Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Nail Biting Is Over

I have just sold my first book. Yes indeedy. However, I won't go into the trifling details and neither will I shout 'Hoorah!' in a loud and triumphant tone just yet. I have been let down too many times in the past to count my chickens before they've hatched. In fact, so many chickens have become balut before my eyes that I've learned not to pop the champagne corks until contracts are signed and handshakes shook. Not that I'm a pessimist by nature, you understand. Far from it. Nothing could stop me from feeling as smug and elated as I do today. As smug and elated, in fact, as the man who first persuaded ladies that thongs were a really good idea and female-empowering. My first book is being published next year. Life is good.

I've been thinking about my journey today. Not the one I made to the shops, nor the wet and windy walk I had with the dogs. I mean my journey as a wannabe-writer. Back in October, I wrote a post called Rejection and Dejection (click here for a shortcut if you want to read it) which was a short rant about how it feels to be a writer who never seems to get anything accepted by publishers. I posted it on this blog as cartharsis; a warts 'n' all heart-on-my-sleeve, cliche-ridden gush of angst and annoyance.

I read it again today and was struck by the sentence '... and one thing I fully intend to do is to wallpaper the room with all of the many rejection letters I’ve received'. Which made me wonder ... just how many rejection letters have I received? There was only one way to find out.

I reached for the Box Of Despair.

I have an old black box-file on a shelf in my study that contains every rejection letter I've ever received. I've kept them because some have good feedback (although most are just standard letters) but also because it's useful to keep a track of who I've sent things to. They cover a wide variety of my submissions from novels to plays, pantomimes to comic art, non-fiction to childrens' books. The oldest rejection slip is from 1989 so I have eighteen years' worth of people saying 'thanks but no thanks'

So I counted them. And there were 50 ... which seemed too few. So I checked again. Fifty. For some reason I assumed that there would be at least a hundred, but none appeared to be missing. I really have had just 50 rejections in 18 years. That's an average of just 2.7 per year, which means that I've been told 'No!' once every four months ever since I was 28 (Just a reminder - I am talking about my writing here and not my sex life). Looked at that way, I've actually not had too bad a ride have I?

The most that any one of my projects has been rejected is six times. J K Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times. Richard Adams' Watership Down was rejected 13 times. The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank was rejected 15 times. Frank Herbert's Dune was turned down 23 times. Stephen King's Carrie was rejected 30 times. Marina Lewycka's recent worldwide best-seller A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian was rejected 36 times. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig was rejected 121 times. But the winner so far (I've only done 10 minutes of research and am sure it can be beaten) is Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, which was rejected a staggering 140 times. It has since gone on to sell 80 million copies in 37 languages.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that because rejection makes us feel bad, it amplifies our self-doubt. And before we know it, we're believing that things are far worse than they actually are.

And I guess that what I'm also saying is 'Believe in yourself'. Despite the rejection slips, I've never stopped believing that I have something valid to say. And now, after 18 years, I've finally been vindicated. The years of nail-biting waiting for the rejection letter or acceptance letter may now be over.

As I said in an earlier blog, if you get up in the morning and all you think about is writing, then you're a writer. It can take a while to persuade others of that fact and, sadly, the industry is such that a second-rate F-list celebrity will find it easier to get a book deal than you will these days. But if you believe that what you do has validity, that doesn't matter. I would still write even if I was never published because I love to write. If it was just about the recognition or the money, I would have given up way before my 50th rejection.

The first step to getting others to believe in you is to believe in yourself.

1 comment:

Me said...

Congratulations matey - well deserved.