Let Me In!

It’s actually going to be a real post this week! With length and misery and everything!

whoop

Seriously though, this blog post is not for the fainthearted – it is, however, intended to be an understanding cuddle to everyone who has felt what I’m feeling at the minute re: rejections. And to try and reassure myself, as much as anyone, that this feeling isn’t reserved for me, and that it won’t last.

So here’s how I feel. Nearly ten years ago, in my tender early teens, I knocked politely on the door of a Very Intimidating House, and had this conversation with the very tall and scary person, called Publishing Industry, who answered:

Me: Will you publish my book please?

Publishing Industry: *flicking through my 500+ page, dragons-and-swords fantasy trilogy* No. Go away and write a better book.

Which, to be honest, was fair. So I did. Two years later, we had the same conversation about my much-harder-to-genre-ise YA story, only now there were some extras:

Publishing Industry: Still not a good enough book. Also, you need to get better at writing cover letters and synopses, pay attention to every minute detail on our various and sundry websites to make sure you don’t piss us off at the starting post, find out where you stand in the children’s market, learn how to pitch better and get more writing experience.

FINE

So I went away (skipping and frolicking) and read hundreds of books, learned the children’s market about as well as anyone who isn’t being paid to do so can, studied countless guides to writing cover letters and synopses to write a good pitch, made sure I was submitting precisely within the guidelines of each individual agency / competition, and in the meantime got an MA in Creative Writing as well as writing thousands and thousands more words.

Now, I’m standing in front of that same door (only now it’s cold and pissing rain) and they still won’t let me in. And now, no-one will even tell me why. Is it because my writing isn’t good enough? Maybe; I’m no JK Rowling, but I’ve also read (published) worse. Is it because my story isn’t marketable? Again, maybe; but it’s essentially children’s fantasy – how un-marketable has that ever been?  Is it because I’m just unlucky, and keep writing to the wrong people at the wrong time? Maybe; but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

What’s frustrating me the most at the minute is that I keep finding myself trawling the internet for more tips, more guidance, more things I haven’t tried that might finally get me through that door. But all I ever find is stuff I’ve already done.

So that’s me this week, I’m afraid. Standing outside of a perennially closed door; cold, soaked and very, very grumpy.

sad rain

Next week we’re back to short and sweet, but I promise to also say some things that won’t leave you wanting to go to bed forever. Maybe.

 

Apologies past, present and future…

Hello, it’s only going to be a short one today because:

  1. I should have posted yesterday, but had nothing written (AGAIN).
  2. I’m literally at work, hoping nobody important is about to walk in and see that I’ve mentally checked out an hour and a half early.
  3. Well, they’re going to be short ones for a while…

As a kind of follow-up to my last post, in which I said I’d be scaling back my submissions attempts, I’m also going to be scaling back blog posts. Given the scheduling shit-show that has been going on the last few weeks, I wouldn’t blame you if this actually comes as a relief.

I’m still going to try and post weekly on Mondays, but the posts will for the most part be short, sweet and update-y rather than covering anything…y’know, interesting.

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This is because over the last couple of months I’ve been driving myself round the twist trying to get all my submissions done, a blog post written, some actual writing done, work four days a week, maintain personal hygiene, have friends, sleep etc. etc. And I’ve reached that point where I feel like I’ve been doing a half-arsed version of everything, rather than a proper job of anything.

So I’m still going to post, but only briefly unless there’s something specific / important to say. Hopefully this will give me time to take my foot off the mental pedal a bit, and will mean that when I do write a proper post it’s not just an increasingly miserable re-hash of ‘yeah, I’m still being rejected’.

So sorry for the late post, sorry for the lack of lols in this one and sorry for the future brevity – here’s hoping all of these things served / will serve a purpose!

A Re-Evaluation of Tactics

Oh dear guys: it’s not going super well, is it? I have now crossed the 25 Rejection marker, and had a long-awaited rejection from the third agency to have requested my full manuscript last week. The fact that my full manuscript has been under consideration at one agency or another for the last couple of months has had a few effects:

  1. I haven’t been sending as many submissions off, so the ‘awaiting response’ column of my spreadsheet is looking depressingly weedy.
  2. The landslide of ‘well they’ve ignored me for three solid months now, so that’s probs a no’ rejections all landed in the last few weeks.
  3. I’ve now had rejections/ignortions (work with me) from pretty much all of my green list agents.

