Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Submission Strategy: Aim for 100 Rejections (or more)

a Roundtable Discussion led by Kathy Halsey
Back in 2019 I was commiserating with writing friend, Beth Gallagher about "rejection." As it turned out, she had been having a similar conversation with another author, a friend who happened to be a best-seller. Beth remembers complaining that she “might not be meant to write.” Her friend said that his first book had been rejected 47 times before it was published, and was now being made into a movie. He encouraged her to wallow only after the 100th rejection. 

As we talked, the kernel of an idea began to form. Why not create a group to support each other as we aim to reach 100 rejections? So that’s what we did in January 2019. I announced it on the GROG and invited folks to join.

Now we have 64 members who support and motivate each other. We invited a few of them over to the GROG blog share thoughts about aiming high for rejections. Hanging out at the blog with me today are Beth, Dedra Davis, Patti Richards, and fellow GROGger, Sue Heavenrich.

Kathy: Welcome and thanks for joining us today. My reaction to 100 rejections was, why not? Beth and I wanted accountability and I like doing things in a BIG way. What was your reaction to the idea of 100 rejections being a good thing?

Beth: One of the things I realized was how subjective this business is, and that it truly is a numbers game. And that I needed to get my nose back to the grindstone.

Dedra: I have two words that keep me going—Fail Forward. Sending out 100 queries and, most likely, receiving 100 rejections fall into my theme of failing forward. I’ve sent 90 this year; and I’ve been collecting rejections for over two years now.

Patti Richards 
Having been in the submission trenches for many years, the idea of a group dedicated solely to encouraging each other to keep submitting makes me so happy! Having a place to share successes and "declinations," submission opportunities, and lots of "You can do this!” means  everything!

Sue: I thought the idea was brilliant. I could not wait to flip my perspective on the submissions game, and going for rejections would definitely do that. Even though it sounds crazy, I get it: the more you submit, the more chance there is of someone saying YES.

Kathy: By making an outrageous goal, somehow subbing felt less serious to me and gave me freedom not to take the process so solemnly. How did having a goal of 100 rejections change the way you submit?

Beth Gallagher

Beth: Having 100 rejections first made me imagine get enough of them to decoupage an entire wall of my studio. Like Kathy, that goal gave me the freedom to keep on trying without feeling like I’m failing.

Dedra: It’s a challenge I give myself; it keeps me researching and sending queries out throughout the year. I like a challenge. I feel like the ball is in my court when I query and hit send. Then, of course, it’s up to the agent.

Patti: In this business, rejections, no matter where you are on your journey can sting. Seasoned writers develop a thick skin over time, or at least they should. Changing the way you think about rejection really helps with this! Having this "reverse" goal means you've come to a point where you realize that without rejection, there can be no success. 

Sue: Having this challenge spurred me to become more organized. I drew a 10-by-10 grid at the back of my desk calendar and numbered each square. Each time I submitted, I checked off a box. What a feeling of accomplishment! Each check represented a potential rejection! By the end of 2019, I’d gathered more than 90 rejections and four “Yesses” – assignments for articles.

Kathy: The real test is whether aiming for those rejections helped us succeed. For me, I did succeed by accepting every opportunity for a “yes” in 2019. My successes include a #PBChat 2109 mentorship, an opportunity to work for Storyteller Academy, and doing author studies for ReFoReMo. (No “yes” yet, but I feel it’s coming.) What about everyone else?

Beth: Since it IS a numbers game, the aim of getting 100 rejections ensures my odds of achieving either that number or publication! As for success, it’s achieving the goals I set for myself. If we don’t have confidence in our own work, how can we expect others to? I’m thrilled that so many writers both published and nonpublished have joined our merry band FB group! It’s so nice to have a place to vent, chat, share opportunities, and meet new friends.

Dedra: To me, success is having an agent and a book deal – and a career of ongoing book deals. I haven’t succeeded yet. YET! But I will, and the 100 rejections keep the challenge and me moving forward and failing forward. What I really want is kids holding my book. saying, “Read it again!" To that end, I’m participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge. So far, I have twenty manuscripts from this year: I’m constantly revising and writing new stories. One day, when the time is right, I’ll have plenty of manuscripts to offer an agent. 

Patti: Absolutely! I've actually lost track of how many rejections I've had since joining this group, even though I have an Excel spreadsheet filled with them. I'm pretty sure I've hit the 100 mark or am close to it! Having this goal has kept me moving forward in the face of some pretty disappointing rejections since we formed the group. "Moving forward" is now how I define success, and it's all due to having something to shoot for besides those coveted contracts! Since this group began, I've sold 3 picture books! MRS. NOAH (Little Lamb Books) releases on October 5th! And I’m still submitting – let those “declinations” roll in!

Sue Heavenrich
Sue: Aiming for rejection put less pressure on me to get a “yes” – and without that pressure the fear of “failure” disappeared. Sending out 5 subs a week gave me a rhythm for submitting. It gave me tons of practice writing query letters. It gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment that I’d gotten 90-ish subs out the door. To me, success is all about showing up. Being willing to do the work. And having faith in my stories. One of those potential rejections, a nonfiction book proposal, now has a title and is slated for release in 2022. 

