One of the odd things about being a writer is that you have to get used to rejection.
Even if you reach the heady heights of becoming a bestselling author, you still have to face the bad reviews and the smart-arse carping from the critics.
“Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” Which may or may not have been said by Samuel Johnson.
Lower down the authorly food chain, you will almost certainly have to endure the editor/ publisher/ agent rejection letter.
The process goes a little like this …
First you slave away over a hot keyboard to produce your masterpiece – “Larry Porter and the Lesbian Warrior Princesses from Mars”.
It has everything. Action. Lust. Spaceships a mile long. Chainmail bikinis. Talking rodents. A whole chapter of flatulence jokes.
You can already picture yourself in that cliff-top mansion in Malibu – “Dungloatin”. A brace of red Ferrari on the drive. A private jet. Hot and cold running maids. Enough money in the bank so that the wife can pay George Clooney to be her pool boy.
You’ve already written your acceptance speech for the Man Booker, Nobel and either Oprah or Richard & Judy, depending on which side of the Atlantic you dress.
So you buy a copy of the Artists and Writers Yearbook and you dash off a dozen query letters to the biggest and most prestigious publishers and agents that you can find.
All the while humming Paperback Writer by the Beatles.
Weeks pass, then months. Eventually a letter arrives on through your letterbox. A suspiciously thin letter. Your heart sinks a little as you realise that there isn’t enough room in the envelope for a contract, especially not a fat contract with words like “party of the third part” and “millions”.
Ah well. You rationalise that they might have skipped the middle-man and got straight to the bottom line. That envelope might contain a nice cheque…
“Thank you for sending us a copy of Larry Porter and the Lesbian Warrior Princesses from Mars. We are sorry that our lists are full at the moment. We do not think that your book would make a suitable addition to our range of picture books for the under fives.”
Part of you wants revenge. Depending on your genre, this might be a gory blood-soaked dagger to the heart sort of revenge. Or maybe it’s that scene in Pretty Woman where the shop assistant doesn’t recognise Julia Roberts in her lady of the night attire.
You might get a heady aftertaste of self-loathing and doubt. Maybe they didn’t like my book because it was baldly ritten with to menny speeling mistaiks. I’ll never be a writer. Double glump.
Then a rational voice says that you might have simply sent it to the wrong publishers. You have to keep on trying. After all, doesn’t every famous writer have to suffer lots of rejection before their big break? Apart from Lee Child. And Jeffrey Archer.
Being an author is a bit like going to a party. You walk up to a lady or gentlemen who takes your fancy and ask: “Would you like to have sex with me?”
They look you up and down from toenails to toupee and then deliver their response:
“Sorry, I don’t think we would get on. You see, I have a pulse.”
“Honey, I am waaay out of your league.”
“You? With me? You’re joking, right?”
“Have you met my husband, the Mixed Martial Arts champion?”
And you keep on asking until you eventually find someone drunk enough or desperate enough to agree. Either that or you give up. As my Dad used to say, if you’re not in bed by midnight, go home.
What you may not realise is that this is an important part of the writing process. It’s a little bit of evolution in action.
The plain fact is that “Larry Porter and the Lesbian Warrior Princesses from Mars” is almost certainly a rubbish book. Unless you are Lee Child or Jeffrey Archer, your first book is probably not very good.
Actually, I will rephrase that. Unless you are Lee Child, your first book is probably not very good.
The point is that the rejection process weeds out a large number of the wannabes. They give up on writing and try something else.
The ones that remain are the determined individuals who simply won’t be put off. They write another book, then another. And eventually they get better at this craft. People want to read what they have written, because their writing skills have been honed on the whetstone of many rejection letters. And other similar purple metaphors.
Yes, it hurts. It’s meant to hurt. That’s how we get better. Or we give up.
This topic has a particular resonance for me because I had a rejection email the other day. It was nothing too serious (says he, defensively). I had written a short story specifically for a magazine. This is the reply they sent me:
“Humor is very subjective and the comedy in this story just didn’t connect with me. I’m going to pass on this story, but I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it. Thanks again for giving me a chance to read it. I hope to see more stories from you in the future.”
As rejections go, this is a nice one. It is positive, encouraging and even offers me a ready-made excuse. There was nothing wrong with my story. It just didn’t connect with one person. I like that.
Letting me down gently.
You might wonder how much of the response was cobbled together from standard sentences, but that would be too quibblesome.
I started to wonder what to do with the story. Should I send it to other magazines to see if it connected with someone else?
It was at this point that a mad thought occurred. This whole business of sending queries to agents and editors is all very well, but it doesn’t feel very … modern, 21st century, now.
Why not give the story away? Or as close to giving it away as Amazon will allow, which means a paltry 99 cents or 75 pence.
Maybe people will enjoy it and go on to buy one of my novels. Or perhaps they will decide that humor/ humour is subjective and the story didn’t connect with them.
I have absolutely no idea.
But it seemed a lot more satisfying than hawking it round editors and publishers.
Hero is the story of what it might be like to be a superhero in a near future world of over-population and intelligent technology.
UK readers can get from here.
US readers from here.
It’s available all round the world. For some reason possibly connected to global domination, Amazon insists that you can only buy things from your own national version of the Amazon website.
I hope you enjoy it.