Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Dreaded ‘R’ Word

Rejection. We all have to learn how to deal with it, whether it comes via e-mail or in the guise of an impersonal white envelope dropping through the mail box with a depressing finality. But I don’t think anything can really prepare you for having your first novel rejected. Allowing anyone to even read your first novel is pretty traumatic, let alone having to hear that it isn’t good enough for publication.

Writing a novel is a very personal thing, and the characters are very real to the author. Therefore a rejection of the novel, is a rejection of the characters themselves. Most of us authors published by Black Rose have some pretty scary main characters too, so reject them at your peril!

I remember graduating from art school, and how I trawled Central London with my portfolio to very many interviews. The mantra then seemed to be that no-one would give me a job because I didn’t have any experience. Sooo ... how could I ever get experience if no-one would give me a job? My first bout of rejection letters came then – thick and fast! At first I filed them in folders, but when they became too many, I made paper planes out of some, tore others up and even ceremoniously burned a few. Then I (metaphorically) dusted myself down and carried on.

I got a job eventually, so the old adage of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ still holds good.

In the UK there aren’t many publishing houses who accept unsolicited manuscripts, so this means getting an agent. Their rejections are often harsher than those of the publishers themselves. One agent, whom I used to work with, told me to send him the first six chapters and he’d give me a fair crit. What he actually did, was send me an email with a standard rejection and the immortal words, ‘good-looking vampires don’t sell.’ Er ... actually they do ... and sell very well too. (This from someone I’d worked with for years!) Then I remembered he had been the publisher who’d turned down Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire for the UK market. (More dusting down ensued.) Another agent rejected my novel because she just didn’t ‘get’ vampires and hated Anne Rice. I was beginning to have more sympathy for Anne Rice than myself at this point! The Twilight phenomenon did a lot of harm to vampire novels here, with most agents/editors saying ‘Oh no, not another vampire novel.’ I learned from this, to do better research and only approach publishers who publish the genre I write. Hindsight is a wonderful thing :)

There are numerous stories of famous rejections, one of the best being J.K.Rowling’s story. She was rejected by almost all the big houses in the UK – in fact I was working for Penguin UK when she was turned down by them. (I know who rejected her, although my lips are sealed!) But it’s to be hoped he/she is enjoying their new career at MacDonalds! This story is now almost as famous as that of EMI rejecting The Beatles.

I think the standard rejection letter or email has to be the worst by far – you know the sort: “Dear Author, Thank you for sending your manuscript to us. However, it is not what we are looking for at this time.” Most of the time they don’t even use your name or the name of the book, which makes you wonder whether they’ve even read the synopsis, let alone looked at the obligatory first three chapters.

The ‘nicer’ rejections are those with constructive criticism of course. Correctly worded, they can fill an author with enthusiasm and make them eager to re-work parts of the manuscript. One of my nicest rejections said they were really torn about my book, but had decided to say no because it was more romantic than the paranormals they published. The editor went on to ask me to let her know when it was published, because she wanted to buy a copy. That’s one rejection I did keep.

There is no easy way to cope with numerous rejections, but after a while, a protective shell does seem to evolve. It really isn’t the end of the world, because what one editor or agent doesn’t like, another will love. Never lose hope and never give up.

Berni Stevens

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