Thursday 11 September 2008

The Great Thing About Rejection

This from one of my favourite agent bloggers, the Denver-based Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency:
Considering that 90% of the population wants to write a novel but never have the guts to go for it, being in the game is a huge thing. Even though it sucks, rejections are a badge of honor. A rite of passage for when the publishing day finally arrives. Every published writer has a story of a rejection.

You can’t tell a good keynote speech without it! More

Yes that's Hugh Grant starring in the Barbara Cartland film The Lady and the Highwayman. No, it's got nothing to do with anything.

So Rejection is good. It's ammo for that bright, sunshiny day when you deliver the keynote at a writers' conference. Keep a file, paper your walls with them (but use blue tack as you'll need to take them down to wave around during your speech).

Isn't it a long, long process though?

Writing the novel takes ages. Then sending it out and getting rejections takes years. Then maybe you get the agent. And then the agent sends it out and it STILL takes ages.

The longest stage has to be the period between writing it and getting the agent/publisher.

This is not just because it's a tough competitive market yada yada yada.

It's also because it takes a long time for a creative person to develop eyes that see.

When I wrote my first novel, I immediately stuffed it in an envelope and sent it to friends to read. The objective? Not to get critiques but to gain praise. It is a normal part of the creative process to really really think your first crappy effort is art.

One friend bought me a coffee at a Costa and gently pointed out that I'd sent it out with, not only hundreds of typos but non sequiturs, unbelievable plot twists, ridiculous coincidences, and a hopelessly ambitious structure that would give even the most accomplished editor a bad migraine.

It took me months to sit down and start writing again. I had to come to terms with the fact that it would be YEARS before I had anything publishable. (And yes, that was years ago)

But how to EXPEDITE the process?

Joining SCBWI - attending conferences and learning about the craft/trade - was a step in the right direction.

Finding a critique group that fit - not just no-hopers like myself but critiquers who know their stuff - helped too.

If you find it hard to take criticism from your peers, then you can go to professional editors like Cornerstones run by Helen Corner who, when asked if getting published is a tall order, replies:
"It's doable."
Cornerstones also runs workshops like this one on September 29. I was listening to their promotional mp3 (you can download and listen to it yourself with your media player at this link) and thought Helen's tale of rejecting potential gems in the slushpile when she worked at Penguin particularly poignant:
Part of my job was to process the unsolicited pile which are books sent by authors and not by agents. Penguin at the time had an automatic rejection policy, as do most publishers these days and quite often when I was going through my meter-high piles .... I would think what if the author had started in chapter two instead of chapter one, or developed the character more quickly, or written in a more show not tell way ... (Writers) really do need professional feedback and they should make it part of their writer learning curve to know how to look at what they'd written and to know not to submit to an agent or publisher unless they really are presenting the best writing that they possible can.
Which brings me neatly to an inspiring line from author Liz Rettig's often hilarious tips for writers on her website:
Expect rejections. There are many reasons for rejections only one of which is that your writing is rubbish.


  1. Wow, great post. I love hearing, "it's doable." And each rejection is one baby-step towards "yes!"

  2. Timeous post this, I decided a few weeks ago to approach Cornerstones. I'm just finishing of the gazillionth edit and then will be giving Helen Corner a ring. I think sometimes, even if you do have a critique group, you can still reach a point where you need a professional opinion to get your MS to the next level.

    Hope you guys had a great BBQ today! :-)

  3. >Hope you guys had a great BBQ today!

    ah, it was terrific. the first sunny day in a long, long time. maybe the only sunny day! perfect timing! hard to believe because there were huge downpours, lightning and thunder yesterday!


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