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

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

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