Sunday, February 13, 2011

Writing Advice/Opening Doors with Ruth Spiro

My bubble is about to burst (grin) as I happily introduce to you Picture Book Author and Bubble Gum Day (a FUNdraising holiday) Founder, Ruth Spiro!


The “Door Opener” - Your Ticket Out of the Slush Pile
By Ruth Spiro

One of my favorite picture book manuscripts has made its way through a long list of publishing houses, and it’s been rejected by all of them. But I don’t hide my rejection letters in a drawer. Instead, they’re displayed on a bulletin board above my desk, so I can read the delightful notes hand-written at the bottom:

“You’re welcome to send other manuscripts…”

“Please do consider us for future submissions!”

“Got anything else up your sleeve?”

Did you hear that?


It’s the sound of a door opening.

I’ve received nearly a dozen “good” rejections to this one manuscript – personal letters from editors passing on it, but inviting me to submit others. I think of the letters not as rejections, but as invitations. So, although it remains unsold, I fondly consider this manuscript my Door Opener.

My first picture book, Lester Fizz: Bubble-Gum Artist, was the first manuscript I ever submitted, and it was acquired by the first editor who read it. (Yes, that’s a lot of “firsts!”) Unfortunately, subsequent sales haven’t come as easily. That picture book editor is now focusing on YA at another house, and since I don’t have an agent, my submissions to other publishers usually landed in the slush pile.

But, my Door Opener became my golden ticket out of that pile. Now I have invitations to send my work directly to those editors, and replies come quicker, sometimes even with helpful comments.

A Door Opener is not a sub-standard manuscript. It’s the very best representation of your writing ability. That means a flawless, intriguing cover letter atop a well-targeted, well-written manuscript. Anything less and you’ll probably find yourself with just another form rejection.

Of course, I still hold out hope for finding my favorite manuscript a home. I’m told that editors sometimes pass on a manuscript for reasons that have little to do with the story or the quality of writing. Perhaps the market will change, or a new editor will see its publishing potential. But even if that doesn’t happen, this manuscript has served an important purpose in my writing career by opening doors that may lead to future sales.

Submit your best work, and then listen for the click.

Maybe doors will open for you, too!

Your assignment:  Create a Wish List for your manuscript.

1) Print your favorite manuscript and hold it in your hands. Close your eyes.
(On second thought, read these questions and then close your eyes!)

2) Imagine you’re holding, not a stack of papers, but a finished book. Feel the weight of it.

3) As yourself these questions:

What does the cover look like?
Can you see your name? What color is it? How big is it?
In what style are the illustrations?
Soft and soothing? Bright and bold? Realistic? Playful?
What size is your book?
Is it tall? Wide?

With that image in your head, visit the bookstore and the library to find books similar to yours. Note the names of the authors, illustrators and the publishers. If you plan to seek representation, go the authors’ websites to find the names of their agents. Otherwise, compare your list of ideal publishers against the Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market or the SCBWI Market Survey ( to check submissions policies.

Create your Wish List, and start submitting!

Ruth Spiro’s first picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist, is published by Dutton. Her essays and articles have appeared in FamilyFun, Child, Woman’s World, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. Her web site is

Ruth frequently speaks at schools and conferences, and is the founder of Bubble Gum Day, a FUNdraising holiday. Read about it at

Ruth Spiro Children’s Book Author & Freelance Writer Writing Ruth never imagined she’d be a writer - until she tried it. Now she writes books for children, including the award-winning Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist. Her articles and essays have been published in CHILD, Disney’s FamilyFun, The Writer, and Chicago Parent. Ruth’s stories have also been included in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time, edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles.
Speaking Students are surprised to hear that as a writer, Ruth trolls the beach for seashells and story ideas, and also plays with toys so she can write reviews about them! Because of her wide range of
publishing experience, Ruth is uniquely qualified to discuss the many “jobs” a writer can have. Her presentations combine a real-life example of the writing process with a discussion of creativity,
individuality, and artistic expression. Ruth’s previous appearances include the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Book Fair, Millennium Park Family Fun Festival, Illinois Young Authors Conference, Illinois Art Education Association, Illinois School Library Media Association and the VA Festival of the Book. She has presented programs and writing workshops for students of all ages, and also developed the Writing for Moms™ program.

Background: Ruth graduated with a B.S. in Communications from the University of Illinois and worked for advertising agencies in both account management and broadcast production. She earned an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago, and coordinated several large-scale research studies, including a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Ruth has attended the Highlights Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua and the Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop. Her writing has earned awards from Writer’s Digest magazine, Willamette Writers, Half-Price Books, and Byline Magazine.


  1. I save my rejections like this as well. They don't sting as much as a form letter rejection, and it's nice to know an editor liked my writing. I completely agree that these can be viewed as "open doors".

  2. I think that as long as a writer pursued the proper paths before submitting (SCBWI, reading and studying, critique group, many many rounds of revision) and
    submitted a viable manuscript that rejection should not be looked upon as failure, but a stepping stone. Next time, fail better -- go for that personal rejection if you didn't get one, and ultimately, that personal acceptance. It's all part of the process <3