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

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

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

The Dream Backup

So in my Rejection post a few weeks ago I mentioned how helpful I think it can be to start working on a new project as soon as the old one is in the submissions stage. I say this having never actually successfully achieved it – but the theory is stellar. And here’s why:

  1. It’s fun

Really though. I’ve always found the range of attitudes writers have to writing frankly hilarious. You have everything, from the people surrounding you telling you that if you don’t enjoy writing then you shouldn’t bother, to George RR Martin telling you he enjoys ‘having written’, to Hemingway saying you ‘sit at a typewriter and bleed’. And I have definitely experienced every one of those emotions whilst 50,000 words into a story I’m suddenly not sure is any good.

But, that’s a few months down the line. The start of a new project is like:

this is the best.gif

Because it’s all the good bits! For me at least, the best thing about writing is the story – and the start of a new project is all about the story. You can sit around in your pants (optional) and think about why your favourite Joss Whedon characters are your favourites, or what it is about the relationship between the kids in Stranger Things that works so well, or how cool it was in that book when all those characters who hated each other had to work together. You can weave whole new characters and plots and make them all the things you’ve loved in the last couple of years. And if you have a sudden doubt that actually maybe that thing in the middle needs to happen nearer the end, you don’t have to have a week-long crisis of debating whether this is enough of a problem to require four months of rewrites. You just draw some squiggly arrows and big crosses in a notebook and it’s sorted.

The fun of starting a new project, to my mind, is the perfect antidote to the soul-crushing cycle of expectation and disappointment that has certainly characterised my submission process. Remind yourself why you’re actually doing this – because, really, it’s worth it.

  1. It’s productive

I’m here to tell you that however rigidly you stick to a submissions timetable, you will still feel like those bits of food that go gunky and block the sink (wilted and gross? …no?) when an agent responds to the submission that collectively took you about three hours (not to mention the months of work on the novel itself) with a two-line, standard rejection email that doesn’t even have your name at the top. If they respond at all, that is. It’s extremely easy to feel like you are just wasting your time, to which the best solution, I reckon, is to use some of your other time really, really well. And what could be more productive than getting started on a whole new project?

  1. It’s distracting

So thirty or forty times a day I have a conversation with myself, which goes a bit like this:
The ‘Eat The Chocolate, Stay In Bed, You Can Exercise Tomorrow’ Voice: Check your emails.
The Sensible Voice: But I checked them eighteen seconds ago.
The ETCSIBYCET Voice: An agent could have replied in those eighteen seconds. It’s been twenty seconds now.
Sensible: Probably not though…
ETCSIBYCET: You won’t know unless you check.
Sensible: True…
ETCSIBYCET: Dooooo it…
*checks emails*
Sensible, now downhearted: Nope, just that Travelzoo promotion full of holidays I can’t afford…
ETCSIBYCET: I mean you could always have a look at them, though…

Clicking ‘refresh’ on your emails is not a good use of your time. Do anything else. Better yet – do something productive.

  1. It’s like Dream Backup

So just for a minute, let’s consider the worst possible outcome. It’s been months. You’ve (I’m using the second person here mostly for peace of mind) sent the book off to literally every relevant agent, publisher and competition in the country and they have all said no. Everything, without question, sucks.

But do you know what I’m betting makes it worse? If you then have to muster up the phenomenal amount of willpower, bravery and sheer bloody-mindedness to start again, from scratch. I imagine for myself at least, that every time anyone made a casual, gentle enquiry after that writing thing I used to be interested in, I’d just be like:

don't ask me.gif

That, surely, is the moment in which you are most likely to give up.

UNLESS, that is, you already have a plot outline and a few thousand words under your belt! Don’t get me wrong, that’s not going to wave a magic wand and cure the open, bleeding rejection wound – but it might at least disinfect it a bit.

So yes, I think the best thing you can do to keep yourself motivated and reasonably sane is to start a new book as soon as you send off that first submission. Even if you can’t or don’t devote loads of time to it – it will help. It’s helping me.