I’m also not holding out an awful lot of hope for any of my more recent submissions, as all of the full MS requests I have received arrived within a week of my initial email. Obviously this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the past few months do seem to have taught me that the longer you wait for a response, the more likely that response is going to be a big, fat ‘no’. This being the case, I was 90% sure that last full MS request would be a no weeks before I received it. But this is still the furthest I’ve felt from potential success for a couple of months, and it kinda sucks.

But you know, darkest before the dawn and all that. And what this does mean is that I’m considering a minor change in tactics.

In a complete contradiction of one of my previous posts explaining why I’m submitting to agents[link], I’m still going to submit to agents, but I think I’m going to try and submit to a few indie publishers as well. This is not because I’ve lost all faith that an agency will ever agree to represent me.

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It’s more of a nothing-to-lose strategy. One of the things that put me off wanting to submit to publishers in the first place is that some agencies ask for a list of publishers who have already seen the manuscript – which, to me, felt a bit like sending them a list which said ‘lol turns out I suck at doing your job, but here’s a bunch of people I’ve made it pointless for you to approach, just to make this a nice fun challenge’. I’m still worried about that, but frankly I care less now. Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, and I’m one rejection away from camping out on Bloomsbury’s doorstep and refusing to leave until someone reads my goddamn book.

Whilst I’m here, I’m also going to subtly hide in the middle of all this text that I’m going to scale back my pre-full MS requests 5-submissions-a-week goal. Now this is partly because I am just super busy at the minute, and finding time to write a weekly blog post is proving maddening enough. But mostly because I want to give myself a bit more time to work on my new project. This is not because I’ve lost all faith that anyone will ever publish this book.

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But last weekend I went to one of Patrick Ness’s events to promote his new novel, Release (which, if you’re looking for a book recommendation, I can confirm is that fabulous Ness-ian mixture of heart-achingly real and brain-frazzlingly weird), and gave him a brief breakdown of my attempts to get published – brief because I spat the words out like a machine gun. After he’d stopped looking at me like this:

stunned

He advised me to split focus; keep sending off my book, but spend more time working on the new one, too. And to be honest, working on the new one requires infinitely fewer desperate-self-pep-talks and dark musings on my future, so I’d like to do more of it. I will definitely still be sending at least one submission off per week – hopefully two or three. And who knows, perhaps we’ll hit the hallowed ground of four or five on weeks when I’ve decided I don’t care about a) being caught sending submissions off from work b) having friends or c) sleeping. But to assuage my future guilt, I thought I’d best let you know.

So, to summarise: bit sad but will be okay, trying a few publishers, spending more time on new project and less whingeing about rejections.

And we can call this Plan J, or something.

Next Post: Okay, now it’s getting REALLY hard to come up with new ways of saying ‘still not published’. Kind of expanding on this post, I want to talk more about how to divide time between an old project and a new one – partly to see if it helps me figure out how to actually do that…

Submissions Last Week

Just the one I’m afraid, and to an agent….I will get on this Plan J thing though, I swear.

Current Rejection Tally: 25

Urgh, but do I HAVE to?: An exploration of Networking.

Is there a word more abhorrent to the awkward, introverted British ear than ‘networking’? Certainly there is no word more likely to send a shiver down the spine of a writer – someone who voluntarily spends hours at a time sitting alone, mentally wrapped up in fantasised situations and worlds. I am no exception to this rule, and can’t seem to stop myself from even saying the word networking with the same accidental lip-curl that occurs when I say words like ‘faeces’ or ‘Brexit’.

ew

The tragedy of this is that networking is undoubtedly an actually good thing.

Now here is where my blog will once again diverge from where a ‘How To Get Published’ post would go. Rather than explain all the reasons networking is great – peppered with fabulous stories of Author X, who found an agent at HER VERY FIRST NETWORKING EVENT and similar – I’m just going to hold myself up to you as an unpublished, increasingly tragic would-be writer who’s scared of networking and say, once again: don’t do this.

I am made so anxious and sweaty over networking that I go to great lengths to avoid it. Whilst I generally like to consider myself a pretty friendly, not-too-socially stunted person, I have an awkward streak a mile wide which quite thoroughly disables me from walking up to a group of strangers I’d like to impress and just inserting myself into their conversation. The only time I can even vaguely consider myself to have ‘networked’ (see, I’m even sneering as I type it) was at the Newcastle Writing Conference in 2015. An agent who had taken pity on the terrible book I was submitting when I was fifteen had asked to meet me, and here she was – about six years later – taking part in a ‘meet the agent’ event. After the talk, as the crowd filtered back out through the doors, I joined that uneasy half-queue people form when they’re not sure whether or not it’s appropriate to queue, and waited to talk to her. She was perfectly calm and smiley, told me she half-recognised me and listened to my 100-miles-an-hour, entirely rehearsed blather about the story I was working on, what I’d been up to since our last meeting, and had I mentioned the story I was working on? She kindly asked me to send it to her when it was finished, I bounced off feeling that hadn’t gone too badly and resolved to network more often.

