I often find it hard to bring together two of the mantras that help me to stay motivated in the face of rejection. The first is: ‘If my work is good enough, it will sell itself’ and the second is that ‘agents and publishers aren’t the only road to publishing success’. As you can see, the problem becomes the incongruence between believing that my work is good enough to be published, but also believing that agents and publishers aren’t necessarily the ones to decide if this is the case. They are meant to be the professionals, so if they spot something incredible, wouldn’t they be crazy to turn it down? I feel like this idea ate away at me a bit, and led me to think that Times of Trouble perhaps wasn’t good enough. But then I got all these fantastic reviews when I posted it online, and literally thousands of people have downloaded it. So I wonder how it is possible for this to have happened if it is truly as crap as the agents and publishers appear to think it is.
One way that some writers deal with rejection from agents and publishers is to remind themselves of the famous authors who have also battled in the same trenches and come out on top. On a writing tips website, I found a list of famous books rejected multiple times by agents and publishers. Some of the ones I have myself used as inspiration to keep going are: JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, rejected 9 times by major UK publishing houses (though she did get an agent very quickly who was the one approaching publishers), Carrie by Stephen King – rejected 30 times and Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfeld and Mark Victor Hansen – rejected 140 times. I don’t know how Jack and Mark managed to keep going through 140 rejections – they are braver than I am!
I am a massive Harry Potter fan and I can’t for the life of me imagine how a manuscript assessor could read even a page of Rowling’s proposal and not recognise the amazing opportunity in their hands. No doubt they are all kicking themselves now. Perhaps they were too busy to really give it the time of day? They had too many other projects they were concentrating on? Their current author list was ‘full’?
There is no doubt that there is an element of luck in the agent and publishing game, and perhaps sometimes it is about having the right connections. Already being a celebrity before you are an author. Being in the right place at the right time. Having the exact product they are looking for, at the exact time they are looking for it. I have still set myself the challenge to overcome any and all of these obstacles. Conspire is still a work in progress, but after a long discussion on the weekend with my editing buddy and plotting coach (mum), I really have a lot of hope that people are going to read Conspire and have trouble putting it down. Hope is a wonderful thing!
One of the agents who seems to do a very good job of communicating with writers and people desperate to have their proposals read is Nathan Bransford. Up until about two minutes ago, I thought Nathan was still working as a literary agent for Curtis Brown in the US. I used to subscribe to his blog and found it really interesting, especially since it is full of tips for writing manuscript queries. I have to confess, when Nathan rejected my Times of Trouble proposal, I cowardly unsubscribed from his blog. I was having a weak moment, and didn’t unsubscribe in anger, more in acknowledgement that I couldn’t face receiving emails from him about all the amazing work he was receiving, when he didn’t rate my work as amazing. I am human after all. And a writer. Having just checked out his new and improved blog, I see that Nathan has now become an author himself and is no longer a literary agent. Congratulations Nathan!
Here is the proposal I sent to Nathan when he still was an agent (on the 21st October 2009):
Dear Mr Bransford
I have been following your blog for the past few months and although I have no idea what ‘The Hills’ is, I really enjoy your daily musings and the discussion it evokes from aspiring writers. (Please blame my unfamiliarity with ‘The Hills’ on my geographic location rather than personality incongruence).
Following the collapse of her dream career, Ellen plods through life as a miserable recluse, too broke to move out of home. But when she learns that her estranged sister Sophie needs help and that her mum has hired a private investigator to find her, Ellen is filled with a new sense of purpose.
What has scared Sophie so much? Why does the young and inexperienced private investigator turn down Ellen’s offer of help? What do two murders and attempted blackmail in London have to do with Sophie hiding in Sydney ?
As Ellen learns more about Sophie’s past she finds that her glamorous, popular sister hasn’t been living her dreams either. Sure, it’s been a long time since she saw Sophie, but she is pretty sure she never dreamt of being a prostitute. When it becomes clear that Sophie has discovered something that is worth killing for, Ellen finds herself in a race to save her sister from the people who want her silenced.
Times of Trouble is an intricately plotted crime story which follows Ellen’s transformation into a woman who is brave enough to do whatever it takes to bring her sister home. The plot relies on misdirection of both the characters and the reader, as Ellen finds help and betrayal along the way.
Set in London , Adelaide and Sydney , Times of Trouble is approximately 105,000 words long, and is aimed at casual readers who enjoy the intrigue of crime fiction. I noted from your blog that you have a fondness for fiction set in other countries. I’m not sure how much the UK and Australia count as ‘other’ from the USA , but hey, there’s no harm in trying!
This is my first novel. I am 28 years old and live in Sydney , Australia . I have a degree in commerce and work in marketing. I am very aware of the need to promote new work and am comfortable with all aspects of publicity and media. I don’t live on beans and rice but I am happiest when writing.
Thank you for your consideration. The full manuscript is available on request.
And here is Nathan’s response (sent back only two days later! Impressive!)
Thank you for your recent e-mail and for reading my blog, I appreciate it. I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work.
However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation.
Suitably polite, and vague. Thank you for responding Nathan, it might sound sarcastic to say it, but I really do appreciate it. It’s when you don’t hear back at all that you feel most disappointed.
Below is a rejection letter I received from Broo, agent at the Wade & Doherty Literary Agency. This one also came via email two days after I sent my proposal. I’ve never worked out if Broo did read my work, or if this is an automated rejection letter. I’ll probably never know!
Many thanks for sending me this material, which I read with interest.
