The Art of Tumbling: How to Fail without Falling to Pieces


If you’re submitting your work, then I’m guessing that you may have had some experience with feeling like you’re “failing”. Do rejections equal failure? Definitely not! But we all know that sometimes it can be tough to take on those rejections. Today Sub It Clubber, Hannah Holt is here to share with us The Art of Tumbling: How to Fail without Falling to Pieces.

HOLTOnce a week I take my five year-old twins to tumbling class. Why would I pay for lessons for what is essentially “falling down”?

Simple. Before young gymnasts can do backflips, they have to learn to tumble. Learning how to fall well is an essential skill.

I want submissions that make me do backflips,” said an agent at a conference I recently attended. A room full of aspiring writers dutifully scribble notes—make her do backflips.

But how do you make an agent flip for your work?

Simple. You do a lot of tumbling first.

Tripping is a regular part of life and most careers. Writing is a career with more stumbling than most. I’ve never met a career writer who hasn’t been rejected many, many times.

If you are in the middle of what feels like rejection free-fall, know that what you are experiencing is totally normal.

Rejection doesn’t mean you are a bad writer. It doesn’t mean you will never be published. You’re just:

  • going for more rejections than Dr. Seuss
  • collecting interesting material for your memoir
  • learning what doesn’t work
  • earning your stripes

With a few tips and tricks, you’ll be able to tuck and roll through the tough times, so you can get back on your feet faster and stronger than ever before.

1. Tuck

The first rule of falling is to lean into it. Don’t resist it, flail about, or go rigid.

I leaned into falling by setting a goal: get one hundred rejections in one year. Each rejection earned me another square in my progress spreadsheet. Wahoo, bring on the rejections!

If spreadsheets aren’t your magic bullet, here’s how a few other writers handle rejection:

Marcie Colleen celebrates with rejection chocolate.

Vivian Kirkfield watches a classic movie with a big bowl of popcorn.

Stacy McAnulty treats herself to a Starbuck’s Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappé.

Heather Linford turns up the music and dances the rejection blues away.

By the way, I didn’t make my goal of one hundred rejections because I signed with an agent first. The sooner you embrace the tough parts of writing (or at least learn to tolerate them), the more quickly you’ll find success.

2. Roll

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. Keep rolling forward!

Kate Messner writes and revises about twelve picture books each year. Usually only one or two is accepted for publication.

To have a career in publishing you need to write. A lot!

So stop refreshing that inbox and start writing something new. Who knows but maybe you’ll love your next piece even more than the first.

3. Get Back on Your Feet

This advice is like the last: keep writing AND keep sending out queries. When a rejection comes in, send out another query. I usually send between five to ten queries at a time. That way I always have something out there. Many authors send out more queries than that, but that’s the amount I can thoughtfully and respectfully submit at a time. Each author has her own best amount, but any amount is better than zero. As long as you are ready to query, keep yourself in the query pool.

I keep track of all my queries using a handy spreadsheet. Katey Howes has another cool method using index cards.

You can’t always plan where your writing career will take you. But if you keep tucking and rolling and standing back up, you’ll be doing back flips before you know it!

What are your tips or tricks for handling rejection?

Hannah Holt is a picture book author represented by Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. You can find her chatting on Twitter and occasionally posting on her ill kept blog.

49 thoughts on “The Art of Tumbling: How to Fail without Falling to Pieces

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  1. Thanks for the encouragement and advice, Hannah! I have been feeling like a complete failure since my agent quit the business last year and I’ve not been able to interest anyone else yet, so this was good to read. 🙂

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  2. I do a spreadsheet too, but I hadn’t thought to celebrate when I reached a certain number of rejections. I’m going to do it – embrace the rejections! Thank you for the encouragement. I needed this today 🙂

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  3. It’s so important to find ways to brush off the many, many rejections that will come our way. One thing that has helped me has been writing for magazines, alongside my other writing. Even though plenty of magazine pieces get rejected, too, I’ve had enough acceptances that they help keep me going. I find that when I have a lot of work “out there” at once, I fret less over any one thing. And every once in a while, a magazine will arrive in the mail with my work in it – always a boost!

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  4. I try to remember that when I go into a bookstore or a library, I go through selection process, winnowing down titles to find the ones that I really want to bring home with me. There are so many worthy books, but only the ones just right for that day or that need are the ones I choose. The ones I leave behind aren’t “rejected” necessarily, but I am leaving them out there for someone else to find, read and love. Submitting our work is much the same process on the end of agents and editors I suspect. While we call them rejections, they are really just messages to keep sending out those stories until they make the right match.

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  5. This is wonderful advice. I’m not querying picture books yet, but I do some freelance writing for adults. When I first started submitting, I kept a folder of rejections and when I got my first piece published it felt so great to see the progress I had made. I love the idea of having a reward in place for when I hit the road running with submissions in this industry.

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    1. I kept a hard-copy folder when I first started, but now so much is digital that I mostly keep an electronic folder. I think there’s value in having hard-copies of the positive. Maybe I’ll print a few of the good ones out. Good luck with you freelancing and best wishes with the pictures books when the times comes.

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  6. Having had a daughter in gymnastics for many years, I can relate to this. Oh, and I can also relate to getting rejections! I never thought to put the 2 experiences together though. This is perfect. Gymnastics is hard and takes a ton of practice and the same goes for writing (well)!
    Thanks, Hannah!

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    1. My girls are still much more interested in having fun than working hard, which is fine with me. We’ll see how it goes as they get older. But yes, excellence in anything takes a mountain of work. Thanks, Dana!

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  7. Thank you for the practical advice and encouragement! I love the “tuck, roll, and get back on your feet” gymnastics analogy! Very applicable to writing and submitting, as well as to the rest of life!

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  8. Perfect analogy, Hannah! The whole back flip and tumbling thing is so appropriate in this business where things are always getting all shook up and we feel like we are constantly falling down. I’ve got a goal of 12 stories this year also…we’ll see if I can stay on track. 😉

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  9. Excellent post, Hannah! I just received another rejection yesterday. So this is timely. Even in taekwondo, the teacher teaches the kids how to fall so not to land on their face. Guess we’re to get back up. Love the analogy!

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  10. Rejections mean you tried. That’s more than most would-be writers ever do. My own father was my best example, always talking of a book he was writing on the war. He died at the age of 59, and the only notes we ever found were the words to some of the Marine Corps marching songs he wrote down in a journal. I’d hoped it was a code I could decipher and have published for him. Nope.

    Now 62, I’m considering my own memoir if I don’t chicken out. I’ve fallen and tumbled plenty, but have had three nonfiction books published, so all I need to do is…start…

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  11. Thanks for all the reminders about rolling with the punches. I try to take a walk when I get a rejection or even when I feel like my manuscript is going nowhere. If I celebrated rejections with food, I wouldn’t be able to fit in any of my clothes! Way too many.:) I save the food for acceptances (or even good crit comments!) Y’all are such a great community, and I’m happy to be part of it.

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  12. Great post, Hannah! It’s always so good to hear truth. We all get treated to the process, but rejections can make one feel so alone! Thanks for reminding us that we are not.
    And you ladies who pick food to help with rejections must have great metabolism, I’d have gained a hundred pounds by now!

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  13. Thank you for the encouragement and tips to keep from falling and staying down for the count. Your inspiration made my day 🙂

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  14. Thank you for this post. This analogy really spoke to me. I, too, have insisted that my kids learn how to fall properly. Just need to take my (and your!) own advice 🙂

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