‘Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…’: Rejection Number One

I told a friend about this blog and he said to me, “So…what are you going to do if the first agent who responds wants to represent your book?” Well dear reader, I have now officially received my first rejection! So that’s that bullet dodged!

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Now as previously mentioned, I’m no stranger to rejection – I’m not even a stranger to being rejected for this particular book. But this is my first rejection of 2017, and my first since starting this blog, so it seems like a fine time to share some general thoughts on rejection.

My personal response to each rejection varies, but here’s a brief overview of what usually happens when I receive one:

  1. Check inbox, see unread email from agent: heartbeat immediately quickens.
  2. Move mouse / thumb slowly towards the email, trying not to look at any words I can see that follow ‘Thank you for your submission’…
  3. Click on it, my guts literally squeezing with hope.
  4. Eyes pull magnetically to the word immediately following ‘thank you for your submission’: ‘Unfortunately’…
  5. Heart breaks a little bit.
  6. Conscience immediately rallies, remind myself that I have many more irons in the fire, I wasn’t that keen on that agent anyway, they’ll rue the day if I’m ever successful etc. etc.
  7. Abandon whatever I’m actually supposed to be doing and make myself a cup of tea.
  8. Sit with tea, feel a bit sad.
  9. Generally achieve nothing for the rest of the day.

To neatly summarise; it sucks, but it’s a manageable kind of suck. Plus, in my limited experience the suck is not cumulative – in fact quite the opposite. Up to a certain point, the more rejections I receive the more numb I become to each new one (I hope to never discover what happens past that certain point.)

I’d love to be able to tell you how to best cope with rejection, but as with all things writing-y, I don’t believe that there is a straight answer that works for everyone. So instead, I’m going to tell you what makes me feel better, and then do a short grumpy bit where I tell you what I don’t find helpful.

Helpful

  • Start a new project – even if it’s just playing around with some ideas for what you’ll write next. This is a big one, so much so that I’m going to write a whole post on it at some point in the future.
  • Re-read the things that made you want to be a writer. Re-watch films that you find inspiring. Remind yourself that wonderful people do get wonderful things out into the world.
  • Do something else for a while. Close the rejection, get up and force yourself to think about something else – I imagine doing some exercise would work here, if that’s your thing, or do some housework, read a book, have a dance in the kitchen to the radio – whatever helps.
  • (This one is MUCH less mature…) Cyber-stalk people who were mean to you in school to reassure yourself that they’re definitely never going to be published writers.
  • Don’t be afraid to fantasise about the day you get an email back that isn’t a rejection. Determination has to come from somewhere, and if it comes from blind delusion (which is at least 85% of mine) then so be it!

Not Helpful

  • Reading novels that you don’t like in the genre you’re writing in. So for me this is bad YA fantasy / dystopia with pointless love triangles and heroines with no sense of humour. I think to myself ‘well this will help – if they got published then surely one day I will’ – that is not what happens. Stay tuned for next week’s post for more details, but this is a sure-fire way to fill yourself with aimless rage and despair.
  • Dwelling on it. The more you think about it, the worse it feels.
  • Taking it personally. Regardless of how well you know this this agent probably sent off about fifty of these rejections today, it’s still really hard to believe that this isn’t personal – but it’s really, really not. I try to think of agents as harassed, overworked worriers terrified of accidentally turning down the next Harry Potter. I don’t know why, but that mental image helps.
  • This is a grumpy one – but being told that everyone gets rejected doesn’t really make me feel better. Because I’m not everyone, I’m me. It’s the literary equivalent of telling someone who’s miserable that there are worse things happening in the world. You think you’re giving me perspective, but actually I now just feel guilty and thoroughly unexceptional, as well as sad.

Ultimately, I find it helpful to do something progressive. To move on, in some small way, and try not to feel too sorry for myself (though by God, that happens too). At the end of the day, I think you have to slide your gaze away from the rejection, look straight at the camera and say:

bring-it-on

Next Week’s Post: A far less useful and far more emotional analysis of why I am a monster who hears about successful writers my own age writing similar stories, and respond with apoplectic rage and a really charming streak of rabid jealousy.

Submissions Last Week

5 new agents this week, including one who doesn’t officially accept submissions but is the agent of my favourite children’s author, so I sent her an email anyway on a bit of a punt.

