Five Months till Publication – September

If you’ve ever made butter, you’ll recognize the feeling of churning the cream for hours and hours, seemingly getting nowhere, and then realizing all of a sudden that the grains of butterfat are beginning to form and find each other. It’s been a year since my book deal; now, all at once, we have a cover. A beautiful cover, that tells the story without giving it away. The first proofs are ready, and I’ve had my first quote. As The Life Of Brian’s Judith says when she crashes into the meeting of the Peoples’ Front of Judea, ‘Something’s happening, Reg. Something’s actually happening.’ It feels sudden. But of course, this something has been happening, not just during the year since I signed my publishing contract, but for over a decade before that. The butter will come, and it might look something like this. Believe me, it’s worth it.
the ship no clouds
And so what I want to focus on this month is how every failure in those ten years has been a part of what is happening now, so much so that to call the rejections, the closed doors, the miseries and disappointments ‘failures’ is as inaccurate as saying that David Mitchell ‘failed’ to make the shortlist of the Booker Prize, or that Ali Smith has twice ‘failed’ to win it. Any reader knows that if winning the Man Booker is the benchmark of success, most of our greatest reading experiences have been written by failures. It’s harder, though, for an aspiring writer to see success in any terms other than publication. Writing costs. Pouring out your lifeblood, creating time to write where no time exists, fighting the inexorable press of your commitments and your paid work and your partner and children – oh it’s hard. And if publication is the only validation that will do, then you’re throwing paper money into the wind and hoping a stray current of air will bring it back in the form of spun gold, or digging up chunks of marble hoping one of them will be Michelangelo’s David. It does happen. A first novel is accepted by the first agent who sees it; it’s bought quickly and goes on to great success. But that is someone else’s story.
I can only tell the story of rejections. Of agents not currently accepting unsolicited submissions; of printed postcards saying, ‘No, thank you,’ without any reference to the work I’d sent. I’ve got rejections that say, ‘If only you’d submitted this five years ago, but fashions have changed.’ I’ve even got one that says the decision would have been different if I’d had a media profile, but they couldn’t see a way to promote me. I had an agent for a short time, a new and excited agent who was certain my novel (not The Ship, incidentally) would sell within three weeks and make both our fortunes. It took a lot longer than three weeks for that not to happen. I entered competitions and wasn’t even shortlisted. I was commissioned to write a short story for an edition of a magazine that took two years not to be produced. I’ve wept and I’ve raged as light after hopeful light has been blown out, regardless of how hard I was holding my own breath. And still I wrote.
Getting a publication deal requires a perfect storm. Currents in the industry; agents’ and editors’ personal taste; business budgets; literary fashion…these things need to be in place for your work to be accepted, and these things are out of your control. But every setback contains a seed that might one day bear fruit. A rejection with feedback shows the agent gave your work time, and thinks it has potential. That agent is more likely to read your next novel with intent. The editor of the magazine that doesn’t make it to publication will still remember your name. And fashions change. Every rejection is evidence of your engagement with your aspiration. Every failure is an indication of your perseverance. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t weep and rage and rail against the rank injustice of the whole quixotic system. It does mean, though, that when rejections come, they should be seen for what they are.

6 thoughts on “Five Months till Publication – September

  1. Pingback: In the Media: 14th September 2014 | The Writes of Woman

  2. I love the cover. If the book comes up on Amazon Vine I’ll be sure to grab it, but if not I’ll pre-order!

    It’s so good to read blog posts like this. OK, really depressing, but all writers are masochists. We have to be. I’ve just crossed the decade-line myself. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been to get an agent that first time and for it to not have worked out though!

    • Yes, it wasn’t the easiest time – but it’s a commoner experience than you’d think. I didn’t mean it to be depressing, exactly, although of course it is – I just wanted to say that perseverance does pay off eventually. I wish you all the luck in the world with your own writing.

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