Publishing · Theater

On Rejection and Affirmation in Publishing

The first writing I ever queried was a children’s play called “Suiko and the Puzzle Box,” set in Meiji-era Japan. Though the year was 2011, this publisher required me to mail my script rather than submitting it by email. The wait time was three months; when six went by without so much as a word, I thought I’d been forgotten, my package lost or discarded forever.

It wasn’t.


I was actually living in Japan at the time, and the letter the publishing company sent arrived at my parents’ house, a thin beige envelope with my name typed neatly on the front. My mother read it to me over Skype. It was a rejection.

It called my play a “…very well written script with a great moral and beautiful sense of artistry.” The editor who wrote it told me that my script made it through every round of readers, only to be caught by marketability worries. He apologized for the wait, but asked me to submit my future works.

By the time my mother finished reading the letter to me, I was grinning. I’m not really a person who takes disappointments well, so naturally this surprised her. “Why are you so happy about this?”

No one likes to be rejected, not a single one of us. As writers, we constantly hear “do not burn bridges, don’t complain, don’t argue. Put your head down and work harder.” But hard work is cold comfort when the reasons our stories are rejected are outside our control. Whatever brave faces we might put on for the chat rooms and Twitter feeds, no one would be fooled if they could see us tormenting ourselves far into the night with the unanswerable question of what went wrong. And yet, despite the disappointment that my play would not be published by this company, I felt content thinking of that rejection. Why?

As a writer, it’s not enough that I think the words I put on the page will touch the hearts of readers around the world. My belief isn’t good enough, because I am not the target audience. I know the story; I wrote the story. It is you, dear reader, who is the judge I seek to please–and I pleased all of them with “Suiko and the Puzzle Box.” Perhaps I did not write “A Dolls House,” or “Twelfth Night.” I wrote a play to be performed by children for the enjoyment of their parents, a testament to the time I spent immersed in Japanese culture, the efforts that went towards my degree in Global Studies, my struggles with Japanese language, and my life-long dedication to the theatrical arts. It was the first play I directed, the first play I wrote.

And it, my play, my writing, was good enough.

**

Four years later, I still like my play. It went on to be unceremoniously rejected by two more publishers before I ran out of places to submit it. The world of children’s community theater is a small one. I had all but forgotten I even wrote this until I was cleaning out a box of old papers and found my rejection letter, still as crisp as the day it was sent, carefully preserved. Much has changed since I went looking for a publisher, both in my own life and the world of publishing.

Perhaps my play was too difficult for a big publisher to market. Perhaps they would not be able to find enough of an audience to justify the costs. But… why couldn’t I do it myself? It’s already been performed, the kinks ironed out. Why not?

A thousand reasons, some more convincing than others. But also a thousand reasons to publish. The balance equals and tips, and perhaps, perhaps, weighs in the direction of, “Why not indeed?”

Indeed, why not. Just maybe.

Some day in the not-too-distant future, as you browse children’s plays on Amazon, there might be a little production called “Suiko and the Puzzle Box” for sale. It will be set in Meiji-era Japan, about a girl named Suiko who sets out to find her missing father and is lured into the palace of the Great Oni, where she must complete his challenges or be trapped forever as a demon herself. It has a great moral, and a beautiful sense of artistry, and–I’ll tell you right now–was wildly popular with students and parents alike.

Maybe, just maybe. Keep an eye out. You never know.

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