But what happens if this actually doesn’t work?

God, even writing this post is going to be bleak. But come on guys, let’s chin up and barrel through. I am totally in control of my emotions on this subject, and this will not devolve into a hysterical, shrieking mess. I got this.

fake swagger

Ahem. So. My Current Rejection Tally stands at 22 – and it’s actually 24 if you include the two agencies I’ve nagged for a reply but who almost certainly aren’t going to email me back. (For the interested, 11 of those 22 have been actual rejection letters, the other 11 are assumed – if two months and three emails haven’t done it, we can probably safely assume nothing will.) My top choices list all have big red ‘R’s next to them on the fabled spreadsheet, or a slightly less aggressively red ‘Full MS – R’. Even though I’m currently waiting on 9 responses (unfortunately including the 2 that I’m 99.9% sure are rejections), and have a further 19 agencies in the next batch alone – it seems like it might be time to consider what happens if every one of these agencies – and the ‘long shot’ list that comes after – results in a rejection.

I’ve written before about what I believe is the best way you can prepare for an utterly failed submission, so I’m not really going to cover the practical aspects of what you actually do next, so much as the more abstract, emotional elements. How will I actually feel, if every single one of those agencies tells me I’m not quite good enough?

Firstly, it has to be said, quite embarrassed. There are plenty of people in the world (and I am often one of them) who won’t tell anyone when they have a driving test coming up, or when they’ve started a diet, or made a new life resolution – for fear of having to admit to those same people that you failed. Now not only did I tell literally everyone about my attempts to get published, I actually broadcast it on the internet. I was aware of the extent to which this might backfire when I started, but blithely told myself (and not incorrectly, it has to be said) that it probably wouldn’t be read by anyone, anyway, and it was a good way of guilt-forcing myself into not giving up. And in some ways this has worked – I definitely would have massively slowed down my submission / general creative / positivity output without feeling as though a small collection of friends and strangers would a) notice and b) challenge me on it. In fact, the dread of embarrassment at suddenly giving up on this blog altogether has once or twice resulted in rage-fuelled Sunday night power-writings, or panic-fuelled I-have-to-catch-a-train-in-half-an-hour submissions – which may not have produced my best work, but it did at least produce work. So yes, if at the end of this little internet adventure I have to post a ‘sorry guys, but I ran out of agents who might have cared’ conclusion, I will feel pretty damn mortified.

On a slightly more optimistic note, I think a (very small, to be honest) part of me will be pretty much okay with it. Being able to devote myself fully to my new project would hopefully grease some seriously sticky wheels, and I can’t say it won’t feel refreshing to see that little ‘(1)’ symbol on my inbox and not get that contradictory swoop of hope and dread in my guts.

But let’s be honest here, the overwhelming majority of my feelings will be neatly summarised by this image:

crying in the rain

The disappointment will be crushing on, I imagine, new and exciting levels. I don’t really want to linger on this point, but think 24/7 pyjamas, crying in work bathrooms and a hopefully temporary, though nonetheless intense, crisis of confidence / self-esteem. Throw in about 6 BMI points worth of chocolate and binge-watching old Friends episodes, and you pretty much have it. It wouldn’t be pretty.

The astute among you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned giving up and starting again twice before – my current submission is actually the third novel I’ve sent off, misty-eyed and hopeful, to agencies. So do I not know exactly how I’ll feel if I have to give up and start again now? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?…your call), no. I was nowhere near as mercenary with either of my previous submissions, and submitted in a much more happy-go-lucky, arbitrary and (perhaps) healthy way. Whilst this meant neither story was exposed to as many potential opportunities, it also meant that neither of them were systematically rejected by everyone possible (though in fairness…I’m pretty damn sure they would have been). Prior to now, I have never exhausted every possibility in my bull-headed pursuit of publication – and so maintained the veil of ‘well it could have happened…’ that would be thoroughly lacking this time.

So…yeah. If this doesn’t work, it will suck. But here are the comforting thoughts on which I will leave both you and (for sanity reasons) myself:

  1. It hasn’t happened yet, and is actually quite a ways off.
  2. Even if this book is rejected by everyone, I am 100% sure that I will just write another one, and try again.
  3. One day – one bloody day – I am as sure as it is possible for me to be that my stubbornness will beat the shit out of the publishing industry’s stubbornness, and I’ll get there.

So we’ll see.

Next Post: As part of my other life in which I actually get paid for stuff, I’ve started work as the editor for Cuckoo Review – a publication in which young people in the north of England write arts reviews, supported by New Writing North and an array of professional writers. Having been doing this job for a few weeks now, it’s got me thinking about the importance of editing, and the relationship between writers’ acceptance of criticism and chances of success – cue, The Rejection Box. Didn’t I make that sound like an absolute riot!?

Submissions Last Week:

Just two, but to be honest considering the level of busy things are at the moment, and the fact that I still haven’t heard back from Full Manuscript Request #3 – unusually, I don’t actually feel the need to apologise.