That, and the occasional cheese binge.

Next Post: A very, very carefully worded and much-debated-over attempt to not shoot myself in the foot whilst discussing the contradictions of the agency/submitting author relationship, and the respect (or lack thereof) that goes in both directions. Literally everyone is going to tell me not to write this post, so I’m probably going to fumble over the words so much it’ll come out more or less meaningless. Stay tuned!!!

Submissions Last Week

None, as explained in my last post. (Though actually I did send a cheeky one off over the weekend to an agent who was only opening for submission until Monday…shhhh…)

Current Rejection Tally: 3

 

 

Holding good news at arm’s length like it’s about to explode…

So in a truly surprising twist – I have some good news. And even before I type I’m wondering how best to downplay it, but we’ll get to that later, so here it is:

An agent has asked for my full manuscript.

For those who are like, ‘…what?’, I’m sorry to say that an agent asking for my full manuscript does not mean my book will be available in Waterstones by next Tuesday. BUT, it is a very hard to achieve first step down a road I have been trying to throw myself onto for ten years – so this is, without question, a VERY GOOD THING.

My initial reaction, in fact, was to click on the email I was fully expecting to be Rejection #2, see the words ‘full manuscript’ and be like:

oh my god (2).gif

I called my boyfriend and shrieked down the phone, realising when he asked me what the email said that I was so overcome with manic excitement I hadn’t even read it yet. I then called and sent messages to a motley collection of other people, and about two hours after I’d seen the email, suddenly had a thought:

‘What if I have to call all these people back in two weeks and tell them nothing came of it?’

And that – after a very ramble-y introduction – is the theme of this week’s post. How do you balance feeling overwhelmingly excited, self-satisfied, expectant and immensely hopeful with the knowledge that there is a very good chance this agent will email me back with the rejection I was expecting the first time?

If you’ve continued reading for an answer to that question, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. I am treading new and volatile ground over a mental cesspit I’ve only just crawled out of, and my instinct is telling me to jump up and down.

So far my reaction to the news (which I received just under a week ago, at the time of writing) has been – shall we say – mixed. I spent a not-insignificant part of the evening following the email hysterically weeping for literally no reason, as if my body had released ten years worth of ‘mild success’ hormones.

i-dont-know-why-1i-dont-know-why-2i-dont-know-why-3

Since then I’ve just sort of…carried on. It’s in the back of my mind all the time, but in the meanwhile there’s not much I can do except continue, and hope. And I don’t even know how much hope is good for me! Whenever I’ve told someone what’s happened and they’ve been kind and happy and excited back at me, my reflex is to tell them that this might mean nothing. But then I stomped to work, furious that I hadn’t been able to immediately quit and embark on the lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed.

I imagine this post itself reads like the wordy ramblings of the Hulk. Are you angry / happy or not?!

And I really, really hope this post hasn’t sounded ungrateful. I am very happy – but I’m also acutely aware of the fact that my happiness on this matter is totally and completely outside of my control. I know that by the time you’re even reading this post, I could have taken another enormous step down that road I’ve so coveted – or I could be back at square one. I have no way of knowing, and I’m so scared of this ray of hope being snatched away from me that I’m kind of hiding it from myself; like if I don’t look at it too hard, maybe nobody will notice I have it and just leave it with me.

So, yeah. Apologies for the rambling this week – as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been having a hard enough time trying to corral my thoughts into any kind of sensible formation, never mind structuring a blog post around them! Ultimately what I’m trying to focus on is that even if I do end up back at square one, at least I know now that I’m not wasting my time. Even if only one agent at one time thought my story might be worth looking into – that is definitely progress, whatever the outcome, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

So after all that, I will leave you with an elegant explanation of my hope for the future:

dance 2.gif

Next Week’s Post: Backing gently away from unchecked emotion and towards actual productivity and usefulness, I’m going to expand on something I mentioned in my Rejection post and explain why I think working on something new at the same time as submitting something old is a top-notch way to cling grimly onto that sanity you’re so precious about.

