Wednesday 18 December 2019

The many levels of rejection - by Lu Hersey

Most of us have to deal with rejection at some point in our writing lives. Hopefully this post will help you a little feel better about it.

Stage 1: You're starting out on your writing journey and you've just subbed your first manuscript to a few favourite agents. You've spent months, maybe years getting your draft ready and you feel very excited as you press 'send' and the sub flies out.

It's tough out there and getting an agent is hard - sadly, your favourite agents might reject you. If this is the case, you won't be the first writer it happens to, and you certainly won't be the last. The best thing to do is to start collecting your rejections like war medals, and possibly print them out ready to start wallpapering the bathroom. This process may take time. I'd also suggest not sending out your sub to too many agents at once as you may want to take any feedback on board before sending it out to your list of second favourite agents...

Stage 2: Perhaps you've struck lucky - an agent has asked to see the full manuscript! This is a very good sign, even if the same agent later rejects the full manuscript further down the line. It means you can write and somebody has acknowledged that. Read your rejection very carefully to see if you've been given any useful information, then add it to your bathroom wallpaper reject pile.

Hopefully you've now reached stage 3 - you have an agent, they like your corrections, and your manuscript is going out to publishers! Enjoy this time and don't get over excited or wish time would speed up. Sorry, but there might be further disappointment ahead. Publishers, like agents, have particular tastes. Added to that there are market trends, and a group of people called 'sales and marketing' who are paid by publishers to know about these trends and reject manuscripts, even if commissioning editors love them.

Stage 4: You've just hit the jackpot and a publisher is going to publish your book! This is definitely a time to celebrate and put the wallpapering on hold. It might be a year or more before the book comes out, so enjoy this time and come up with several more ideas for the next novel - because sadly, your days of having manuscripts rejected might not be over. If you have a two book deal, be happy in the knowledge that you will get another book published, sooner or later. Hopefully. I've known a few writers whose publishers have broken the contract - but it's rare, so don't worry about that for the time being...

Stage 5: However, if your deal is for one book only, here's a piece of sound advice -  KEEP  IN TOUCH WITH THE PUBLISHER! Make sure they like your next book idea before you write the whole thing. (I learnt this the hard way.) You may need to be very resilient. I've written 3 books since Deep Water, and so far have only a tenuous agreement (no contract signed yet) for the second one. As yet, I have no publishing offer on the third - but it's early days. And on the plus side, the rejections are getting much nicer. They love my writing, but... kind of thing.

I'm currently tweaking the fourth book, having no idea if it's any good or not, or if it is any good, whether it will ever tick the right boxes for any publisher or their sales and marketing team. At this point I have to say a massive thank you to my agent for believing in me and my writing, and still sending my books out there...

Anyway, after the latest publisher rejection, I was feeling really sorry for myself. In fact I was finding it hard not to cry. It was election day, which didn't help and I was in town to do some Christmas shopping, which didn't help either. I stomped along thinking writing is the only thing I'm good at, but if no one likes what I write, what is the point of me? That kind of thing. It was also pouring with rain and bitterly cold.

I passed a homeless man, sitting in a shop doorway, clutching a wet sleeping bag to try to keep himself warm. He was crying. I hate to see people cry, so I turned back. 'Nobody cares. Nobody f**king cares,' he said. 'I wish I was dead.' I couldn't think of anything to say to make him feel better, so just stayed to listen to him for a while. He talked about the election, and how he couldn't even vote because he hadn't got an address. We both agreed that Boris would win and his situation as a single homeless man was only going to get worse. 'It's like what Greta Thunberg said, all the promises are just window dressing - no one actually does ANYTHING!' he said.

Turned out he was an avid fan of Greta and worried about the future for the two children he had somewhere, which in his state, with no money, no place to live and a string of previous convictions, he would probably never see again. He started crying again and I felt like crying too.  'Man - look at the state of me!' he said. 'I've hardly any teeth left and nowhere even lets you in to go to the toilet. It's worse than being an animal. People like animals.'

I asked him about hostels and he told me he'd only have to do another two years (he's in his early thirties and has been homeless for two years already) before they found him a flat - 'so long as Boris doesn't make changes to the system when he gets in'. It was the best he could hope for, and he was clinging to that hope. In the end we just hugged and I said I hoped he'd get a place sooner than that. 'Thanks for listening,' he said. 'Have a good Christmas!'

I was choked. He'd taught me something very important. There are many levels of rejection and I'm incredibly lucky. I'm nowhere near the bottom of the reject pile.

If you're upset about this year's rejections, just write something else next year. It's what we writers do. And maybe send fewer Christmas cards and donate the money to a homeless charity, if you can.

Lu Hersey


Joan Lennon said...

Oh Lu this choked me up. Thanks for writing it.

Ruth Estevez said...

Very well written, Lu and a sound lesson to us all. Spot on. And I loved Deep Water. Keep writing. X

Eugene said...

Beautifully put. X

Penny Dolan said...

Lovely post!

Rowena House said...

Oh, Lu. You're so right. What a world.

LuWrites said...

Thanks everyone - you're all very kind.

Andrew Preston said...

I was homeless for several years around the turn of the millennium. That chap has been homeless for 2 years, with 2 more before he gets a flat. From what I experienced then, 4 years on the streets is a very long time, and lots of people without homes are dead before they see proper housing.

Unfortunately, in this country, much of governments', and societal attitudes towards homelessness is that people without homes are feckless, or of weak character etc. In this scenario, little progressed from Victorian times, people have to 'prove' that they are worthy of a home, they have to sign up to the various hurdles that society puts in their way.

There is a whole ecosystem built around this view that runs through hostels, refuges, community day centres. Places that seek public donations from local people, with posters that basically say ... don't give money to homeless people, they're all drunkards, drug addicts... so give them nothing, they'll just waste it, give the money to us, we know how to help them.

Reforms needed. 'Houses First' is one of them.

By the way, I didn't have a drug, or alcohol problem. What I did have was, and is, a mindset that refused to be condescended to.  And the first night I used a night refuge, I overheard staff referring to guests as 'these people', and 'them'.
And my silent response approximated to... "Who the **** are you, are you better than me, or something ? ".

Something that I recall from long, long ago...

A banker strides out of the doors of his grand Wall St edifice,
and almost falls over a homeless man. He stumbles, curses angrily..,
"Get out of my way..."
The man looks up, and says... "6 months without a job, and you're me.."

Worth thinking about, perhaps.

'Houses First'. You may wish to Google it.
Operates in loads of progressive countries.

LuWrites said...

6 months and you're me - very true, Andrew. People assume the homeless have brought it on themselves, and that's by no means the case. And even if, for whatever reason, they've made things more difficult for themselves, they need help to get out of the situation, not hoops to jump through. This man would have had the chance of a flat after two years if he hadn't been in hospital at the wrong time and so had to start the process all over again - another two years. I really hope he survives it.