Rejection is never easy; and when it comes to the rejection of a novel that you’ve spent over a year of your life writing – well, it’s tough. That’s where I’m at.
Not only that, I have just spent the past ten months sending out my previous novel and that, too, has bounced back to me every time. I counted up the other day and was surprised that the tally was so low: 2 independent publishers, 2 novel competitions and 18 agencies – 22 rejections in all. This may sound a lot, but believe me the effort involved makes it feel like more.
A few weeks ago I started sending out my third novel. My writing, I like to think, is of a literary/commercial cross-over nature and this, in itself, poses dilemmas. For a start, literary fiction doesn’t pay – or hardly ever. And secondly, it doesn’t sell easily if you self-publish. I’ve taken advice from many writers, both published and self-published, and they all say the same. Literary is different. Don’t expect sales, don’t expect an income, and certainly don’t expect to market it yourself. Even the zealously, and very successfully, self-published author who ran the ‘Make Money from your Writing’ course that I attended last year told us that literary writing is in a category of its own.
I don’t want a lot in life. I want to write the type of books that intrigue me and include ideas that fire me up. I want to see them in print and available to buy online. I would like enough money – a couple of thousand pounds would do – to buy me enough time to begin my next novel. This, I am told, is entirely unrealistic.
There was a time when I still had visions of winning the Booker Prize. I was entirely and inappropriately confident. But you need that confidence, and mine carried me through the learning curve of writing my first novel. I was helped by a wonderful local writing group who supported and believed in me, and by the kudos of winning an Arts Council Writer’s Award to help me complete the book. When I came to marketing it I got some positive feedback from agents and some asked to see the complete manuscript (this is gold-dust!). Looking back, I didn’t realize how close I came. Sadly, though, my marriage broke up and my mental health dive-bombed. I was a part-time single mum who ended up having to move house four times in two years. Writing, and trying to sell my novel, was the last thing on my mind.
My second novel was written, and re-written, in fits and starts over several years. I still think it is a good book. Sending it out I began to feel as if the subject matter might be holding it back – it is a coming-of-age story set against the declining clothing industry in Nottingham in the 1990s. Never mind, I thought, I have the third novel to fall back on. The third novel, unlike the second, almost wrote itself. From beginning to end the process was a joyful and productive use of the time I took out from paid employment to help me cope with caring for my dad. The third novel, I simply KNEW, was ‘the one’.
The first time I sent it out I think I physically shook as I pressed the ‘send’ button. My precious new work was finally out there and it felt like make-or-break. If no one picked it up I would need to go back to a job and would lose the time to write intently and productively. I selected the agencies and agents carefully, my first choice being the one who had felt my second novel ‘stood out from the many we receive’.
So far I have had two rejections. I cannot describe how this has felt. The first ‘no’ sent my mood spiraling down and the second, a few days later, felt like a punch in the gut. It did not help that one of the agents described the subject matter as ‘an intriguing premise’ – the writing didn’t hit the mark. It makes me realize how stoically I took the rejections for my second novel. I felt like going down to the agency’s office and conducting a sit-in protest.
Friends and local writers have rallied round. We have discussed alternatives to the negativity of the word ‘rejection’ and several people have sent links to articles and web-pages outlining how famous novelists and novels were rejected many times before getting published. One Booker winning author had his first novel rejected 78 times before it was published. I am not sure that even I have that level of stamina. Having said that, I have four full-length manuscripts (including one non-fiction book) sitting on my shelf. How many people can say that?
So I will continue to send out novel number three. Meanwhile, I have also been scanning the jobs pages and working on my research into Simplicity for my upcoming summer scholarship. This is spawning some amazing material and ideas. I’ll have to be careful otherwise book number five will be queuing up on the shelf for its place in the rejection hierarchy.
My mad cat having mad-hatter moments chasing imaginary mice and real shoelaces at the bottom of my bed at 5am in the morning.
Seeing the amazing production of ‘COAL’ at Nottingham Playhouse – part of the neat (Nottingham European Arts and Theatre) festival. It was physical dance theatre that aimed (and succeeded) to share the experience of being part of the mining community as it was decimated by Thatcher in the 1980s. So powerful and sad and emotional and joyous, and just simply amazing to be part of the audience. It touched me especially because I lived for 20 years in the ex-mining communities in north-west Nottinghamshire, moving there just after most of the pits closed in 1985.
© Anne de Gruchy