I received my first rejection on the new book this week, and was surprised by how much it stung and by how much self-doubt was churned up in its wake. It was a prompt and kindly response (full of useful feedback), but a rejection all the same. I felt like an unhappy singleton who had just dipped a toe back into the dating market, and then had a disastrous first date with someone who they desperately wanted to impress. In my mind, I’d love to be the person who flounces away, saying “well, they’re clearly not worthy of me,” but I’m actually the type who’d be sitting at home with a tub of ice cream howling “what’s wrong with me?”
The more I looked for parallels between dating and looking for an agent/editor, the more appeared. We go out tentatively, with our hearts on our sleeves, looking for a connection with someone we barely know. It’s gruelling, off-putting process and rejection goes with the territory. I imagine someone sat in front of an internet dating site, discounting possible dates on appearance alone – “too old”, “too fat”, “too funny looking” – and then see that same person looking through a slushpile, making similar assessments: “too slow”, “too fast”, “too much like all those other books”.
But then I found differences too, because finding someone who loves what you do isn’t the same as finding someone who loves who you are. It’s possible to have a very satisfactory business relationship with someone in publishing who has little in common with you personally, but who adores your work. Equally, I’ve been happily married for seventeen years, but I know my wife would much prefer it if I stopped writing these new-fangled children’s novels and came up with something a bit more like the books she read as a child. As a writer though, I think it’s easy to conflate the two states and see a rejection of something you’ve made as a rejection of your whole self.
I certainly found the aftermath of my departure from my agent was a lot like a really bad break-up. I seemed to spend months in a directionless haze, starting books and then giving up on them almost immediately. I’d also lost confidence in the book I’d completed, and I stopped submitting it to insulate myself from further rejection. I’m sure what I should have done was get immediately back in the game and send out a submission to every children’s agent in the country, but it seemed safer to retreat into my shell.
But here I am a year later, new on the scene and apparently still a little “emotionally vulnerable.” However, failure is not an option this time – I’m going to keep sending this book out until everyone in the literary world is heartily sick of it. People will run away from me at parties, mouthing “Oh God – don’t let him see me.” Either I’ll grow a thicker skin or get arrested. Maybe both!