Friday, 10 October 2014

The Art of Keeping Going - Eve Ainsworth

In 2012, my comedy teen novel ‘The Art of Kissing Frogs’ was shortlisted for the Greenhouse Funny Prize. This was key moment for me. After years of rejection - and after having more rejections than Mary Berry has had cakes – I really thought I’d got somewhere.

I drank wine. I did a silly dance. I thought I’d made it. I was convinced an agent would pick it up.

But the rejections continued. One after the other, after another. They were good rejections, with bright positive comments:

You write well, but…

I loved this so much, but…

I can see you have talent, but…

It was the ‘but’ that stuck in my brain. Despite the good stuff, all I could see was the less appealing negative bits. The fact the ‘comedy was tricky to sell’, that I wasn’t ‘distinctive enough’, that ‘the character motivation wasn’t clear’.

And this time the negative weighed heavily on me. I remember stomping round the house, muttering under my breath ‘I don’t care. I never wanted it anyway’ whilst inside I was so bitterly disappointed.

I stuffed Frogs into my drawer and scowled at my husband – “that’s it. I’m not writing anymore. I’ll take up knitting or something.” I really did wonder if it was time to give up, to face the fact that I would never be a novelist. I wondered if I was just deluded, like an out-of-tune X Factor contestant, looking for something I’d never achieve.

But I couldn’t quite bring myself to start knitting. Those big needles just freak me out...

What was strange, though, was how I couldn’t stay away from writing. From then on, instead of focusing on agents and publishing deals - I just wrote for pleasure. I started writing about stuff that meant something to me. A troubled teen, tormented by a bully, and a bully, tormented by her damaged family. The words took shape quickly and I was swept up in excitement. Within three months I had something to be proud of.

I sent the draft to some trusted readers and was delighted with their feedback. I realised I was a good writer, I just needed some luck. I also recognised that my own writing had improved and strengthened and the years of rejection had just made me more determined.

This time, when I submitted to agents, I had a tougher resolve. As rejections trickled in, I recorded them – noted any patterns. As I got requests for full manuscripts, I dared to believe this could be the time. Or maybe not. Either way, I was getting closer. Some agents dithered, they were concerned about the market and how well my book would sell. I tried not to let the negative feelings build – there was still interest and this was the main thing.

And then finally one agency, a bloody fantastic one, whipped my manuscript off the slush pile and fell in love with it. They signed me within two months and sold Seven Days a few months later. It was so fast I nearly had to stab myself with a knitting needle to believe it.

And now I’m holding the proof copies in my hand and marvelling at how quickly things can change.

Being rejected is not a bad thing at all. In fact, I truly think it shapes you as an author and an individual.

I wear my rejections as a badge of honour now, war wounds that I can proudly show off:

Hey, I’ve been there. I know just what it’s like….Please don't give up.
Eve Ainsworth


Penny Dolan said...

So good to hear stories of success like this, Eve, especially the writing for pleasure/for yourself that helped to heal the intense disappointment when rejections arrived. Not easy.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Risking rejection is a tough business, but you're right, we should keep going. I think you should take up knitting though! It's a great thing to do when you need to untangle knots in your writing, I find.

Nick Green said...

An author needs rejections to improve. Very true.

And it works, even if the reasons for rejection are rarely good ones. There are stock phrases used such as 'I didn't understand the characters' motivation', when the honest answer is really, 'This isn't similar enough to the current bestselling fad.' But never mind. The point is, the author goes away and tries even harder, until eventually they are so good that some brave soul takes a chance on their non-cloned idea.

It's a winnowing process that is sadly lacking from the current world of self-published ebooks. I self-publish ebooks myself, but I have been through that mill of submissions and rejections (am still going through it) and I like to think it's improved what I write beyond all recognition.

Eve Ainsworth said...

Thank you all for comments. I enjoyed sharing my experience. I know how tough it is to be rejected, but I'm honestly so glad that I have been now.
I wouldn't be where I am now, after all!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

In 2007 I wrote and sent out my first novel. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. I'd like to thank everyone who rejected it -- and it did have a near-miss at being accepted. As is so often said on The X Factor (which I watch purely for research, of course), it just wasn't ready. Your post is a great reminder of how important it is to keep going, and to learn from all those rejections. I've always been glad that I can be proud of my first novel, even if it came out years later than I might have dreamed of.