The slightly tragic end to that story is that I did send her my completed manuscript, and she rejected it. But hey, at least I’d tried – and I know I would have been furious with myself if I hadn’t at least tried.

But that resolve to network more often has sat quietly in the back of my head, never really needing to be tested. It’s not like there’s an arse-load of publishing events in the North East of England for me to avoid. However, in a couple of weeks I’ll be going to the 2017 Newcastle Writing Conference, enjoying the events, listening to the discussions, and dithering over the post-Conference ‘networking opportunity’. Whilst I am going to try and force myself to go to this, the image I have is of standing at the edge of a large room full of established circles of people, clutching an empty glass with a slightly strained but hopefully approachable smile on my face. That’ll be the outside.

The inside will be more:

panicking

But hey, I’ll try.

Quite apart from the sheer self-consciousness, what puts me off networking is the veneer of falsity. A networking event has literally been labelled ‘opportunity for people to come along and attempt to self-serve by finding other people who might be of use to you’, and yet everyone wanders around pretending that they’re all just here for the chat. Don’t get me wrong, loads of industries are built on this, and I get that only suckers will walk around with weird insecure guilt – but it’s a difficult attitude to shake.

So with all of these positive thoughts (ahem), I will attempt to go forth to a networking event and try to a) stay for more than five torturous minutes, b) actually talk to some people I don’t already know and c) try not to come off as a profoundly uncomfortable introvert who judges networking events. And I’m sure it will be helpful, educational, enjoyable and in no way terrifying.

Really, really sure.

Next Post: I’ve been wondering whether to take a temporary break from my relentless agent-bashing and submit to a few small publishers – so probably some ruminations on that, written with (hopefully) far more flair than I’m managing in my current knackered, it’s-10.30pm-on-Sunday-why-do-I-do-this-to-myself state.

Submissions Last Week:

Well I attempted 2 agencies, but think only 1 actually went through – but to be discussed next week. (Also that third full MS request came back as the predicted but nonetheless deeply disappointing rejection.)

Current Rejection Tally: 25

 

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

Moan, moan, apologise for moaning, moan…

So it’s going to be a short one today, for the following reasons:

  1. I had written a longer post about feedback, in which I basically banged on about how regardless of what anyone says to you, you will not receive real feedback from agents. The post was, frankly, not that interesting or funny, and I wasn’t overly happy about putting it up, but didn’t have time to try something else. Then, as I was finishing writing it, I got a rejection email from the second agent to have asked for my full manuscript, containing really quite a lot of feedback.
  2. This rejection, for reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense even to me, has been by far the most crushing so far. Some combination of the professional-but-personal tone of the emails I had received from this agent, and the fact that the main issue they had with the manuscript is actually a pretty major problem that I can’t quick-fix, and the fact that the email was so long that for an instant I thought it might not be a rejection, has all melted together to make me feel, really, pretty lousy.
  3. What should balance out this news is that the day before this rejection, I received another request for my full manuscript. Whilst this is unquestionably excellent, I’m afraid I’m just not as excited about this agency as the last one (trust me, I am telling myself that beggars can’t be choosers in a continuous stream), and am also starting to get distinctly wary of letting my hopes get all high again.

So essentially this is just a boring update post I’m afraid. A little bit too much has happened in a short space of time for me to actually wrap my head around, let alone form into a coherent blog post. This morning I was seriously considering packing in for the first time (ooh, just listen to those violins), so to save you all reading any more confused whingeing and me making any more of a prat of myself, I’m gonna leave it here for this week.

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Come back next Monday for an actual post, and the longed-for return of my sense of humour.

Edit: Goodness, wasn’t that just a mess? Sadly now I really don’t have time to put anything else together, so I’m afraid we’re just going to have to make do. Suffice it to say I’ve managed to claw myself a good way out of the above self-pity pit in the days since it was written, and next week will return with a real post, perspective and – I can almost promise – no complaining!

