Rejections, I’ve had a few. More than a few. It’s definitely in the hundreds, possibly even in the thousands. I’m an old pro when it comes to the no, when it comes to the nothing, when it comes to the we do like it but sorry it’s still a no. I could never decide which I preferred. The quick and absolute no, which has you thinking, ‘Wow, my manuscript really must be bad,’ but at least you know where you are and you can sulk and swear and then move on to the next. Or the nothing, the no response at all, the ghosting that has you wondering if you even exist, if you ever existed, if in fact you’re a figment of your own imagination, one that isn’t quite good enough to hook an agent or publisher. Or how about the ‘we do like it’ that is still a no, and leaves you hopeful but yet disheartened, like an X factor contestant who met Simon Cowell.
I guess I want to offer hope to any writers in this early part of the journey. To say hang in there. To say that a no now doesn’t mean a no forever. To say that it is all a normal, natural and really essential part of the publication journey. It toughens you up. Prepares you. My very first rejection (for a short story, about eighty years ago) made me cry. It felt … cruel, thoughtless, wrong. But it’s not you, it’s me, as they say. Really, it is. It was. Because I was too sensitive. And my story wasn’t good enough. I tried to remember that. Use it. I worked on the story and eventually it was published elsewhere. I used that rejection, that hurt, and turned it into the fire behind a desire to improve. I turned my rejections into fuel.
There will of course be unfair rejections, ones that you know were because you didn’t have enough followers or were a ‘nobody’ that will sell bugger all or weren’t quite right for that agency/publisher. I had a rejection for the book that eventually became my debut novel, How to be Brave, from an agent who said that ‘if I didn’t know language, I shouldn’t write’. It was because it was a very hard book to pitch, being both fiction and fact, both set during the present day and during WW2. But I knew these were unfair words. I knew language. No one could tell me I didn’t. By all means, reject a book, but don’t tell a writer not to write. It was actually my best ever rejection. Because it cemented my determinaton to be published and the self-belief that I did know language and I would write.
How to be Brave was the fourth book I’d written, all of the previous three having been rejected over a period of eight years by every single agent and publisher. Many people asked me how I went on, how I wrote a fourth book when those before had been turned down everywhere. It was a mixture of anger (how dare they all reject me?) and self-belief (I’m a writer, I am, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing) and pure love of the craft. If you’re sending your work out now, stay strong. You only need one yes. A million rejections disappear with that single acceptance. Perfect your manuscript. Get beta readers to review it. Edit it again and again and again. Then make sure you research if that agency or publisher is right for your work. Write a cracking query letter (see my previous blog piece for that) and keep going. If I hadn’t, I would not have ended up published. It’s that simple. Every single book on a shelf in Waterstones is there because that writer didn’t give up. And good luck.