Friday, 29 August 2014

Falling Back

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.

Nick.

22 comments:

  1. It's tough, isn't it? So sorry to hear about the rejections. I'm about to go down the submission route myself, which I'm quite nervous about. It's been a long time! I guess that we write what we want to write, publication be damned. I think I'll always have ideas for novels and for characters that demand to be heard. Who knows? Ask me again in a few months!

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  2. Great post Nick. Chin up. When I feel like this -and we all do- I remind myself that ultimately I wrote long before I started seeking out publishers and I know that I will have no choice but to write if I never get chosen by publishers. I think what we all want is not so much the publishing deal but readers and that is why it's deflating. When you have a MS that feels like it's been condemned to the hard-drive for eternity, it's depressing but there are other options available to writers nowadays. x

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  3. Hi Nick, I know the crushing feeling of having a full rejected - It makes you feel useless and hopeless and like giving up entirely - but loads of people get rejected loads of times before they get published. Some self-published work does amazingly well, despite hundreds of agents rejecting it, and (yes, I'm going to do it) Harry Potter is hardly an original concept, yet it has been quite successful, from what I've heard.

    Don't give up! Crawl under your duvet, cry a bit, eat a few packets of biscuits, and then work on something else for a while. When I had my full rejected in February I felt appalling, but I'm now working on it again and feeling positive.

    Hope you enjoyed my cheesy pep-talk!

    Good luck!

    Sarah

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  4. Nick, I am so sorry to hear about the rejections on the fulls. I understand completely.

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  5. I feel your pain, mostly because I endure pain of your very description. What I really want to shout is "Since when did writing, being creative - baring your soul... become more of a business than an art?" What I really say is - I know it's a business, I get why... but I totally hate that it has. Are there too many people writing in relation to the population, or is that relative from times past? Who knows. It's a long and often soul destroying process (trying to get noticed) whereupon a persons emotion and outlook changes as often as underpants. It's the best and worst thing to do in the world, yet getting noticed is almost as impossible as inventing a cupcake which helps you lose wight. Trouble is, once you unlock the gate to writing, no matter how you feel - it's so hard to turn your back to!

    Don't give up, Nick. The pain will be worth it in the end.

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  6. In Jane Yolen's book "Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft, in the chapter "Reading the Rejection Letter" she says: "...I had 113 rejections before my first poem was taken. Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery Medal-winning novel "A Wrinkle in Time" was turned down by the first 29 publishers who read it. Dr. Seuss's "To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" was rejected by even more. Publishing is not an exact science, but it is a matter of taste, of timing, and of luck. And you will forget the hurt of all those rejection letters when the first acceptance letter arrives."

    It sucks to get a rejection letter, even though you know it's not about you personally, just the manuscript. I'd recommend reading Jane Yolen's book to help you regain the joy of writing. Don't let trying to get published kill your joy and creativity. You are a talented individual with your own unique perspective on the world. I hope you feel better when you have a little time and distance from the opening of the envelope or email.

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  7. The life of a writer is not easy, at any stage. There are wonderful moments and there are crushing times. If you want publication enough, keep going and keep trying to work out how to be different/better and - and this is the crucial thing - go looking for the idea that will spark your creativity so startlingly that you produce your best book yet. It is worth waiting for, I promise, but it's one of those journeys that's like a hilly walk - just when you reach the summit, you realise there are more summits ahead. Good luck!

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  8. First of all - good for you for letting it out. It really will help. Secondly - everyone gets rejections ( don't get me started) but Thirdly - perseverance is always the key. Very few people get up and running quickly in this business. Your writing is being published, its good to do different things and why not start a new novel pitched at an entirely different age group - it might just take you back to the fun of writing a longer work. All the best lovely Nick!

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  9. Our compulsion to write and then seek the approval of a traditional publisher is a kind of mental health problem.

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  10. Luckily you have a group of friends who understand your pain, Nick. Somehow rejections pre SCBWI were worse because I had no understanding of the processes or how common it was to be rejected. At least you know you're in good company :)

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  11. Aren't we lucky to have such a supportive bunch in Scoobie Nick? We all seem to know where you are coming from and the tendency for a need to scream. (Is that girly, sorry!) NO, NO, NO you don't give up, just look at your other projects as well. That's what I am doing and a recent success with a song has inspired me back to tackling my other writing projects. x

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  12. Sorry to hear that you're in that deep, dark recess that follows rejection - it sucks! Walk away from it, but only for a while, then come back again and do it with a smile. It will get better.

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  13. I had that with one of my MG novels a few years ago. Can't remember exact words but it was like what you said, didn't stand out enough in the current competitive market. So, I left that book, the second in a trilogy, and began self-publishing ebooks. That is what I now plan to do with that other book as well as the first and third in the trilogy.

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  14. Gutted for you. A rejection from a full ms sucks to the dankest depths. But keep going - you clearly have a spark and talent because, well, you ARE published and also you're getting agents reading the full ms AND giving feedback!!! Not the success you're looking for (yet) but success nonetheless.

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  15. I'm sorry you are in this position, I know you can write because your blog posts are always witty and honest. But perhaps you are writing in a genre that's over-exposed, or you're writing a well-executed book but one where the character or plot is not original enough? I find that the kind of writing exercises usually used by poets, bringing in random factors, really help. You come up with plots, characters, situations you'd never have thought of - it can be really refreshing. Alternatively, maybe now is a good time to try an Arvon course, or even an MA in CW if you have the time and money? I got a lot of out of mine. Hope you find a way forward.

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  16. I loved this post. I respect your honesty. I have felt just like this, although I've not got as far as you. If your book has this emotion and passion I suspect that you will eventually succeed.

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  17. There is no perfect answer to this. I always found relief in trying something completely different. I ended up writing younger fiction after getting nowhere with four older novels.

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  18. "If you're not getting at least two rejections a week, you're not trying hard enough."

    Trying something a bit different definitely sounds like a good idea. I've heard of several writers who tried for ages to get published doing one thing, then tried something different and had much more success.

    But also, I would say, carry on submitting your MS widely. I'm also constantly hearing of people who got zillions of rejections before finding success. It is so much a matter of taste and it's very hard to predict other people's taste.

    Now, you WILL say all this back to me when I start submitting, won't you Nick?

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  19. First of all, big hug. Second of all, yeah, brother, I feel your pain (we all do!). Thirdly, rejection sucks at and all stages of one's writing "career". I guess the only advice I can give is to focus on the work. Write, as much as you can, for the sheer joy of it, and bugger (for the time being at least) the the getting published side of things. There are so many things in the industry that you can't control,and so many things within yourself that you can. xx

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  20. It's hard, really hard, Nick, and I'm sorry to hear you're going through such a tough time. The questions you're asking yourself I've asked myself countless times. All I can say is if you want it bad enough then keep going. I wish you all the best Nick, and lots of luck.

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  21. Nick, so sorry I totally know how it feels and so my sympathies are with you. Don't give up, I think the hole it'd leave would be equally as depressing, unless you have something that may fill it - possibly cake? Glad Space n The Bookshelf produced a bit of light in a dark week.

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  22. Just wanted to add my support, too, Nick. It's a bad place, rejection. (God, what a word!) And who knows why we keep going. Good luck with whatever you decide, but personally I don't think bashing one's head against the same wall is the same as perseverance. Art is also a many-roomed mansion.

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