Samuel Beckett wrote in his short story Worstward Ho, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I find myself thinking about that a lot. Right now, I feel like I am failing slightly better.
I wrote a second picture book manuscript and sent it to twelve agents. I got two rejections last week. These are notable for two reasons: first, they came within a week of submission, which is a fantastic turnaround time; second, they both involved some kind of personal response or feedback.
I explain it this way. The least desirable response is silence. It’s inevitable when agents have so much to read and respond to. I get it. Still, it’s like waiting for someone to notice you in high school.
The next level up is a form letter email rejection. It is usually very kind and thanks you for your hard work and the chance to review it. At least I know that someone did a cursory review of my manuscript and I can stop hoping.
One step above that is a rejection that contains some kind of personalized feedback. My first response said this, “Thanks so much for giving me a shot at your picture book. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its many charms, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!” It has charms! But, it wasn’t encouraging connection for that agent. Still, it felt good to read that.
My next rejection had more specific feedback. Here is a snippet:
I’ve had a chance to review and consider your work and can see how much you’ve invested in this. It’s very funny and I love the idea of turning this old rhyme on its head. But I think it’s missing something — I think maybe a narrator, or something to break up the dialogue, and give us more than a scene would be good. I think you can have even more fun with the way you’re playing with things. Unfortunately, given these concerns, I don’t think I’m the right agent for this particular project, so I must pass. But I send this with gratitude and all good wishes for the future.
A quick explanation: my book is written entirely in dialogue. Think Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or I Want My Hat Back. The bus driver talks straight to us, as does the pigeon. And the bear looking for his hat either asks about his hat, questions others about his hat, or tells himself how much he loves his hat. There are no dialogue tags, “the pigeon said” or “said the bear.” I appreciate the feedback so much, but now I am wondering how to proceed. I think it might be an interesting exercise to try and rewrite the book with a more traditional narration structure. This presents a couple of problems. First, I don’t know how I’d keep it around 500 words, which seems to be the recommendation now. Secondly, my husband was quick to point out that this is just one agent and I shouldn’t rush to throw the baby out with the bath water.
For the sake of exercise, I will play around with the narrator. I will also try to play with things a bit more, although I don’t know yet what potential she might be referring to. Hmm. Things to consider.
Now I wait for the remaining 10 agents, or rather, I wait for 12 weeks and then I assume any silence is a no. Maybe I’ll get a bite! For now, on to my novel, and to let a new picture book idea simmer.