Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

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Musings by Donna #57 Love it – BUT …

Know the market, they say. Have patience. Be persistent. Never stop sending in your manuscripts. When your manuscript is rejected (the darn little homing pigeon) Flying Pigeon-delivering-a-message-hidon’t wait. Send it back out to the next agent or editor on your list – the list you so diligently compiled after searching books like the current edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (fondly called CWIM by children’s writers), or the Guide to Literary Agents, or the Writer’s Market. Be dedicated to your writing. Believe in it. Don’t let the bogged down system get you bogged down or overwhelmed. All good advice!

In the children’s market, there was a time when I could tell you which editor moved where and when and what they were looking for. That was the time when I was actively sending in my children’s picture book stories. In the early 1990s right through to about 2005, I’ve sent about twenty different children’s stories to thirty-one different editors or agents. That was also the time I regularly attended children’s writer’s conferences and workshops in New York, New Jersey, California, and Vermont. SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), both national and regional conferences, and The Vermont Workshop, presented by my friend, Barbara Seuling, remain my favorites. At each of these conferences I met editors and agents and had manuscripts critiqued; and I received coveted invitations to send my work to them for further consideration.

I’ve been patient. Look at the span of years in the paragraph above. That’s a true sign of patience and persistence, and dedication too. I admit – I had help staying focused. thTiny “carrots,” just out of reach, were offered by editors and agents alike. Their words encouraged me to continue to affix stamps on the envelopes and send my work into the world – with hope. Their complimentary comments convinced me that my writing was good and that it had merit, and so I trudged on always believing that the manuscript that I had just dropped into the mailbox would be the one that would not return. But, as each rejection, positive as it may be, arrived in my mailbox, it whittled away my confidence. I began to doubt myself … and my writing too.

Many writers jest about how they could wallpaper their bathroom with their rejections. I believe I’ve surpassed their possibilities. I’m certain I Rejection Lettercould wallpaper my entire office. Pathetic! But, did you know that Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections for his first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Ellen Jackson, author of Cinder Edna, received more than 40 letters of rejection for her book, which went on to sell more than 150,000 copies. I’m so glad they didn’t give up. I suppose I am in good company.

I’ve received my share of “Dear Author/Sincerely, The Editor” letters – the ones that say nothing – the ones where you know that probably no one read your manuscript. Here’s a scenario that rolls through my mind. Editor sitting at desk. Inbox with stack of unopened manuscript envelopes. Coffee steaming on right side of desk. (Left if the editor is left-handed.) Editor sighs as he or she stares at the impossibly large pile. Editor pulls envelope from pile and slits open envelope. Glances at first page. Then absentmindedly places a Dear Author/Sincerely form letter on top of manuscript and stuffs both into the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) that the author provided. Tosses the envelope into the outbox. Sighs with relief – the pile has one less manuscript. Can’t really blame them. Their work is endless and only satisfying when they find the golden nugget.

It’s the many personal rejections that kept me going and I’ve received tons of them. That sounds worse, but it’s not. Those are the carrot letters. (The ones I mentioned above.) Those are the letters that make you print out a new manuscript and immediately pop it back into the mail to a new editor or agent with renewed hope. They are what I call the “Proverbial BUT” letters. They are the letters in which the editor or agent says he or she likes your work, BUT can’t buy it for any number of reasons. I’m posting many of my BUTs below. For the sake of privacy, I didn’t include the name of the editor or agent to the actual quote, nor did I include any other identifying element. I did, however, include a list of the publishing companies at the end of this post. They are not in order. These rejections were for about seven different children’s picture book manuscripts. My combined rejections number near a hundred.

1.    “I like your use of rhyme, repetition, and predictability, but …

2.    Your writing is excellent, but …

3.    Teddy in the Backpack is a very sweet story and I think that Zoe is a great character, but …

4.    I really like the concept of this story, but …

5.    I thought it to be well-written, but …

6.    You write well, no question there, but …

7.    I think you have a nice sense of humor, but …

8.    It is clear you can write, but …

9.    It is well written, but …

10.   This is certainly a fresh story, but …

11.   I think this is the strongest piece you have sent me – it’s funny and charming, and a story young children will relate to well, but …

12.   Molly and Oliver are endearing characters and you have a nice sense of their age group, but …

13.   It’s a funny, charming story, but …

14.   Your writing is “on the cusp,” but …

15.   This is one of the best LAST lines I’ve ever read.  It was great joke, but …

16.   It’s a good story with realistic characters and dialogue, but …

17.   There are many fun elements here and I enjoyed this story’s humor, but …

18.   Your characters are realistic and sympathetically drawn, but …

19.   I enjoyed the rhythm of your writing, as well as the amusing images evoked, but …

20.   I like the gentle sense of humor and think children will enjoy the verbal and visual jokes, but …

21.   The story has nice humor and rhythm to it, but …

22.   I do like the idea quite a bit, but …

23.   Your sense of humor shines through in this piece, and you have a wonderful sense of rhythm, but …

24.   The best aspect of the story is its humor. That means it’s got lots of kid appeal. It’s got rhythm and meter and a fine use of language. You know kids, but …

25.   I would be happy to consider anything else you may write for a young audience.

(I sent many additional stories to editor 25, BUT, alas, they turned out to be more buts …)

The next two rejections are almost in their entirety to show more details of what an editor considers and what our manuscripts are up against. When we send our babies out into the world, we are asking a LOT from them.


