Friday, October 05, 2007

Rejection and Dejection

I've bought myself a new external hard drive as I was having (lack of) storage issues, so I spent a few hours today sorting through files and directories in an effort to create some kind of structured archive. And I came across this short essay (or 'blessay' as Stephen Fry calls his blog ramblings). I wrote it back in July when the prospect of moving house was still distant-ish and when I had no idea that I'd be sitting here in October with the very real prospect of being published soon. I rather liked the piece. I hope you do too.

'I’ll be moving house in a few weeks. It’s supposedly one of the most traumatic experiences you can have - I’m reliably informed that it’s in the top three most stressful things that can happen to you along with bereavement and divorce (what about being caught naked in an alleyway by a madman with a pair of secateurs?) - but I’m looking forward to it. The reason why? Because finally, after years of trying to elbow myself some room to work among the potties and puppies and nappies, I will once more have a dedicated space to work in. I’ll have a study-cum-studio; a place that I can indelibly stamp as ‘me’ with my books on the shelves, my art on the walls, my paint-splashed easels and drawing board, my silly ornaments and urban vinyl figures, my personality. And one thing I fully intend to do is to wallpaper the room with all of the many rejection letters I’ve received.

I started writing back in 1980. No, that’s not strictly true. I’ve always written. At age seven, my school reports from St Pauls in Penzance stated that I had ‘a reading age of 12 and a writing age of 11’ and that I was 'a prodigy with a gift for prose'. Mind you, they also said that I had a ‘grasshopper brain’ and that ‘if only he could apply some of his creative energy to the work he is actually set, he might learn something’. By the time I joined secondary school in Helston, I had marshalled a group of other creative types together to create a school magazine which, if I’m honest, was not published for the good of the school but to create a vehicle for me to see myself in print. Me me me. And it continued ever after with me taking any and every opportunity to write – often accompanying my work with my own illustrations.

And as the years went by I had features published in magazines and journals, newsletters and newspapers. I joined the police at age 18 and moved from Cornwall to London. Almost immediately I became involved in the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Plus Programme’ to improve communications within the service (the Met has more staff than the Royal Navy). I co-edited the newspaper of the famous Peel Centre Police Training College at Hendon (but was shut down at issue 13 for being too subversive - true). And I became the first member of any police service in the UK to be awarded the Diploma in plain English. And all the time I was writing, writing, writing and becoming more and more despondent with every letter that started ‘Thank you for your submission. However, we do not feel …’

There’s a good reason why they’re called rejection letters.

I've certainly felt rejected and, on many occasions, dejected and I have considered just packing it in and getting on with more sensible hobbies like golf or DIY or squid wrangling. It has even occured to me that maybe I'm just not good enough a writer to make a career of it. Perhaps I should just learn to live with that reality? But then I’d read some crappy magazine article or endure a truly rubbish paperback and I’d realise that I could do better. So I would enter writing competitions for the feedback and I'd usually come somewhere among the winners. All of which meant, presumably, that my writing was at least of a reasonable standard.

But still the rejection letters came in.

Between 1980 and 1990 I wrote seven novels all serially rejected by a host of publishing houses and agents. I wrote two sitcoms, several dramas and episodes for existing TV series. All rejected. I wrote a science book with a good friend and got as far as business lunches and design meetings with two different publishers. But then there were staffing changes and the new commissioning editor didn’t like the project despite the fact that the previous one had loved it and had even gone so far as to discuss TV rights. It was around this time that I started to wonder whether the problem was them, not me. How could two people within the same company have such opposing views?

Publishing has always been notoriously subjective; what one agent or editor loves may be hated by another. And publishing new talent is a risk when balanced against sure-fire sales of a book by someone who is a ‘celebrity’ (whatever that means these days). Hence, the shelves of Waterstones and W H Smith and Borders creak under the weight of ghost-written novels and supposed autobiographies of celebrities who are barely weaned. How can you write your ‘incredible life story’ when you’re 19?

Therefore, if you are a budding writer, my advice to you is keep on keeping on. As someone once said (I can’t remember who), ‘If you wake up in the morning and all you can think about is writing, then you’re a writer.’ The fact that someone in a suit sat in a plush office in London doesn’t like what you do – or, more often these days, isn’t willing to take a risk on you – should never put you off doing what you love. Remember that J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down by 12 so-called experts at 12 different publishing houses before she got her contract with Bloomsbury … and even then, the company Chairman was only swayed by his eight year old daughter’s response to reading the first few chapters. Rowling has gone on to sell in excess of 325 million books and is personally worth an estimated £576 million.

And, if all else fails, self-publishing is a very real option these days with internet services like Lulu and Café Press making it both affordable and professional.

It’s 2007 and I’m still not a best-selling author. I'm not even a worst-selling author. Despite my having enough rejection letters to paper the inside of the Albert Hall, I keep on writing. As an exercise in discipline I write a 1000 word essay every week and a number of smaller 500 word pieces. Some have been published but most of them haven’t. And with every word I write I silently curse those editors and publishers who don’t seem to be able to lift their heads from the company profits long enough to encourage and nurture new talent.'

Oooo wasn't I a bitch back then?

1 comment:

Me said...

No you were most defintately NOT a bitch.
You were frustrated at your lot. You are skilled - you just had to persuade the buggars to read it.
Once they did - the penny dropped.
You WILL be successful and thats nothing to do with luck.