Current Rejection Tally: 22

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How Good Do You Have To Be?

So this is a question I, somewhat arrogantly, haven’t actually addressed on the blog yet: how good do you actually have to be to get published? Temporarily pushing aside the luck, the timing, the taste and all the other myriad factors that contribute to publication: is the book actually just…good enough?

Well, actually, I suppose the first question is; does it actually have to be good? Now, you can throw all the Fifty Shades of Grey / Twilight arguments you like at me, but the answer is yes. Yeah, I know: E.L. James is rich, Stephenie Meyer got a contract within a month or something, that book you read last month was purest bollocks etc. etc. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule: every now and then I think the universe likes to throw a curveball, just to check we’re all paying attention. Plus, I maintain that if E.L. James had been submitting to agencies, she would have been soundly and eternally ignored. She was published because of her fanfic’s pre-existing  popularity, and thus a guaranteed audience – and if the last year has taught us anything at all, it is that there is absolutely no accounting for the public’s taste.

i dunno

So, let’s assume that yes, the book does – obviously – have to be good enough to be published. How do I know when I have touched upon such hallowed ground?

Well, for me, it’s a combination of four factors, in descending order of common sense.

  1. I have edited it until my eyes bleed.  

Another thing we can just assume, is that a first draft isn’t good enough. Unless you’re magic, or perhaps Shakespeare (though even then…unlikely), a first draft is never going to be the best you can make it. I – she says, preening – have edited my book so much I lost count of what technically counted as a draft when I started the whole thing again from scratch, four edits in. I have edited it so much I simply cannot do it anymore, without knowing it will actually serve a purpose. I don’t say this out of arrogance or smugness, so much as with the hollow, weary eyes of one who truly – truly – cannot listen to the sound of her own narrative without screaming anymore. So that’s my measure of when you’ve edited enough; when you know it by heart, spend half an hour debating over comma placement, and cannot look at the manuscript without feeling slightly sick.

  1. Positive feedback from knowledgeable sources.

Now, this doesn’t mean ‘my mum reads lots of books, and she loved it’ (not least because my mum – whilst generally fabulous – hasn’t read it, probably wouldn’t like it, and would have no qualms about telling me so). I am, however, fortunate enough to have been able to take an MA in Creative Writing, and so had access to published, experienced writers to edit and feedback on my work. One of them said she thought that, with some work, this story would be publishable, and I have clung to that casual comment like a particularly voracious koala bear. I expect a similar effect could be achieved by paying for a professional editor’s opinion. Expensive, but – rest assured – cheaper than an MA.

One a similar note, whilst I haven’t actually had anything approaching an offer of representation from an agent, I have had several personal, heartening rejections (ha) and three full manuscript requests, which – if somewhat soul-destroying when they come to nothing – are unquestionably encouraging in the long run.

  1. Arrogant comparisons to published books.

Now please don’t think too badly of me for this one. I frequently read books so mind-alteringly astounding they make me feel like a time-wasting goon, with not an ounce of talent to speak of. I also often read books that leave me with a sort of begrudging admiration for a phrase or paragraph that feels depressingly beyond my own meagre ability. But occasionally – just occasionally – I read a published book, and get a twisted thrill of smugness, combined with a hearty dollop of bitterness, and the thought ‘I think I would have pulled that off better,’ or ‘I think my idea’s more original than that,’ or, most often, ‘WHY is she doing that, my characters are never this plot-servingly stupid!’ (disclaimer: not always true). And hey, they got published, right?

  1. Sheer pig-headedness.

The fact is that an awful lot of the time – and especially more recently – I’m not at all sure I’m good enough. I re-read excerpts of my submission and am suddenly, burningly sure they’re crap. I write a few lines of a new project, and cringe even as my fingers tap. I receive a rejection and ignore the positive comments, so as to wallow in the ‘oh GOD, she’s RIGHT, I am a TERRIBLE WRITER’ of the criticisms. Not only is this unhelpful, I know – in my heart of hearts, and less self-pitying moods – that it’s unfair. On good days, in soft lighting, I’m pretty sure I’m a decent writer. But failing that, I am as bloody stubborn as they come. And you’d be surprised how useful that is.

Next Post: Being as I’m not currently mired quite so deep in the self-pity trench as I have been in (many) previous weeks, I’m going to try and stagger through a post on what happens if this actually doesn’t work. Because, let’s face it, there’s a good chance it won’t, and we might as well all be prepared.

gulp

Submission Last Week

Just two, because I’m STILL waiting on that third MS response…which doesn’t feel like the most encouraging sign…

Current Rejection Tally: 17

A Most Technical and Thorough Study of Successful Children’s Authors

Firstly, apologies for the lack of post last week – I was halfway through writing this one, thought I had loads more time to finish it, and then accidentally filled that time with other stuff. My bad.

anyway

‘An original idea. That can’t be too hard, the library must be full of them’ – Stephen Fry

Okay, I was fresh out of blog ideas this week, so have fallen back on the age-old contingency of just nicking stuff from other people. I picked a list of authors by the extremely professional method of ‘the first few that popped into my head’, and put my not-inconsiderable cyber-stalking talents into trying to find their respective rejection / getting published stories. I also tweeted all of them to ask how many rejections they had received for their first novel. I didn’t really expect any replies because, like, these people are busy and my Twitter feed is looking increasingly desperate (which, to be fair, I pretty much am) – but did actually receive two responses!

