a really bad one. The agent concerned didn’t use the actual word ‘drivel’, but she might as well have done; the sentiment was certainly there, skulking in the shadows of those snapping, bitchy, irritable, frustrated lines.
It hurt. It depressed me rather badly. I’m having a hard time getting over it.
I’m not sure why I’ve taken this particular email quite so badly to heart, I’ve been rejected over and over and over again; it’s not my first rejection by a long chalk, but it’s far and away the harshest. Maybe what hurt the most is the hideous fear that she’s right, that my work stinks like a skip-full of week-old herring.
I love my characters and my story and I know the sane attitude is that all taste is subjective, literary taste especially, but when a respectable literary professional says your writing is weak, your ideas derivative, well… Maybe it really is time to call it a day?
Do I accept her judgement and abandon the work of the past three years? Or do what I usually do, what I’ve been doing for over a year now, what every writer’s advisory says you should do, which is pick myself up and carry on…
I’m not sure I’m capable of either response right now. I’m not sure I could give it up (what else would I do?), but to carry on regardless seems equally impossible. I’d love to have the thing professionally assessed and edited, but with fees for that starting at £800, that’s out of the question for now. I know I need to stop and think, re-asses, certainly, re-write – again (how many drafts is it now…?).
I do think, after a miserable year of constant rejection, it’s time to look at new strategies. I’m starting to look seriously at publishing on Kindle. I’m going to publish my first novel, Picking the Low Mangoes (the one that came so very close to publication, but ultimately garnered no cigar) there; a dry run, test the ice, run it up the flagpole and other clichés. It’ll be a good testing ground, I think, a learning experience, something to keep me occupied while I take a long, hard look again at Entanglement.
So, taking a leaf from every unsigned band out there as they remind the (often genuinely stupid, self-obsessed and fatuous, believe me, I’ve met a few) disrespectful-of-their-genius A&R man about The Man From Decca Who Turned Down The Beatles, here is the obligatory bitter-litany of famous writers that were rejected by stoopid agents/editors/publishers! Of course I know it’s ultimately pointless and meaningless, but it still cheers me up no end.
Unknown editor to Rudyard Kipling: ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.’
Unknown editor to Zane Grey: ‘I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.’
Irving Stone’s Lust for Life: ‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: ‘An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’
J G Ballard’s Crash: ‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.’
Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Nebula and Hugo award winning The Left Hand of Darkness: The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material.
And my favourite – ‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’
Looking for more? You could do worse than read the comments on the Writer’s Relief site for some interesting and refreshing thoughts on rejection and the excellent blog, Literary Rejections on Display.