It’s been a funny kind of week. Some nice things have happened, specifically the series of posts about Stew Magazine that Space on the Bookshelf have been running. And I’m wrangling that flash fiction story I mentioned last week into shape, although it has been a slower process than I expected (ditto the reorganisation of this website). But all of this has been overshadowed by two rejections I received within days of each other, both on the full manuscript of my children’s novel.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell most of you how crushing this feels: to get so very close and then to fall back, seemingly to square one again. It’s an outcome that has made me question why I’m spending so much time and emotional energy on a process that seems so intractable.
I’ve written several different versions of this blog post during the week, with varying degrees of anger towards the industry and our book-obsessed culture. But I suspect the person I’m most angry with is myself. Why have I continually failed to write a book that someone wants to publish? And (more importantly) why do I care so much about having a book published anyway?
To address the first question for a moment, it’s become increasingly clear to me that craft is not enough. Both rejections were careful to itemise the things I was doing right in my writing, whether that be character work, plotting or humour. But both also agreed that the book wasn’t distinctive enough to gain traction in an increasingly competitive market. And that’s where I find myself stuck for answers. Getting a manuscript seen by agents or editors requires a certain amount of commercial spin – coming up with a compelling pitch and angle on the material that will get their attention. But actually being accepted for representation or publication requires a certain special “X factor” that my recent work seems to lack. And if a book isn’t strong enough to stand out with a traditional publisher, what chance would it have if I self-published it?
As for why I care so much about publication, I refer you to the voices in my head. “Just get a book published, and then you’ll be happy,” they whisper to me. Although, rationally, I know this isn’t true, changing my subconscious attitudes is a lot tougher. I sometimes feel that I’m stuck in an endless cycle of submission and rejection, a cycle I can only break by getting a book accepted by the gatekeepers so I can move on to the next stage. But I also know this cycle is draining my creative energy and distracting me from other areas of the children’s market where I might be able to find a niche.
So what next? Do I give up writing novels, as some of my friends have done? Do I slog on, safe in the knowledge that there are plenty of others in the same boat? Every time I ask myself these questions, I get a different answer. The only thing I’m sure about right now is that something has to change.