Moving on from rejection

Reject RejectionI 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!

Rejection Letters from Agents and Publishers

Rejection suxIn a previous post, you have seen the rejection emails I received from agents. You may also have seen my comments on agents and publishers who still expect aspiring authors to post them letters. I really see this as evidence of the reluctance of many in the industry to adopt new technologies, to stream line and improve their business processes. Either way, when you’re trying to find an agent or publisher directly, you will come across submission guidelines which were likely written in 1972. I dutifully followed these guidelines on a few occasions, reacquainting myself with Australia Post. I even remembered to include a self addressed stamped envelope with my proposal, so the agent or publisher could post me back my rejection letter. Lucky me!

Here are three rejection letters I received by post for my book Times of Trouble: (Note that I never received a response from a few as well. Which is very frustrating! Maybe the letter got lost and will turn up in three years time, washed up in a bottle on a beach).

The Text Publishing Company

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Author,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your manuscript. We read it with interest but I regret we will not be making an offer of publication. We do not feel that Text is the right firm to successfully publish this book.

Thank you for thinking of us, and we wish you every success in finding a publisher for your work.

Yours sincerely,

Alaina Gougoulis

The salutation is a giveaway here – form letter! I have a name! And it’s not ‘author’ yet! Anyway, I really think Text could free up a lot of time to read more submissions if they digitalised their submission process. I understand that some manuscript assessors probably don’t like to read submissions on a computer screen, and don’t want to have to bear the cost of printing every submission that arrives. Have you thought about a Kindle? Or an iPad? Less printing means less damage to the environment! It’s impossible to say whether Text looked at my proposal, but I would guess that they glanced at it, decided it was unsuitable, and put it in a pile of automated rejection letters to be sent off by the work experience student.

The next two rejection letters are from Australian agents.

The Naher Agency

This one was addressed to me, which is a great start.

1st June 2010

Dear Victoria

Thank you for your interest in the Naher Agency and for giving me the opportunity to read a sample of Times of Trouble. I regret to inform you, however, that I unable to offer you representation. I am returning your sample pages herewith.

Your novel’s premise is interesting, but ultimately I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting. In crime fiction style is almost as important as substance. As you probably know, fiction publishing is extremely competitive so an agent needs to be passionate about a novel in order to represent it successfully. If you are not already aware of it, the Australian Society of Authors’ website provides a comprehensive list of Australian agents.

I with you every success with Times of Trouble. Thanks again for giving me the chance to read your work.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Gaby Naher.

OUCH! I recall finding this letter in my letter box at the end of a particularly bad day at work, and when I read it, I think I might actually have cried a little. Then I shoved it in the bottom draw and tried to forget about it. I’d been wishing for so long to receive a letter from an agent or publisher with hard evidence that they had read my work. It is clear Gaby Naher had. It is also clear that she thought it was absolute crap. ‘I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting’. I still cringe at reading that and wonder what exactly she means. Does she not like my characters? The style I use? Or does she think I’m a terrible writer? For a few minutes I wondered if my name and the title of my book had been added to a particularly critical form response letter? This is probably delusional – my self preservation instincts over riding rational thought. As hard as it is to thank Gaby for her letter, I do actually appreciate that she responded to my proposal. And I would like to take this opportunity to make myself feel a little better about her feedback by re-reading all the lovely reviews I have received for Times of Trouble. These are from readers, not agents, and of course both opinions are important, but for now, I’m going to run with the readers feedback as my driving motivation to keep going. Especially since I still have no idea what Gaby was expecting me to do about my ‘authorial voice!’ Blah!

Australian Literary Management

Also addressed to me, but I suspect the salutation line was the only unique part of the letter:

Dear Victoria,

Thank you for submitting your work to the agency. After careful consideration I’m afraid I do not feel I am the right agent for this work, and I am therefore unable to offer to represent you. I’m sure you can appreciate the need for an agent to be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher; to do otherwise is not in the best interests of the author.

Unfortunately, because of the volume of submissions I receive, I cannot offer any critical comments on your submission.

Of course, another reader might have a completely different response to your writing, and I encourage you to send your work to other agents, or directly to publishers.

With best wishes,

Lyn Tranter

I can’t help but feel the overriding tone of these form letters is something very closely nestled to patronising. I’m sure the agents and publishers don’t mean to be patronising, but when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.

Lyn did miss one option from her encouragement in the last line – I can send my work to other agents, other publishers, or… here’s the one she missed…. publish it myself online. Which of course I have done.

