“Know When to Fold ’em”

As authors, we treat our books like children—we love them, we nurture them, and we want them to succeed them out in the wide world. Sometimes success comes easily. More often, there are challenges along the way. Two of my picture books found a home quickly. Nancy Paulsen snapped up One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me! in just eight days, and the book has gone on to become my most popular. Paulsen did not take Raindrops to Rainbow, citing a backlogged publishing schedule, but she shared it with Rob Valois at Penguin Workshop, who accepted it almost immediately.

Those are the success stories. I also have had books that made the rounds among publishers, sometimes for years, without finding a home. According to Kenny Rogers in his song “The Gambler,” “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” As authors, how do we know when enough is enough—when it’s time to “fold ’em” and give up on a project?

There’s no clear-cut answer. Dr. Seuss persevered through many rejections before ever getting a book accepted. Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowlings’ pitch for Harry Potter before Bloomsbury accepted it (ultimately leaving the other publishers kicking themselves). But many of us know the pain of sending out a beloved manuscript again and again, only to see it rejected each time.

I’m dealing with some of these decisions right now. As the year began, I had four manuscripts under consideration at various outlets. One of them got rejected (for the second time) just after the first of the year. I think I’m going to “fold” that one, at least for now. Bella’s Bunny Rescue tells the tale of a young girl who rescues an injured baby bunny, inspired by an incident that happened in our backyard last summer. It’s a cute story, but the rejections indicated that the manuscript was a little “slight”—not quite meaty enough to be a successful picture book. Given that I have ties with both of the publishers who rejected the story, I think it unlikely that someone else would view it more favorably. Also, I’m also not as “invested” in this story as some others.

Meanwhile, I wait patiently/impatiently for word on the other manuscripts. One is out for the first time, one is out for the second, and one is on its fourth or fifth journey (it’s easy to lose track after a while). I am hoping for good news, but I have braced myself for bad news. If bad news does come, I think I am committed enough to all of these manuscripts that I would send them out again. Time will tell.

These days it is easier than ever for authors to self-publish their work. This represents a great option for many of us to consider, but it does require its own level of financial commitment and time commitment. I have self-published two books: The Sound in the Basement and Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand, and I have been pleased with the results. I will talk more about that process in a future blog post.

Will I consider self-publishing any of my current manuscripts if they don’t find a home with commercial publishers? Again, time will tell.

What, then, is my advice to other writers who are facing similar decisions with their own manuscripts? Follow your heart. Your relationship with your manuscripts is like your relationship with people. You’ll know when to keep trying, when to move on, and when to consider alternative options.

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