After the last seven rejections I’m back on the horse again. Four competitions and probably eight agents this time. One of our tutors at Bath Spa advised us to try at least seventeen agents – perhaps the number they had to try before they were taken on – and if I now send to eight I will have reached that number. If I get the thumbs-down from all of those I’ll have to think again: do I keep on keeping on with this or do I give up gracefully and admit that it’s a dead duck? Perhaps I’ll just send to a few more after that…
I’m not there yet, though. The first time I sent the novel out – in a much less worked-on state than it is now – I was convinced an agent would take it. People seemed to like it and had told me it was good, or at any rate that the writing was good – not the same thing – and I thought I was in with a chance. One agent read it all and dropped it like a hot brick, picking up on the lack of conflict and narrative drive – why hadn’t anyone spotted that? I then sent it to an editorial consultant, who told me in no uncertain terms what she thought was wrong with it – including lack of narrative drive, along with plot, characterisation and dialogue. She said quite a few nice things as well, but for a time I felt pretty demoralised about it.
Once I’d scraped myself up off the floor I revamped the book, taking on board what the consultant had said – apart from a few things that really didn’t sit right. I then showed it to a couple of people in my writing group and revised it some more, following their suggestions (they’re great editors, my friends). As it had only been rejected by a couple of agents I sent it out to another seven that I really liked the look of, but feeling much more pessimistic this time. In fact I wrote on Facebook: “I’ll just get into my bunker until all the rejections are over.” And they duly came, some quickly and some not till I’d given up hope of a reply. Nobody wanted to read the full manuscript and only one gave me feedback – pretty unusual when they hadn’t read the whole thing. Once again it was a case of “Very well written, but…” The problem seemed to be that the main character wasn’t appealing enough and the characters didn’t behave well enough to each other.
OK… I showed it to another friend, who confirmed what the agent had said about the main character, and discussed it with my writing group, which left me feeling even more disheartened. “Just leave it and get on with something else,” people said. “The second one is much better.” Having sloshed around in the mud of discouragement for a while, I then thought: “To hell with this. I’m going to have another go. I think there are good things in this book even if no-one else does.” (My capacity for depression is matched by an equal capacity for stubbornness.) So, being laid up for a while with a bad back, I tackled the book as best I could – more changes of emphasis than major rewrites – rejigged the synopsis (again with help from the group) and sent it forth into the world of competitions. Somehow not getting anywhere in a competition doesn’t feel as bad as not getting selected by an agent.
Once I’d sent off the competition entries I thought “What the hell” again, and set about putting together some submissions to agents. ‘The triumph of hope over experience’ is the phrase that seems to fit best. This time round I don’t feel either as over-optimistic as I did the first time or as fearful and pessimistic as I did the second time. I won’t be surprised if the rejections come, but I know I’ve given it my best shot (at least for now) and I’ve improved the way I present it – shorter, punchier synopsis and better covering letter. I couldn’t have done any of this without help from my writing friends, and at the same time I know absolutely that I can’t always do what other people think is best. This is my book, and it stands or falls as my book.
Whatever happens, I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time trying again.