Book Proposal for Times of Trouble

I wrote a book proposal for Times of Trouble many times during the few weeks I spent trying to find an agent or publisher. I did a lot of research into the best format for the proposal, wrote and revised it more times than I can remember, and soon realised that each agent and publisher seems to have different requirements for what they will accept. Some want just a synopsis, two pages double spaced. Others want one page double spaced. Some want three sample chapters and a short paragraph introducing the work. Etc.

Below are the first few paragraphs of a one page synopsis (double spaced). Excuse me for not including the entire thing, but it gives away my plot! (Which of course it is designed to do!) I still hope that Times of Trouble will be read by people, and if I give you a preview that tells you how the plot wraps up, it sort of defeats the purpose.

Excerpt from Times of Trouble Synopsis:

“Times of Trouble is a crime story, where a young woman embarks on a mission to save her sister from mortal danger. But how do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found?

Ellen Goddard is devastated by the failure of her career as a concert pianist and has lapsed into a world of obsessive compulsive counting in an attempt to ease her anxiety. But not even numbers can keep her calm when she discovers her glamorous sister, Sophie, is being hunted by murderous thugs.

Sophie’s boyfriend Danny is dead, and she is desperate to disappear before she becomes the next victim. Her family are unaware she has been working as a prostitute in London… (I removed some words here)… But one of these clients does not take threats to his business lightly, and is killing anyone who risks damaging his profits.

Ellen’s mum has hired a private detective, Liam Kingsley, to find Sophie, and he has tracked her from London to Sydney. But when Ellen meets him, she is unsure if he can be trusted, and decides to join the search. The relationship between them is uneasy, shifting between cooperative and hostile. Liam seems only interested in finding Sophie and is strangely emotional about the case. Ellen thinks they also need to find the people who want Sophie dead.

As Ellen’s investigative abilities grow, she gets closer to unraveling the conspiracy her sister is caught up in…..”

You get the drift.

With some of the synopses, I also sent a short introductory proposal. I’m not going to bore you with every revision, but out of interest, here is one of the last versions that was sent to one publisher (on the 6th May 2010), and the resulting rejection note (on the 18th October 2010). Don’t use this as an example of a good proposal, since it never got my book published. It’s just an example. But it is worth noting that this proposal did appear to get my sample chapters read. (I apologise for offending any vampire fans!)

Dear Affirm Press

 I am a 28 year old who has never read Twilight, and never will. I worship the crime writer royalty of Rankin, Rendell and PD James. That’s why I am writing crime fiction. My generation deserves something better than vegetarian vampires.

 I believe I would be a good fit with your organisation as I get the sense you are interested in commercially viable projects that maintain a creative substance.

Times of Trouble is the first in a planned series. As requested, I have attached a synopsis and the first three chapters. The manuscript is complete at 105,000 words and I can also provide a marketing plan and a positive manuscript assessment on request.

Kind Regards

The rejection email….. (at least they’re using email, even if it did take 5 months to get a response!)

Dear Victoria

Thank  you for your submission to Affirm Press. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it.

I, too, am a fan of crime – and the premise of your novel is an interesting one. I think you need a longer opening scenario, to fully engage the reader (surely she seems a bit callous just throwing her phone in the Thames after her boyfriend is murdered?) Similarly, Ellen comes across as a wholly neurotic young woman (how many questions does she ask in the first pages?), and this is a little alienating for the reader.

I hope this feedback is useful. Good luck with your future writing.

Kind regards,
Affirm Press

I was quite pleased with this rejection email. Firstly, because it is clear that the publisher took the time to read my sample chapters. That’s a leap over the first hurdle surely! I, of course, don’t agree that is it problematic that the opening scenario is vague – I personally love a vague prologue. I wrote it with the hope that readers would wonder why the character is so callous as to throw her phone away having heard her boyfriend being murdered. Mystery coupled with curiosity. Isn’t that what crime novels thrive on? I’m also unperturbed that she found Ellen wholly neurotic. Tick. Ellen is neurotic. A flawed, and hopefully likeable hero. I think what I’ve just written makes it sound like I am totally inflexible in receiving feedback and taking it on board. Perhaps I am a little inflexible. But if I were going to make changes to my book based on this feedback, Ellen would need to be completely redrawn (which would mean changing the entire book) and the first chapter would have to give plot elements away that would destroy the mystery so I don’t see much point in doing that. Either way, I am grateful to Affirm Press in responding to my query. Thank you.

My next fews post will include more rejection ‘letters’ that I received from agents and publishers for my manuscript – Times of Trouble.