By Shirley Raye Redmond-
I have been writing in my spare time for more than 40 years. My file cabinets are crammed full of research notes, ideas for future articles, and manuscripts in various stages of completion. Fortunately, I have sold many magazine and newspaper articles, as well as two dozen children’s books, but I still have quite a collection of rejected picture book and early reader manuscripts. I also have the letters stating why they were rejected in the first place.
When I wrote about Cathy Williams, the only female buffalo soldier in U.S. history, multiple editors told me she was “too obscure” to be the subject of a nonfiction picture book. I protested, pointing out that teachers and librarians are always looking for new stories for Black History Month, Women’s History Month and even Veterans Day. But no, they still weren’t interested. Cathy, they insisted, was just not marketable.
Editors also rejected my fictional children’s story, “Oh-So-Clever,” a tale inspired by the legend of a Ryukyuan prince named Sashiki, who is said to have united the island of Okinawa without bloodshed in the year 1429, using fine arts rather than martial ones. Again, I received multiple rejection letters, even though children’s book editors are always clamoring for more cultural diversity in manuscript submissions.
When I wrote a nonfiction reader for youngsters in first through third grades about Admiral Peary returning from Greenland with the largest meteorite “in captivity,” editors deemed the subject too obscure as well — even though that particular 34-ton space rock remains on display in the Hall of Meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Thousands of school children take field trips there each year. From a marketing aspect, it would seem like a perfect book to sell in the museum gift shop there and at other museums with meteorites on display.
Undaunted, I retrieved these rejected manuscripts from the file cabinet and looked at them again. I decided to think outside the picture book box and transform my manuscripts into articles instead. Reasoning that if children’s book editors considered my proposed topics too obscure, then children’s magazine editors might be equally shortsighted. Instead, I decided to use my extensive research notes to transform the original manuscripts into articles suitable for adult publications, which pay more generously than children’s magazines anyway.
The market listings posted on the FundsforWriters website proved to be quite inspirational.
To my delight, the editor at Rural Missouri, (http://ruralmissouri.coop/submissions.php) the state where Cathy Williams was born and raised, promptly bought my article, “The Buffalo Soldier’s Secret.” It appears in the November 2014 issue.
The Elks Magazine (https://www.elks.org/elksmag/WritersGuidelines.pdf) bought first North American serial rights to the Robert Peary meteorite article, as well as the one about the amazing globetrotting photographers, Osa and Martin Johnson — another topic I had hoped to pursue for a children’s book. This article appears in the May 2015 issue.
“Oh-So-Clever” sold to the Center for Education Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas — a market mentioned in one of the weekly Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators electronic newsletters (https://cete.submittable.com/submit) that I receive each week. The center administers a variety of standardized tests and continues to accept submissions for poetry, informational and narrative texts suitable for students in grades 3-12.
I have been successful in recycling this first batch of manuscripts and will retrieve another handful from the file drawer with the intention of giving them a makeover as well. I simply need to shift mental gears and think imaginatively outside the box — and review the market listing at FundsforWriters again.
Shirley Raye Redmond writes in Los Alamos, New Mexico and is a former columnist for the Santa Fe New Mexican. Visit her website at www.shirleyrayeredmond.com