having a name like Father Goose or Jane Yolen or someone else attached to a project might make it an easier sell…but, no. This, then, is proof that content really DOES matter more than connections!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s always inspiring to hear that a book can find a publishing home after multiple rejections. Thanks for your post! It’s one I’ll be recommending to some of the folks in my orbit who are just starting out. It is, at the end of the day, a business, and as you said, so many factors beyond whether a manuscript is good can affect the decision of whether to acquire it.

    Wonderful poem – we do put our selves on the page with the words that we write.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Poetry Friday: “I Am Smoke” interview & review with author Henry L. Herz – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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