Rejection and rationality

Okay, the first rejection was expected; the second is disappointing, the third, worrying; the twenty-third – it’s really starting to grate.

Part of the problem is that new authors have a slightly romanticised view of the literary agent: a chain-smoking Barry Humphries clone who’ll tout their slab of literary genius to the furthest corners of London and secure that first multi-million pound advance.

The publishers see the agent somewhat differently. To them, he provides saleable talent and shields them from everything else. And that is the view you should take as a new author; the literary agent is there to filter out dross.

As I said previously, after the twenty-third rejection the new author can take one of two stances:

  1. They are fools! They are blind and ignorant fools!
  2.  Or, more usefully – Maybe I’m writing stuff they don’t like.

Going with number two doesn’t necessarily mean that the novel is beyond help (remember that agents rarely give feedback), but before spending anymore time on it, you need to find out if what you have written just needs more work, or should be taken out back and shot.

So here’s the next question:

Who told you that the book was good?

Was it family? Friends, maybe? There’s nothing wrong with letting those close to you read the novel, but remember, above all else, their job is to love and support you. They will lie (and they will lie convincingly) to spare your feelings. And to be honest, if you’ve ever told a friend they look good in leather trousers then clearly you’re prepared to do the same.

This is where writing groups come in (improving your work, not your dress sense), and no new writer should be without one. If you live in a town big enough for a bus service, then somewhere nearby is a group ready to eviscerate every substandard piece you put in front of them. And this is a good thing because it’ll make your more self-critical and more prepared to cut swathes from your manuscript which simply don’t work. And the praise, that’s all good too, especially if you’re nursing a bruised ego after rejection number twenty-three.

And if, for example, you write and love science-fiction then don’t join a group in which everyone writes and loves science-fiction. Find a group with at least one member who hates it, loathes it, detests it.  I was lucky in that no one in my group was too keen on  science-fiction and I genuinely believe Regarding Avalon was a better novel because of it. If, each week, you have to face people who don’t care or understand the theories behind faster-than-light travel or the complex and riveting political history of the mighty Intergalactic Gonk Empire, then you will focus less on the genre-related elements of your story and more on the story. This goes for any genre: romance, war, crime, thriller. A balanced group will help you create a balanced novel.

Thanks for reading … 🙂

0 thoughts on “Rejection and rationality”

  1. Nice post. Well done for staying positive. I agree that comments from friends and family need to be taken with a pinch of salt – it’s probably not worth their while to risk trampling our egos (and potentially our relationship with them) for the sake of complete honesty.
    Writers’ groups can be useful, although it does really depend on the luck of the draw. On my Creative Writing MA I found that the most vocal people weren’t necessarily the best critics. Good writers can also often be surprisingly bad at explaining why a thing works or doesn’t.
    Something I’ve found useful is that when someone points to something that doesn’t work, particularly when several people point to it, there’s usually something there that needs revisiting. Their explanations of what’s wrong may not be right – they may say the mother’s not believable or the pacing’s off when those things are actually fine – but the fact that something about a particular bit jars for them is probably enough of a signal that it needs looking at again. It’s our job to be honest with outselves and diagnose the problem.
    Keep going and good luck!

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