I received a rejection for my middle grade book yesterday. Not the first, and, more than likely, not the last. Although, I have to say I was a bit confused about the whole thing. The editor said:
Unfortunately, I do not feel that it is very marketable as a middle grade novel, because the characters read much too young, and because the adult characters of Gage and Slade play a much too prominent role in the story. Keep in mind that middle grade readers are between 8 and 12 and prefer to read characters that are slightly older than themselves. So with this novel, you're probably looking at an 8-10 year old audience, so you want to go with characters that are 10-12 (they need to not only be this age, but also read as if they are this age). Broden and Landon think and behave like 6-8 year olds (kissing mom good night, fist fighting for no reason, believing in monsters, etc.), which is much too immature to appeal to a middle grade audience.
My first reaction was WTF? How does kissing your mom good night make you immature? I still kiss my mom good night whenever I see her. And do you have siblings? I can still fight with mine with very little prompting, and I'm 34 (granted, it might not be a fist fight, but there have been many times I wanted to punch one of them). I'm not convinced people ever stop believing in monsters. I think the faces change, but monsters are just the embodiment of our fears, be they real or imagined.
My first thought was that she didn't get it. I fought back the urge to write a detailed email that explained the intricacies of my story to her. After all, the basis of my story is that the main characters have to learn to overcome their fear and stop fighting with one another. Besides, my beta readers told me they enjoyed the story and thought the interaction between the brothers was great. However, my readers were adults. I don't know any 10 year olds that would be willing to read the story.
Of course, I didn't send that email. It wouldn't be professional. That, and I would become one of those authors you read about who hound and irritate editors. Besides, they are entitled to their opinion. I stepped back and took a deep breath. After getting over the initial sting, I realized the editor was trying to help me improve the story. She wanted to make sure the book was successful, and she knows more about middle grade novels than I do. So what do I do?
I can change the story so it reads like a chapter book, which is more appropriate for the age group she says my characters sound like. That means I cut out half the book and shorten my chapters. Either that, or I continue to send the story out to other publishers and see how they react to it. If they say it sounds too immature, I will look at fixing it.
On one hand, I don't want to give up my vision for the story just because one person didn't like it. After all, publishing is a very subjective field and someone else might think it's fine. Perhaps I need to find a 10 year old to read it and give me their opinion. But on the other, I want the book to be a success. I want kids to read and talk about it.
Rejections are part of the game, I know that. I've been doing this for a while. Still, that doesn't make them easy, especially when they come from someone I thought would be willing to work with me on the story. It just goes to show that you can't ever take anything for granted. The best thing I can do is be thankful the editor was willing to give me feedback, lift my chin, and move on.