Submissions Last Week

None at all, as I’ve given the agent who asked for my manuscript an exclusive look for a couple of weeks! And if you think I’m horrifically lazy enough to be thrilled at this accidental break…you would be exactly right.

Current Rejection Tally: 1

Hating successful writers will not make you a successful writer…apparently.

I don’t like to think of myself as a jealous person, but unfortunately there is a not insignificant amount of evidence to the contrary.

To conjure a little mental image for you, three and a half years ago I was interrailling in Europe with two friends. We were reaching the end of our trip and duly knackered – so the three of us were lounging around in our hostel, scrolling through our phones. I came across an article about a young writer – who shall remain nameless for the sake of my own embarrassment as much as anything else – who had just signed something like a seven-book contract with a major publisher. She was maybe a year or so older than I was at the time, still in university, and the first book of her fantasy series was being published. These are all quite innocent facts, and yet – and I’m sure my friends can attest to this – I was a little bit:

losing-temper

Now, in my defence, this article was truly sickly – it could have been written by the writer’s mum, it was so fawning. (I actually just read it again to see if my memory had blown it out of proportion. I hadn’t.) The story itself – if I’m honest – would probably have sounded interesting to me under different circumstances, but as it was I was all, “What kind of a stupid character name is that?! What does that even mean?! That is so unoriginal…” I’m sure you can imagine the pettiness for yourself.

I’d like to say this was an isolated incident, brought on by tiredness, lack of self-confidence or the sickening tone of the article. However…

There does seem to be specific criteria for this horrible streak of jealousy. A writer of my own age, typically another woman, writing in a genre I’m very familiar with – fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi – but using characters or plot devices I find hackneyed and cliché (i.e. a love triangle that for some reason eclipses the literal fate of the world, a troubled female protagonist claiming altruism but always behaving selfishly, a roguish love interest with green eyes and a lopsided smile…the list, I’m afraid, goes on). Even typing that has made me feel snobbish and judgemental, but I can’t pretend that it isn’t exactly the truth.

But then I wonder if the content of these books actually matters at all. I really like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series – which you could argue contains several of the elements I’ve just complained about. Would I hate it if Scott Westerfeld was a woman in her mid-twenties? I hope not. But maybe?

I’ve tried to figure out a logical explanation for these ugly feelings, but what I’ve realised is that you can’t really apply logic to feelings this irrational. I think my subconscious is under the impression that there are only so many spots available for young, female fantasy writers – so every time I found out about another one, that’s somehow damaging my already-stunted chances of success. This – clearly – is not the case. But that does seem to be how it feels. And I’m not rightly sure whether this is down to overconfidence – am I conceited enough to really think I had a chance at this writer’s success? – or…erm, under-confidence? Certainly the end result of one of these spiralling rages tends to be:

im-fine-because-i-know-who-i-am

My hope in sharing this strange ramble on The Rejection Box is that I’m not alone in this. If you are also a writer who experiences similar bouts of irrational fury at perfectly innocent writers you’ve never met – at least by reading this you can know you’re not alone. If there are enough of us, maybe we can even claim that this is just some weird, unfortunate side effect of wanting to be a writer?

…probably not.

At the end of the day, though, this is a horribly unproductive attitude. I don’t want to be the sort of person who actually seeks out things I know will bother me just to be angry about them. I’m not going to pretend I’ll stop doing it after this outpouring of a blog post, but I do wish I would. There are many more useful things I could be doing with that time – writing, for a start.

So after all of that, this is the closest I can get to some ‘advice’ for this week:

Don’t do that. It ain’t healthy.

Next Week’s Post: Having received some good news from my many submissions, I’m going to mediate the post I would like to write (‘GUYS GUYS IT’S HAPPENING I’M GOING TO BE JK ROWLING) with some actual realism. How is a person supposed to cope with taking a step closer to their dream, knowing full well that the rug could very well be about to be ripped from under you? This is not a rhetorical question.

Submissions Last Week

Only two actually – for reasons that will be explained in next week’s post!

Current Rejection Tally: 1