I considered it carefully but I’m afraid on balance it just doesn’t quite grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent you. So I shall have to follow my gut instinct and pass on this occasion. I’m sorry to be so disappointing, but thanks for thinking of us. Of course this is a totally subjective view, so do keep trying other agents and I sincerely wish you every success with it elsewhere.
With all best wishes
Similarly, I have no idea whether Nancy Yost read my work or not. Here was the rejection email I received from her:
Thanks so much for your query, but your project is not for me at this time.Best of success in finding the perfect advocate for your work.Nancy Yost
When I first posted Times of Trouble on Wattpad, Smashwords and Free-eBooks, I felt like I had sold the farm. Or more accurately, given the farm away. I wondered if people would download the book, and send it around to people, until I completely lost track of it, and it was being read for free by people who potentially might have paid for it in the future. But this bout of anxiety was very short lived. As soon as I saw how many people were downloading it, writing reviews, and giving it the virtual thumbs up, I was so excited, I realised I had something money couldn’t buy – a new found belief that maybe one day someone would feel justified in spending money on my work. And real life fans. People wanting to see more of my work. People encouraging me to keep going. This is gold for any writer. When your mum and your friends tell you they love your book, it is impossible not to feel that they had to say that. They love me and don’t want to hurt my feelings. But anonymous Jo Blogs on the internet doesn’t give positive reviews because he can’t bare to see my eyes well with tears when he tells me my book is horrible. Out of all the reviews on the internet for Times of Trouble, only one has been mildly negative. On the site ‘Good Reads‘, which is like Facebook where you collect books instead of friends (hooray!), I received the following review from Jack:
“I enjoyed this; a good plot with twists and turns; a somewhat naive style. Would benefit from a bit mor proof reading.”
When I saw this, I thought, if that’s as bad as it gets, I’m not doing too badly! Jack managed to make me laugh at his typo – ‘mor proof reading’ and I still managed to get a nice comment and three stars! I’m not exactly sure what a naive style is, but maybe it’s evidence that it’s my first work and everyone starts off a bit green? The proof reading bit is an obvious flaw – my book isn’t professionally published and has never been proofed by an editor so I wouldn’t expect it to be as perfect as it might be with some investment of cash. I’m actually surprised more of the reviews didn’t mention editing.
Anyhow, my experience in giving my book away for free has been incredibly positive, and I don’t feel like the farm is gone. It’s not even leased out. I think the farm has just got bigger and bigger; the crops growing, the paddocks extending and the cows having plenty of calves. My confidence was improved to the point where I was willing to write Conspire. A world government conspiracy thriller about nuclear disarmament. Easy peasy!
Thank you to all those people out there in the world of the interweb who downloaded Times of Trouble, read it, enjoyed it, and most of all – let me know they liked it. I’m hoping one day you will stumble across Conspire, or my next book, or the one after that, and say ‘I remember Victoria Rollison! She wrote Times of Trouble and I really enjoyed that. So I bet I’ll enjoy this book too!’ Ahhhh. That thought is very satisfying.
I am writing this blog to record my journey in finishing my second manuscript and finding people who want to read it.
I am an emphatic writer. I constantly have ideas of things I would like to write, and I spend a lot of my limited spare time writing. You will hear about my first book every now and then (Times of Trouble), which I was giving away for free for many months, but am now offering for sale on Amazon (for $3.89). Can you call something a book if it’s never been traditionally published? Maybe there’s another post in this. Anyway, my main focus at the moment is finishing my second work of fiction – Conspire, and having as many people as possible read it.
I truly believe that people like me, who are full of words, and love to craft sentences into a story, are motivated by a longing to have their words read. I believe that the only reason why writers want to sell their work is so that they can afford to live while they keep writing. If they are lucky enough to already be rich, or have an income of some kind that supports their writing, they would be more than happy to give their books away for free, as long as people are reading them, and experiencing the story that has been so carefully moulded for their enjoyment. Maybe it’s just me, but I judge my success as a writer on reviews and feedback, which is far more important than revenue earned. This is convenient, since so far I have earned a grand total of zero dollars from my work.
The path to becoming a published author is, bluntly, ridiculously hard. It infuriates me that quasi-celebrities so easily get contracts to write semi-interesting autobiographies, memoirs, or god forbid, cook books, when there are so many brilliant writers out there who are writing incredible novels that may never see the light of day. It seems that unless you are ‘someone’, no one wants to see your work. Without sounding all bitter and twisted, it is fair to say that I’m fairly cynical about the agent/publishing path to traditional publishing. Of course, if I am successful in finding an agent and/or publisher, I will be over the moon thrilled. But I also acknowledge that there are definitely other ways to get my work read. In the digital age, there are many opportunities for authors who have tried and failed to break down the traditional barriers. As I like to think of it, there is no shame in climbing the fence if that is the only way into the party! I will be trying the gate, to see if it is unlocked, easy to unlock, breakable down, or willing to be torn from its hinges. But failing this, I’ll clamber over the fence and gatecrash the party, waving their many rejection letters in their face. That makes me sound a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Sometimes crazy skates a little close to ambitious. Excuse me.
The key to success is a brilliant product. I am a marketer by trade, and will never forget one of my university lectures wisely telling me that good publicity for a bad product just makes it even worse. This is what I’m focusing my energy on at the moment. Finishing and perfecting Conspire. I loved writing Times of Trouble, and have been excited to receive brilliant feedback about it from many readers (including friends and family, as well as fans who have downloaded the manuscript for free online). Conspire is my new obbsession, and with the help of my very diligent, patient mother, Kay, I will be spending the next few months turning it from a very messy first draft, into a conspiracy thriller which I promise you won’t be able to put down.
Welcome to my journey. Wish me luck!