So, here is my totally random and none-too-comprehensive list. They’re all at least partly children’s authors because that’s my area of interest (also that’s just what I read), and all are award-winning, highly respected and some of my faves.

Jonathan Stroud

Best-selling author of the Bartimaeus Sequence and Lockwood and Co., founder of creativity campaign Freedom To Think, and my all-time favourite children’s author.

I couldn’t find loads of information from Jonathan Stroud on his road to publication. He published a book of word puzzles aged 23, first novel at 28 and two years later became a full-time writer (still two years before the first Bartimaeus book – The Amulet of Samarkand – was published) – so we can safely assume he did pretty damn well. His advice to writers with a completed novel pursuing publication was ‘When you’re confident you’ve got something worth showing, send your material to several publishers at once, so you don’t waste time if it’s rejected. […] Don’t worry if you get rejections, but listen to any advice.’

(To be honest at this point I got sucked into a tragic hour of re-reading loads of information about the Bartimaeus books that I already knew, so let’s move on…)

Patrick Ness

Carnegie-award winning author of the Chaos Walking series, A Monster Calls (novel and screenplay), The Rest of Us Just Live Here, various other slices of fabulousness; but more importantly, another member of my Top 3.

There’s actually LOADS of advice / info from Patrick Ness about getting published, due to his 2009 Booktrust residency, but I’ve picked out the bits that gave my personal ego the warmest hug. He says that his original list of agents to submit to had sixty people on it (mine, after a quick headcount, has 58), and that he kept a spreadsheet of every agent, listing the date the submission was sent and a note on their response. Dude is my spirit animal. He’s non-specific on a stark, cold number of rejections, but does state that he had two ‘very snotty’ letters, a majority of form responses, and five or six requests for the full MS. Of all the author research and reading I did (and I really got quite sucked into it), nothing made me feel as reassured and soothed as this; jokes aside (sickly alert), I can’t express how much better reading this made me feel.

Sarah Crossan

An Irish writer, known mostly for her young adult novels – many of which have won awards, most notably perhaps last year’s One, which won the Carnegie. (Hilariously, I kept typing ‘one’ instead of ‘won’ there…not that I’m jealous or anything.)

Rejections: 0

raspberry

And I quote ‘the journey has been a long one, as it is for most writers […] I wrote privately and with no feedback for ten years before I wrote The Weight of Water, and luckily it was picked up by the first agent I contacted’. Now, Sarah Crossan is extraordinarily talented and seems like a bit of a legend, so I don’t want to undermine that casually understated ‘luckily’, but damn. I think this is one of those ‘exception, not the rule’ situations, but it’s mostly depressing to think about, so let’s just move on…

Matt Haig 

Author, journalist, mental health advocate and all-around dude. Writer of, amongst others, The Last Family in England, The Radleys, Shadow Forest and the upcoming How To Stop Time, about which I am excited.

Rejections: 37

Again there wasn’t a ton of information about Matt Haig’s road to publication – his road to writing a novel was so fraught it presumably is quite overshadowed. He does have a blogpost on how to get published[http://www.matthaig.com/how-to-get-published/], though, written in a typically hilarious series of undercuts and contradictions. Mostly I came across him assuring aspiring writers that being published and successful as a writer will not ‘alter your brain chemistry’ and automatically make you happy. Which I’m sure is true, but, y’know, I’d rather have a crack at it.

Philip Reeve 

Bestselling author of the Mortal Engines series, Carnegie-winner for Here Lies Arthur (my favourite) and recently nominated for Railhead, Philip Reeve actually responded to my tweet!

Rejections: and I quote, ‘LOADS’

I’m just going to let this sequence of tweets speak for itself: “Oh, LOADS of agents rejected Mortal Engines, or just ignored it.” – “This was before steampunk was a thing, I think the retro-tech element just confused them.” – “One said I needed to make it more futuristic, ‘like Independence Day’.” – “(I was trying to sell it as grown-up SF/F. When I redid it as a kids book Scholastic were interested straight away.)” – “The best bit was after it was published, when some of the agents who’d ignored my letters got in touch asking to represent me.” WE CAN ONLY DREAM.

So that was fun and educational for all! I would highly recommend giving these authors websites a good look, and if you’re into YA and haven’t read any of their respective novels then it’s only really sensible that you drop whatever you’re doing and get on that.

Next Post: How good do you actually have to be to get published? Hell if I know, but since when has that stopped me writing a blog post on it?

Submissions Last Week

Just one, but I’m still waiting on Full MS Request #3 so even that one was probs a bit cheeky…

Current Rejection Tally: 14