Looking back over 2017

Last year, I made a list of every children’s literature agent in the UK that was open for submission. There were 53 of them. At the beginning of this year, I resolved to submit my recently completed (and by that I mean completed, redrafted, redrafted, rewritten and redrafted several more times) manuscript to every one of them, in a do-or-die experiment to see if this could finally help me achieve my long-standing ambition to get the fucker published.

To cut a long story short, it didn’t.

shrug.gif

My current rejection tally stands at 45. There are a few competition / publisher rejections thrown in there as well, meaning there are still 12 agencies left on my list. I don’t think I’ll be submitting to them. I’m pretty tired.

And there has been some good news in there. I was longlisted for one of those competitions, three of those agencies had requested my full manuscript, and several more sent me encouraging responses; that this book wasn’t for them but I was doing a lot of things right and should keep going.  If it wasn’t for those few positive responses I probably would have drowned in a pool of tears and ice cream by now, so I really am enormously grateful for them.

But yeah, on the whole it has not really been a great year, ambition-wise. It is safe to say that both my ego and motivation are feeling a bit:

beaten up

But to re-employ my most wrung-out metaphor; I’ve been waiting for this bus for effing years, one more isn’t that big of a deal – I’m still not moving a bloody muscle until it gets here. So here, once again, is a Plan Of Action:

1. I won’t be posting (on purpose…) in December, because it’s Christmas and I am in dire need of both cheer, and not thinking about my bludgeoned dreams. Nobody wants to be dealing with this crap at the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

sad elf

2. Currently the plan is to keep The Rejection Box going in the new year, because there are definitely more rejections in my future, amiright?! I’ll be posting fortnightly or monthly though, as for a while my focus will be to…

3. Write something new. Again.

And who knows? Maybe 2018 will turn out to be The Year.

Until then, Merry Christmas x

 

 

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I Liked It, Just Not ENOUGH

I got a lovely rejection letter a couple of weeks ago. It said (verbatim) “I really wanted to like this – you sound great and committed as a writer and the synopsis is also really promising but I’m afraid I just didn’t fall for this in the way I wanted to.”

And on the plus side, feedback is a rare find and always much appreciated. A friendly, personalised rejection letter is also a rare find and always much appreciated. This agent asked me to bear her in mind for future submissions, and I certainly will – she was kind, helpful and polite. And I know that I’m lucky to have had that response, and that I’m lucky to have had all the encouragement I’ve had over the last few months. It’s a really good sign that I’ve consistently received positive rejections and encouragement, in amongst all the agents who have flatly ignored me.

But guys, I’m getting so fed up of being told they ALMOST loved it. I’m so fed up of getting job interviews but never the job. I’m so fed up of second place. And I know, I know, I’m lucky to place at all. But in the most arrogant statement I think I’ve ever admitted to on this blog, I don’t feel lucky – I actually feel like a very hard worker and publishable-level writer who has been noticeably UNlucky. I hope that doesn’t sound horrific. If it does, and you’re sat there thinking ‘I’ve worked ten times as hard and gotten half as far’ then please feel free to print this blog post out and burn it (I probs would).

But I have gotten a fair few responses that have essentially said ‘I would have taken this on if I’d ‘clicked’ with it’. And HOW THE FUCK am I supposed to make it ‘click’? I feel like I have done everything I can do, and now just have to hope that some luck-distributing leprechaun (or similar) gets his arse in gear and sprinkles a bit of long-awaited ‘click’ over my manuscript.

Until then, I suppose I’ll just keep pestering agents, and when they tell me I’m ALMOST good enough, be like:

fake smile

 

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.

 

POSITIVE THOUGHTS

Hello all, another quick one today. The post that feels most relevant is pretty depressing (SHOCKER), so I’m going to save that for the future (read: next week). Instead, I’m going to leave you with a list of happy things I force myself to think when the rejections and general barren wasteland of unsuccessfulness are getting me down:

  • Even if this book never gets published, the full manuscript was requested three times, and as far as I’m aware nobody can go back in time and take that away from me.
  • I have, like, a LOT more story ideas to turn into books to turn into rejections before I’m done.
  • JK Rowling was, like, thirty-something before she was successful – as are most other authors (though this one usually leads to ‘I CANNOT TAKE ANOTHER TEN YEARS OF THIS’ so use with caution).
  • What’s for dinner?
  • Patrick Ness says that the best writers don’t just ‘write’, they ‘write anyway’, and hell if that’s not exactly what I’m doing. (My boyfriend would like me to point out that he actually suggested this point, not Patrick Ness. But he didn’t use the interesting phrasing, so here we are.)
  • In about three hours, I can go to bed.
  • What happens if I type ‘puppy’ and ‘trampoline’ into Google?
  • When my book is one day published and I become HIDEOUSLY SUCCESSFUL, I can spend a fabulous afternoon calling all the agents who rejected / ignored me and point out to them that they are not my agent.
  • If the publishing industry thinks it’s more stubborn than I am then it can THINK AGAIN.

never give up

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

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