Stories of rejection can be empowering if they have happy endings. I realised that when I shared the story behind the story of Sisters at New Dawn. I think, since writing is such a solitary affair anyway, knowing that you aren’t amassing those rejections alone makes you feel warm, and a little less alone.
So, here’s the story of Dragonflies and how it came into being. It’s the story of the rejections I accumulated before being shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award. The book is out now, available in India, and now is as good a time as any to write about it. Not naming any names here because that’s not what this post is about.
I sent my manuscript to the first publisher on my list in 2013, shortly after I had my first collection of short stories, The Story-Catcher, published. (Yes, you read that correctly. 2013. Seven years ago.) I did receive a reply – and very soon. I was told that the stories were charming, but perhaps I could reconsider the age-group and the collection. I took the advice seriously and worked on my stories again.
Publishers Two, Three and One Again
Publishers two and three did not respond. It’s not unusual. I went back to publisher one because the first rejection was so promising. It was the year 2014 by then. They said that their lists were full and I could try again in the following year. So much for that.
I waited three months for publisher number 4 (a big publisher) and received a charming rejection, ‘You have a lovely style of writing and a vivid imagination, but […] we are not looking for short story collections at the moment.’
Publishers Five and Six
Form rejection from No. 5 – ‘this does not fit our list’ – and no response from No. 6.
Publishers Seven and Eight
No. 7 was another lovely rejection – ‘You write really well, but these particular stories do not work for us.’
No. 8 was silence.
By now, I was convinced that no one wanted short stories. At least, no one wanted my short stories.
Then, I came across the Scholastic Asian Book Award, and at that stage, I had nothing to submit except my short stories, so I did – in August 2015.
That’s when everything changed. In March 2016, I learned that my manuscript had been shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award. I could not believe it. No one wanted short stories, how could this manuscript be shortlisted?
I went for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and met the wonderful Daphne Lee, who was singularly unconvinced by my hypothesis that no one wanted short stories. Not only was she unconvinced, she said that Scholastic Asia might be interested in taking it on.
And they did.
With Daphne as my editor, I started working on my manuscript yet again. Some of her edits made me cringe and wonder why she’d liked the stories in the first place because there was so much wrong with them. She dropped one story entirely (that’s why the name changed from Dragonflies, Jigsaws, and a Rainbow to Dragonflies, Jigsaws, and Seashells). I completely rewrote at least two stories, if not more. And finally, in 2018, the book was released in Singapore.
I still had a problem, though. Living as I do in India, I told everybody, I have this new book that you can’t buy!
You can imagine what fun that was.
Then, from there, to here – May 2020. Scholastic India published my Dragonflies and listed it as the Book of the Month in March 2020 – just when lockdown began. Bookstores were closed, no more wonderful Scholastic book fairs, no more e-commerce.
No, no one will tell you that writing is easy and quick. But here we are, seven years after I wrote the book. It’s finally available on Amazon and whenever things open up, I hope you’ll find it at your local bookstore. For now, explore it here, buy it here.