As if the world needs another analogy about writing a novel, I’ve got one anyway: it’s like driving the length of a country (continent?) in a car you love and are reasonably sure of but you’ve never taken it further than the nearest town before. You’ve got a map but it’s vague and whilst some of the people you meet en route wave you on, others turn you back suggesting a different road…
Okay. I’ll stop there. But the whole ‘pitch to publication’ (to steal the late Carole Blake’s term) is an unknown quantity for most of us: we all start out from the same point, but knowing when, how, and even if, we’ll make it is a matter of talent, timing and plain old luck.
Persevere we’re told; it’s what I tell all my creative students and editing clients. Don’t give up. That’s another odd thing about writing – in how many other spheres of life would we set ourselves up (deliberately, knowingly) to get rejected again and again and again, without being told to stop it with the destructive behaviour? But, it seems, writing is like gambling – just give it one more go. Just one more…
Why am I pontificating like this? Simply, I’ve been querying my first novel with agents and publishers and the responses are all rejection with a big, red capital R. Some days I’m on a spectrum of disappointed to humiliated about it, others I can see it for what it is – a huge, slightly random competition; a game of Russian Roulette. Sometimes, though, it’s a laugh-out-loud funny (hysterical?) experience.
Take some of the stranger examples:
- The agent who phoned me to say ‘Loved your manuscript, love the characters, the setting etc etc BUT I can only sell crime and psychological thrillers in this market. Can you make your novel into either of those and get back to me?’
- The publisher who hated the MS, the characters, the setting etc etc, and told me the story had been done better by others before me and referred me to a ‘How To Write’ blog feature – that I had written as a guest post.
- The agent who rejected me 3 times in 2 weeks for the same novel. Only problem is, it’s a novel I never sent to her, and indeed, a novel I haven’t written.
- The tweet I received from an agent (who must have gone to the trouble to look up my Twitter account) to say ‘not taking on anything at the mo, but may I use your query letter as a template, please?’
- The short, standard rejection email that had four blatant typos in it (I wanted to return it with comments. I didn’t.)
To be fair, the others who replied were generally nice (and normal) enough, even very encouraging, but a no is a no. And when I’m loudly bemoaning, ‘woe is me, nobody wants my novel, it’s so unfair, I just need a chance,’ I remember my 6 year old’s wise words:
‘Mummy, maybe it’s just not a very good book.’
Maybe it’s not.
So, what to do? The 6 year old said, ‘Put it in the bin and just write another one. But do it after tea because I’m soooo hungry.’
And this is why, with regret, April and Elena et al have been consigned to that cyber-drawer of early manuscripts and unpublished novels. I’m not saying they’ll never emerge to snap off the hand of any future agent willing to take a punt, but for now, their time is up.
Meanwhile, back with the analogy, one day in the foreseeable future, I’ll be ready to cross the country (continent?) with another car, a very different one. We’ve got 70,000 words on the clock and a lot of servicing to do first, but we’ll give it all we’ve got when the time comes.
We writers are an eternally optimistic/unrealistic/misguided/unfathomable (delete as appropriate) lot.
PS I didn't want the Rejection image quite so big, but I can't seem to alter it. Surely that's a sign in all senses of the word...!