Current Rejection Tally: 1

 

A Submission A DAY?! Don’t you have, like, a job?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve heard this a lot over the last couple of weeks. The answer is yes – I do have a job, albeit a part-time one – and a life, and friends, etc. etc. I’ve actually reduced the time I spend preparing and sending submissions to (I reckon) around 4 hours a week. I don’t actually know whether this is good or bad in the scheme of things – but for me, so far it’s striking the right balance of giving me enough time to do other things (like actually get paid, actually write, and, y’know, sleep and stuff) whilst enabling me to make each submission individual enough that I feel like I’m making each agent feel just that little bit special before they crush my soul and dreams.

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I know, right: get me.

This is made possible by two factors:

  1. Pretty much every agent asks for variations on the same three things
  2. TEMPLATES TEMPLATES TEMPLATES

So, for me at least, once you’ve invested the time into writing up templates for the three aspects of a submission, you’ve pretty much done the leg work. If you’ve ever sent off a novel submission I’m sure you know exactly what goes into it, so please excuse me for boring you with my own list:

  1. Cover letter

This is actually the only aspect of my submission template that gets tweaked for each new agent. Now I think cover letters are generally understood to be right up there with ‘Goodbye cards for colleagues you don’t actually know’ and ‘texting an acquaintance to explain why you’re not attending an event you just don’t want to go to’ in the ‘Worst Things To Write’ stakes. You have to magically find a balance between making yourself sound impossibly brilliant without coming off like Donald Trump. They suck.

Now I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve written a lot of job applications. I know, I know, it’s impressive, but we can’t all be permanently unsatisfied layabouts; such hallowed ground is reserved for only the truly desperate. Ahem.

The upside of this, however, is that I have written a lot of cover letters, and I think (hope) I’ve finally managed to find something like the right balance, which mostly just means talking about myself as little as possible. To which end, my cover letter template consists of a paragraph summarising my novel, a paragraph supposedly expanding on where I believe my story would fit into the current market (which is actually just to prove that I read more YA than is really reasonable for a grown up, but that this is a good thing), and a shudder-inducing paragraph about me and why my on-paper total lack of experience actually amounts to loads and loads of experience.

So for each new submission, I tweak the cover letter to include the name of the agent I want to read it, the list of what I’m sending them and a line or two about their personal client list, and how my story is both similar enough to appeal to them, but different enough to be worth their time. At least, that’s the hope. This last point is actually the time-suck; in the two weeks I’ve been sending submissions I have already spent several hours trawling through client lists and novel blurbs, and the outcome of each hour results in about half a line of text in the cover letter. On the plus side, it is genuinely worth knowing whether this agent even seems to like the genre I’m writing – and I’ve picked up some valuable tips on how to make an author bio truly cringeworthy.

  1. Synopsis

The second main part of any submission is the synopsis, and for this one all of the work went in before I’d sent off a sausage. Writing a synopsis is a familiar task to any writer, and many use them for their own benefit to examine the structure of the plot and assist with the creation of their story. I am not one of those people. My typical reaction to trying to summarise the various threads, characters, dramas and what is hopefully the general entertainment value of my story in a succinct, thorough one-page summary pretty much has me like:

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I do not enjoy. That said, I managed to crank out three synopses of differing lengths before submitting anything: a short, 350-word version, a one-page (500- word) version and a 750-word version. Most agencies I’ve submitted to so far have asked for a one-page version, but I have used the others and the one-page one is actually my least favourite, so I like to have the option of avoiding it where possible…

  1. Sample pages

And this: the key element, reason for being here and basis on which I will be rejected or contacted, which – hilariously – I spend almost no time on. I have (so far) submitted three versions of my opening chapters, depending on the length specified by the agent: ten pages (brutal), three chapters (most common) and 10,000 words (preferable).

Now don’t get me wrong, the time that has gone into my actual manuscript – and particularly those first few chapters – far outweighs what I’ve spent preparing submissions, thank God. What I am ashamed to say, and probably shouldn’t admit, is that I don’t actually read them again before each submission. In my defence, I’m submitting every single day, and have read / re-written / proofread these chapters LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF TIMES. I think it’s seriously possible that I could recite at least the first two chapters of my story word-for-word, by heart. So yes, I don’t even check this part before attaching it to the email. You probably shouldn’t ever do that.

