Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks ago, I heard that a short essay I’d written about the process of writing my memoir had been accepted by a writing journal in the US. I was elated—not because of the money, or the prestige of the outlet—but because of the positive feedback. You get a lot of “No’s” as a writer before you get a “Yes.” As I wrote in the post below, in the wake of a nice rejection letter I received on an earlier book manuscript, you just need that occasional encouragement to keep on going.
I got a lovely email yesterday from a literary agent. I’d sent her my book manuscript a few months back. Her email read accordingly:
So sorry for the delay. I went round in circles… the thing is, I love the writing and the idea but I am just not sure how I would sell it. Sometimes I come across a book that I long to read, but fail to know how to edit and get sold and this is one. Hence my circles! Thank you for your patience – am quite sure you will find the right agent.
It was probably the 20th or so rejection I’ve had in the last 18 months since I started shopping my book. That number is possibly even higher. Most of the time, you don’t hear anything back from agents. If they liked your idea enough to read beyond the cover letter, you’ll usually get something along the lines of “While I liked this….you need someone who can get behind you 100%.”
Occasionally, you get a blow to the gut. One person’s PA told me that while her boss “loved the premise, she didn’t like the writing.” Ouch.
You may wonder why I’ve chosen to adopt such a halcyon reaction to this particular rejection. After all, this lady ain’t publishing my book.
But the positive feedback did lift my spirits. When you’re a writer, you spend a lot of time alone, often in the in the dark. (Shout out to The 5am Writers Club!) You have no audience save your own inner critic, and you often lose hope. Your writing starts to look ugly…unpolished…preposterous. More dangerous still, it may start to look beautiful, one-of-a-kind, and revolutionary. (And then you wander over to Slush Pile Hell and remember why so many writers get rejected by agents.)
When I tell friends and family that I’ve yet to find an agent for my book, they remind me that J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before landing the Harry Potter series. Or they point me towards this comedian who vowed to get rejected 100 times as her New Year’s Resolution.
It’s kind of them to support me like that. They don’t want me to give up. But I have no illusions that I’m the next J.K. Rowling. I just need the odd reminder that the thing I created – which, at the time, felt like the book only I could write – wasn’t total shit.
So for someone, especially a professional, to say something encouraging about my writing, even when they reject it, makes me feel less alone. It also makes me feel like I wasn’t insane to spend a couple of years on said topic. And it gives me hope that someday, someone might actually take a punt and choose to represent me.
In short, rejection helps spur me on. When my teenage daughter tells me that she’s afraid to audition for something – an orchestra, a theatre production, anything – because she’s sure she’ll be rejected, I exhort her to go ahead and apply anyway. “If you don’t apply, you’ll be in the same place you are now,” I remind her. “Whereas if you *do* apply, you might be somewhere different.”
This is one of those cases where if I’m going to talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. So I will keep waking up early to write. I’ll also keep getting out there and sending my book manuscript to agents.
If nothing else, this morning I wrote this blog.