Kathy: I gain momentum and inspiration from being in this group of strong, talented, resilient writers. You can join us at 100 Rejections Are a Good Thing. Start racking up the trail of “nos” that lead to “yes.” You can do it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Five Kinds of Nonfiction

Sue Heavenrich with Melissa Stewart

When I look at contemporary children’s nonfiction, I am drawn to the enticing covers and interior artwork and photos. I love the way writers use sidebars and textboxes to highlight fun facts. And I’m a huge fan of back matter and the use of end pages to extend exploration. But if you take a closer look at children’s nonfiction, you might notice something important. Something exciting.

There are different kinds of nonfiction.

Five kinds, says Melissa Stewart, whose new book (co-authored with Marlene Correia) takes readers on a deep dive into what modern children’s nonfiction is. Melissa has been thinking about different kinds of nonfiction for a while. So I was thrilled when she agreed to hang out (virtually) here at the GROG and talk about her book and nonfiction with me.

Sue: The primary audience for 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books is educators, but I think there’s a lot here for children’s book writers too. Did you have writers in mind as you were creating the book?

 Melissa: Yes! The truth is I developed the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system for myself—so that I could better understand the children’s nonfiction market. Back in 2012, when I started thinking about nonfiction classification, I was having a lot of trouble selling manuscripts. I thought developing categories might help me figure out what kinds of manuscripts publishers would be most likely to acquire.

It wasn’t until later that I realized it’s value for teachers and students. When I posted an article describing the system on my blog in 2017, the response was incredible. To date, that original blog post has received more than 500,000 hits.

Because the origin of the system is author-centric, everything that’s come out of it is relevant to us. I’m excited that 5 Kinds of Nonfiction shares more than 150 mentor texts and discusses everything from the history of nonfiction to the differences between expository and narrative nonfiction to nonfiction craft. There are more than 20 activities and most of them are just as relevant to children’s book writers as they are to teachers working with K-8 students.

Sue: I know. I’ve actually been doing some of those activities. So I remember back in 2013 you were trying to develop a nonfiction “family tree.” Over the years, your thinking about this family tree evolved. So can you tell us a little bit about the way you currently classify nonfiction?

Melissa: Sure. We’re used to subdividing fiction into categories like mystery, science fiction, realistic fiction, and historical fiction, but in the past, we’ve just lumped all nonfiction together. The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system brings clarity to the wide world of nonfiction by breaking it down into groups with specific traits.


Once readers understand the characteristics of the five categories, they can quickly and easily determine the kind of information they’ll find in a book, predict how the information will be presented, and identify the kind(s) of nonfiction they enjoy reading most.

 And when I say “readers.” I mean kids and children’s book authors as they study books as mentor texts. The system helps to make patterns visible. For example, it highlights why narrative nonfiction is ideal for picture book biographies, books about historical events, and books that describe a scientific process. And why expository nonfiction is a better fit for books about broad topics or specific science concepts.

Before I developed this system, writing every manuscript was like shooting in the dark. I was just stumbling along, reinventing the wheel every time. But now that I understand the patterns of different kinds of books, I can go about my work more intentionally. This has made me a faster, more efficient writer. Now I have general guidelines to get me started, but I also know when and how to break the “rules” so that each book is uniquely creative.

Sue: Which sections in your book are relevant for writers creating nonfiction books for children?

Melissa: That’s a great question. Chapter 1 includes the origins and history of nonfiction, which I think is helpful because it explains some of the things about nonfiction that don’t seem to make sense, such as why folktales and drama are shelved in the nonfiction section of the library and why it’s so hard to pin down a definition for the term “informational book.”

Chapter 2 introduced the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system and provides lots of sample texts. Chapters 3 and 4 are worth a quick scan, but Chapters 5-7 should be incredibly helpful to writers. They look closely at the craft of nonfiction writing. There are interviews with highly-regarded authors, and we’ve analyzed excerpts from a wide range of children’s books. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might recognize some of the material, but here it’s expanded and updated, and, of course, it’s all together in one place.

Sue: Those are the three chapters I have been spending the most time with, for sure. I especially like the way you show how text structures are used in different books, and the insight you provide into voice, language and point of view.

 Melissa: Chapter 9 also deserves a close read. It looks at today’s most innovative authors and books and where nonfiction may be headed in the future. 

Sue: What other books would you recommend for children’s nonfiction writers who finish reading your book and are looking for more?  

: One is an anthology I edited called Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Children’s Books. It’s a must have because it features powerful, insightful essays by today’s leading authors.

Sue: I love that book. Not only does it contain essays from amazing writers, but it also includes a treasure trove of ideas for things to do in the classroom – or homeschool – to help young writers develop their own “secret sauce” for writing nonfiction.

Melissa: Another great book is Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard. Like my books, it’s written for students, so it’s particularly relevant to us.

If you are especially interested in narrative nonfiction, there are three books you may want to take a look at Draft No. 4 by John McPhee; Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call; and Story Craft by Jack Hart.

I’m going to add one more to the list: Anatomy of Nonfiction, by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas. I find myself referring back to it every now and then.

 A huge Thank You to Melissa for sharing her book and her thoughts on nonfiction with us today. Melissa has written more than 180 science-themed nonfiction books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and her newest book Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She maintains the award-winning Info-licious Inspiration blog, and her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.