So that’s how I’ve enabled myself to fit sending a submission a day around the rest of my life. Lots of advanced prep, a few hours each weekend researching the agencies and client lists, and then only about 20 minutes per day actually sending the sucker off. As with a surprising number of aspects about writing, success seems to lie in your proficiency at Microsoft Excel and scheduling, rather than actual writing. Go figure.

Next Week’s Post: My first rejection arrived! Er, yaayyy! So expect ramblings about rejection in general, my coping mechanisms and how I’m planning to resist anger, misery and hate. To the Dark Side, such things lead.

Submissions Last Week
5 agencies, including JK Rowling’s publisher, to whom I spent the majority of my time constructing the agent-specific line in the cover letter repeating ‘DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER’ to myself.

 Current Rejection Tally: 1

To Be Continued…

Now I know it’s weird to launch a whole new blog with this post title, but bear with me.

As you’ll see from the What’s All This? page, this blog is about the pursuit of publication; and in a sense, that does make it the start. Because I am most certainly not published. I’ve been trying to be – really, really trying – for quite a long time, but we’ll get to that in a second. What I want to make clear from the outset is that this blog is not about ‘How To Get Published’. Whilst you might find advice I have found useful, my experience of what helps and what doesn’t, and other personal pointers, I – once again – have not been published. So in terms of passing on the secrets to success, I’d be about as useful as a kid with an Outer Space textbook at NASA.

Plus, there are dozens of blogs, books and websites out there dedicated to telling you how to get published; often written by agents and publishers themselves. There are, in fact, almost as many ‘How To Get Published’ blogs as there are success stories of such-and-such an author who got X number of rejections, but eventually found fame, fortune, critical acclaim and a damn big yacht. And as reassuring as it is to be told (often) by supportive friends and family that even JK Rowling got rejected, I’m pretty sure that was only about seven or eight times (and when it comes to JK Rowling, I’m usually pretty sure…). This loses its comforting edge once you’re accidentally smudging your forty-second rejection letter with tears and commiseration chocolate.

What there don’t seem to be as many blogs for are live accounts of publishing failures, desperately trying to get their stories actually read. So here I am – she says, puffing up her chest, hands on hips superhero-style – failing for your reading pleasure.

But seriously, I know there are so many people out there in the same situation as me (partly as I keep losing competitions to them), and I like to think this blog can be the voice of a kind of community support network for those people, as well as being something positive for me to focus on. In the same way that a bad experience makes a good story, I’m hoping that keeping a blog might transform a particularly stinging rejection into a hilarious post we can all enjoy. Ahem.

Which brings me (sort of) to myself. I’m pretty young to be this bitter (oh you sensed that?) at 23, but I’ve been writing since I was about 12, and chasing publication since I was 15. That first book was, in retrospect, bloody awful. But I was young enough to catch the eye of an agent who asked to meet me, and bought me a very tasty muffin whilst politely explaining that my book was terrible, but I should keep writing as I had some potential. Weirdly pleased to find myself back at square one, I trotted home and wrote another, better – but not what we’ll call Carnegie prize winning – novel, and duly sent that off. One agent asked to see the full manuscript and I went mad with excitement before never hearing from them again. I then took a temporary break from being rejected to go to university and spend as much time as I could (read: between the drinking and sleeping) studying creative writing, before writing, re-writing and re-writing again my third – current – novel. The jury is currently out on this one’s level of terrible.

I’ve sent the new book off to a couple of agents and a few competitions, and with the exception of being longlisted for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition (please see: mad with excitement), I’ve mostly just accumulated lots of red ‘R’s in my Submissions Spreadsheet. Yes, I actually have one of those.

But with a new year come ridiculous new resolutions, so my aim and intention for 2017 is to send one submission every weekday until I get published…or run out of agents. And you, lucky reader, get to WATCH IT HAPPEN. Ooh, the thrills.

Submissions Last Week
5 agencies at the alphabetical top of my ‘top choices’ list.

 REJECTION TALLY: 0 (It’s actually 6 if you count last year, but NEW YEAR NEW START OKAY)