Next Post: I think I’ve now pointed out enough occasions when I have blithely ignored even my own advice, that it’s worth considering when – and when not – to follow writing / publishing advice generally. I actually once made a short film about this as part of a university project, so depending on my levels of self-consciousness next week you may even get to see me doing my utmost to avoid being on camera!

Submissions Last Week

*sigh* I really am just the worst resolution-keeper ever. I only sent off one, okay, but – as you can see above – I was sad and traumatised and very, very confused! Also the third agent to have requested my full manuscript has asked to read it exclusively, so next week will be more of this, but with less of the guilt and excuses.

Current Rejection Tally: 10

Square One. Again. Naturally. (Well, Actually Square One and a Half)

You guys are gonna get so sick of me writing posts about rejection. But then…in my own defence, it really does say this on the tin.

You remember that Good News post a few weeks back, in which an agent had asked for my full manuscript and I was trying not to get too excited, in case it came to nothing? But really, I was doing that thing where you’re not doing well in a game, so you start saying things like ‘God I’m such a loser’ and ‘there is no way I can pull it back from here’ whilst actually quietly hoping you could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

Sadly, the universe wasn’t fooled and my full manuscript was met with another rejection.

sad

So originally this post was intended to lament the tragedy of having hope given to you, only for it to be snatched nastily away as soon as you get attached to it. In spite of all my vocal caution and ‘I don’t want to get too excited, but…’, I was pretty darn bummed. I entirely ignored all of my own advice and spent that evening and much of the next day curled up in a blanket with unwashed hair and a steady stream of biscuits, binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was all a bit tragic.

But I had started to bounce back. A friend had provided me with a surprisingly helpful metaphor – that my submissions were like job applications – a job which I had been applying to for literally years. And having my full manuscript requested was like finally getting an interview for that job. It’s a weird balance, because on the one hand you’ve managed to progress further than ever before; but on the other, failure here lands you right back where you started. A similar (though less mature) metaphor, that I feel better communicates the sheer frustration, is when you’ve spent a truly embarrassing amount of time going over and over the same level on a video game (in my head this is Super Mario) – you finally make it to the boss at the end of the level, only to not get a single hit in before being squashed under his great spiky turtle-shell. That can induce some primary school-level tantrum-ing, right there.

So with thoughts like these having helped me salve the wound a bit, I was planning to end this post on a ‘but you can’t give up that easily’ note, and maybe an entertaining ‘I regret nothing’ gif. Unfortunately I was feeling too sorry for myself to write this post on my usual schedule, so it hadn’t gotten any further than mental planning.

And then…

(Oooooo…..)

Another agent requested my full manuscript.

gawp

That was pretty much how I felt, too. Whilst still being thrilled to itty bitty pieces about it, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling distinctly ‘once bitten, twice shy’ this time around. None of the giddy phone calls or group messages this time. I’ve told anyone who has directly asked me how this blog / my submissions  / my general level of sanity is going, but haven’t made the same kind of song and dance about it. I even considered not writing about it on The Rejection Box until I knew the outcome either way – to at least save myself the mild public embarrassment. But then I realised that was literally the opposite attitude to what this blog is supposed to be about, and so here I am. Happy, but wary.

And that’s really all I’ve got to say this week, I’m afraid. I’m sorry for the lack of useful information or advice in this post, but my brain hasn’t fully wrapped itself around what’s happening yet, which makes writing about it in any kind of knowledgeable way feel a bit false. I’m less sorry for the lack of ‘please don’t think I’m ungrateful’ platitudes, because really, who enjoys reading those? (Please just assume I am always worried about coming across as an arsehole, until further notice.) I’m also getting more and more conscious of the need to avoid repeating myself, or continuing down the rejection->possible success->more rejection->more possible success cycle, so please excuse this meander-y, slightly useless update of a post.

Maybe go look at that hilarious David Tennant gif again, and click off this page with that as your abiding memory. Okay? Okay. I’ll keep you posted.

Next Post: A (possibly slightly belated) explanation of exactly why I’m sending my book off to agents, as opposed to the alternatives. I know very little about self-publishing, but the very little I know will probably make a daring appearance, as well as at least three mentions of how much I hate marketing.

Submissions Last Week

Bit of a cop-out here. None this week – having reached around the 25 submissions mark, I was considering taking a week’s break to see if I could chase up some more responses. Then I got the request for the full MS and, even though this agent hasn’t asked for exclusivity, it justified my need for laziness I’m afraid. But I really will crack on again from next week, I promise.

Current Rejection Tally: 8