here. Since then, I've been mostly silent on the subject of that first novel - The Art of Letting Go - and for a good reason: there's been little to say. Yet.
After meeting David and signing the agency contract, I spent a few months re-writing TAOLG based on David's feedback, and on working with him to put together a proposal package (sample chapters, short synopsis, detailed chapter breakdown, marketing ideas....). David started submitting the MS to editors at publishing houses in March - about 8 months ago.
At first, even receiving rejections was exciting. Unlike submitting to agents, most publishers offer a sentence or two of feedback, rather than standard rejections. Here were professional publishers discussing my work with an agent - who'd have thought it?! I knew the chance of a publishing contract was still small - an inexperienced, young author writing general (rather than genre) fiction, with a book that is a psychological exploration of human interaction, rather than an action-packed romp - but I was hopeful and, despite the lack of contract so far, I still am. I still believe in it. I know of authors who had a publishing deal within a month of getting an agent; but I also know a few authors who have taken a year or more to get a deal. And I also know authors who never sell their first book but for whom it opens a door to getting their next book published.
I could write a detailed post about the rejections I've received but I suspect it would be rather like writing down dreams: dull and pointless for the reader! To summarise it instead, I would say I am pleased with my rejections so far. That might sound odd - it's easy to feel embarrassed at the lack of an immediate publishing deal - but with one or two exceptions, the response has been positive. People have said nicer things on rejecting this novel than they have on awarding me short story prizes in the past! Among other things I've been told:
It's a shocking story, told with confidence and verve... a sense of darkness lurking below the surface of the narrative...
The layering of the story is deftly handled and navigated. A compelling novel.
It has a powerful sense of place and careful attention to humanity.
And in case that sounds like showing off, I will remind you that all this is in the context of being rejected! I am still waiting for somebody willing to give it a shot among the famous names and boldest thrillers. From the more, shall we call it 'constructive' feedback I've just finished writing yet another version of the novel (number six, if you're counting) and we are waiting to see what happens with that. But to avoid this blog post becoming an essay of epic proportions, I'll leave telling you what else I've been doing for the last 8 months for another time (not just refreshing my e-mail inbox, I promise).
For now, here are some things I've learned this year:
- Progress is not linear. Two years ago I had a great year - winning several short story prizes. Last year seemed slow but ended with an agency deal of my dreams. This year I've mostly just put words on paper. Just because you are going in the right direction doesn't mean you are going there fast! None of those hours trying to herd words are wasted.
- I can write. Several editors have described my writing as beautiful or told David they think I'm talented. I remind myself of this when it seems nothing I write is any good. I am not a polished writer. I am not a genius. I have so much work to do to even be publishable let alone worthy of attention. But I can write. In fact, my biggest comfort has been that the criticism has been for technical stuff (e.g. plot structure) - stuff writers can (hopefully) learn - whereas the praise has been for the writing itself - much harder to learn.
- Writing is subjective. Things that one editor loves, another hates. My characters have been criticised and complimented. The quirky structure of my novel has been praised as skillful and called a mess!
- Being open-minded is everything. Not only must a new writer be willing to change their precious manuscript, but dreams must be flexible too. I do possibly have a chance to be published by a good-quality, professional digital publisher. It could get my book out there quicker, possibly sell more than a traditional deal would and get over that first hurdle in publishing. I haven't thought about it much yet, but I am determined not to dismiss it only because it isn't the sort of deal I've dreamed of at night!
- It's easy to forget the positives. A rejection is negative, even if the editor says lovely things. BUT if they have said lovely things, they're not lying. I tend to forget the praise in the despair. Add in the hormonal free-for-all that is pregnancy, and teacups can be filled with tempests if I'm not careful!
- I want this book to be published. Yes, I want to be published one day. More than that though, I want THIS book to be published. I still love it and I am willing to work as hard as I can - listen to any advice - to bring it to life. Hell, I've written it six times already - why not 10?!
What have you learned from a bumpy journey, you might never have learned from a smooth road?