Dear Donna,

Thank you for your submission. We enjoyed your story; however, we decided it wasn’t the best fit for our limited list. Please do not be discouraged. We receive approximately two thousand submissions, but we only publish a handful of books per year. Decisions were difficult, and we’ve had to let a lot of good stories go. What doesn’t fit for us may be the perfect match for another publisher.

We really, really liked this story. There are at least two others with very similar plots.

Again, please understand this was a very difficult decision as we take so few picture books. We wish you the best in your writing endeavors.

Please note that this letter is in consideration of this work alone. If you have submitted other work and have not yet received word on it, it is still under consideration.

27.  This was very, very tough, and I rooted for your story to the end. We had two others in the final 25 with very similar plot … a character in school who didn’t belong. And we had a few others with that plot that didn’t make it to the top 50.

I think it’s a great story, and I hope you can place it elsewhere. It was really, really hard to let this one go.

28.   Donna:

You have a strong voice and a terrific sense of kids’ emotions. Your dialogue shows that you know how dialogue works in a story and that you know how kids communicate sometimes by saying what they mean and sometimes by being unable to say what they mean. You could develop the humor in these stories more. You introduce humor, but you need to coax it along. Very young kids respond to slapstick humor, and you are a little reluctant to brig that into your stories. Also, you could work on intensifying the climactic moments of these stories, Sometimes the ideas in the stories are more sophisticated than is usually in picture books. I can see your voice coming forward; you’ve worked hard on that. You are on the brink of having several salable manuscripts.


29.   This letter was from an editor who my agent submitted my manuscript to.)

Thank you for your patience while I have been considering Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s Teacher’s Pet. I apologize for the delay in responding to you.

I feel Ms. Figurski has developed a humorous voice that flows and reads smoothly. She has a knack for lacing quirky details throughout her prose—many of which would make for adorable illustrations. I also enjoyed the fact that Mrs. Grickle’s students are “in-the-know”, while she is oblivious to the fact that her new star student is a frog–very funny!

BUT …I’m sorry to say, however, that I don’t’ feel this piece would make a strong addition to the generic company …

I’m really sorry to have this disappointing news for you but thank you for thinking of me for this and wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for this project. I do enjoy Ms. Figurski’s easy storytelling voice, and would like to invite you to submit any other manuscripts she may have in the pipeline.

All best wishes for a safe and happy holiday!


HarperCollins, Pippin Press, Golden Books, Boyds Mills Press, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., Orchard Books, Simon & Schuster, Holiday House, Harcourt Brace, Charlesbridge, Silver Whistle Books, Winslow Press, Scholastic Press, The Wright Group, Alfred A. Knopf, and Crown Books for Young Readers

keyboard th

So you see, it is the carrots both big and small that keep us writers trailing ink across blank, white pages or keeps our fingertips dancing across the keyboard, searching for that miracle story that an editor or agent will love. J. K. Rowling did it. She didn’t give up on Harry Potter. harry+potter+booksTwelve rejections did not thwart her belief that she had a great story – seven volumes of magical storytelling. Other great rejections include William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Watership Down by Richard Adams, (a favorite of mine) and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Even Stephen King’s book, Carrie, was rejected.

So what good advice can I offer you? Write! Send out your work! And, keep on writing! I will!

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

April 26, 2013 - Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Great post, Donna. You showed how tricky this publishing is. Patience and persistence and professionalism are the keys. Add a bunch of luck and being in the right place at the right time. A cinch! Right? Happy writing. Hope the next letter you receive is THE one.

    Comment by Judy Enderle | April 26, 2013 | Reply

    • Hi Judy,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post. I have a high regard for you and your work.

      I think breaking into the publishing world is just about the hardest thing I have ever attempted. (And everyone thinks they can write a book – right?) As I mentioned, it’s the “carrots” that push me forward and don’t let me give up. I am preparing to send out my memoir this month for the first time. It’s about my husband’s valiant struggle to conquer his traumatic brain injury. I can only ope I have better luck with this book than I have had with my picture book stories. Crossing all appendages.

      Best, Donna

      Comment by Donna O'Donnell Figurski | April 26, 2013 | Reply

  2. Post on Facebook by Tom Figurski (fun brother-in-law)

    Donna! You did bare your soul. Sometimes the best stuff is about our disappointments. Maybe this will push you over the edge.

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | April 27, 2013 | Reply

    • Tom, though the rejections are such disappointments, I am kind of used to them. They are the “norm,” after all. Of course, the few acceptances that I’ve received, the four stories for Scholastic and the two that are still at the Native American publisher have me ecstatic.


      Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | April 27, 2013 | Reply

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