Did you know Stephen King’s bestselling book Carrie was rejected by 30 publishers? If you’re a writer or an aspiring writer, you probably did. I know it, because my husband told me, during one of my earliest I’m-throwing-in-the-towel moments.And JK Rowling also received rejection letters – for Harry Potter, and later for her first Robert Galbraith book – one publisher suggested she try taking a writing course. John Le Carré, Agatha Christie, Joanne Harris – they’re all in the gang too. So if you’ve had your work rejected by an agent or publisher, you’re in good company.
Does it help to know that? I find sometimes yes it does, and sometimes it makes me want to throw something across the room. Because of course, it’s all very well knowing JK Rowling was rejected but it doesn’t mean the rest of us will at some point have multi-million bestselling novels.
So, reassuring though it may be, it really just means there’s a chance. How great or small that chance is, is impossible to say. Especially for the aspiring writer who is one minute on the edge of her seat with excitement about what she’s written, and the next, thinking nobody will ever read it.
But if it does help, this is my rejection story – or my never give up story, depending on how you’re feeling.
A number of years ago, someone left a comment on my blog Facebook page saying I should try writing a book. I’m easily led, so the very next evening, I gave it a try. There had been a story rumbling around in my head for a while – inspired by sleep deprivation mostly, while I was up at night with my youngest child. Everything was always a blur, and I used to wonder if I saw something happen during the night, would I believe it was true or assume I’d imagined it? So prompted by the wonderful blog reader Margaret Scott, who unbeknownst to me was an author herself, I started writing.
I remember wondering how many chapters I’d have to write before trying to find a publisher and being shocked to discover the answer was “all the chapters.” Write a hundred thousand words without knowing whether or not it will ever be published? Only a crazy person would do that I figured. Therefore, logically (in my mind at least) it shouldn’t be impossible to find a publisher – surely not many people write a whole manuscript on spec, right? (Spoiler: wrong.)
So without researching genres or checking if my idea was commercial, I dove in and started writing. And six months later, my story was down on paper, and I was ready. Or so I thought. I asked another writer friend, Carmel Harrington, and she explained that editing was the next step, and that I needed my manuscript in its best possible shape before submitting to an agent or publisher. I found editing much more difficult than writing, which is why nine months later, it still wasn’t done. I needed a deadline to motivate me, and it came in the shape of Date with an Agent – an opportunity to submit some of my work and potentially meet with a real live literary agent in the Irish Writers Centre in May 2015.
I prepped for Date with an Agent, practiced my answers, worked on my elevator pitch, and spent ages choosing my outfit (because of course that’s what literary agents are looking for – forget the writing – it’s about finding someone who can adequately pair a blazer with skinny jeans). And I went in on the day with a heavy dose of realistic expectations, but just the tiniest, teeniest bit of hope that it might come to something.
It didn’t. My book was like two separate books, said the agent – it started as contemporary domestic noir, but then became historical fiction. She suggested I take one part and make it a full book. She said she liked my writing and I should keep going. But all I heard was “No”.
I walked out feeling deflated, and then felt silly for feeling deflated – surely I’d known all along it wouldn’t lead to anything? But you can’t help hoping, and every rejection, no matter how small, stings.
I put that manuscript on the shelf, and walked away for a long time. Then last year, my original fairy godmother Margaret Scott gave me a nudge to submit my manuscript to her publisher, Poolbeg Press, and obedient as ever, I did. Unsurprisingly, the feedback was the same – the book was in two genres and didn’t work. So I spent six weeks working on a very detailed idea for a new book – proposing the domestic noir part as a full novel in its own right, just as had been suggested at Date with an Agent. The publisher liked it and offered me a three book deal; obedient as ever, I said yes.
Whether or not to keep trying indefinitely is a good question (one that was recently debated in these two Guardian articles) – I’m not sure there’s any one right answer, but ultimately, if you enjoy writing, then keep going. None of it ever goes to waste – even if this one’s not published, the next one might be, and it all helps strengthen the creative muscle. Just ask Stephen King and JK Rowling. And always listen to fairy godmothers.
(c) Andre Mara
About The Other Side of the Wall:
There s something up with the people next door…
When Sylvia looks out her bedroom window and sees a child face down in the pond next door, she races into her neighbour s garden. But the pond is empty, and no-one is answering the door.
Wondering if night feeds and sleep deprivation are getting to her, she puts it out of her mind until a week later, when she hears the sound of a man crying through her bedroom wall.
Sam is the man living next door to Sylvia. He had hoped the new house would fix everything, but it s off to a bad start. And for him, it s about to get unimaginably worse.
Kate is Sam s wife. She s fed up with his late nights at work, until a letter brings everything crashing down around her.
A local child goes missing, then Sylvia s own daughter wakes one night screaming that there s a man in her room. Sylvia s husband insists it s all in her mind, but she is increasingly certain it s not there s something very wrong on the other side of the wall.
Order your copy online here.