By Sally Harris
No-one told me writing should come with a health warning. Something like on cigarette packets would be great; a shocking or disturbing thing to dissuade the unwary from venturing too near pen, paper or laptop. When I signed up for a creative writing course several years ago, I assumed it would be nothing more than a relaxing pastime, a quiet hobby like reading.
How wrong I was.
As we waited for the first session to start I looked warily at the other would-be writers. I had no clear notion of what I would write and certainly no thoughts of publication. All that came later. There was just one thing that bothered me back then; what would the group make of my writing?
Each writer’s journey is unique but we pass many common milestones. The writing community share tales of progress, disappointment, and triumph on social media. One writer may finish her novel in a year, another may take a decade. Others write flash fiction or short stories and never consider anything longer. However, we all experience one thing if we put our work out there, and that was what worried me back then.
If you are getting rejected on a regular basis, you are, without doubt, in fine company. J.K.Rowling’s submission story is well known. Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish. Both writers went on to sell millions of copies of their books. Even though we writers know this, we still dread the Big R. The staple of the writing life.
I escaped much of this angst for several years. There had been the odd bumpy bit of feedback in the weekly creative writing class but nothing to raise my blood pressure too much. Classmates were kind, my tutor, very lovely. Nothing much to stress about. When I submitted my novel to agents, things start to heat up. The submission process was a whole new ball game.
It didn’t help that I submitted my novel far too early.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but back then I’d done with redrafting and polishing; all I wanted to do was get the story out there. I buried the nagging little voice in my head that said the story wasn’t hanging together as it should. I researched suitable agents. Little did I know I was heading for rejection addiction.
After I pressed send on carefully crafted emails to a few hand-picked agents fear loomed large. My pulse started to race and I suddenly became inseparable from my mobile. My little ghost story, an old and haunted house, a family, isolated and struggling to survive, was nothing new or unique. No USP. Imposter Syndrome took hold, my writing was inferior, the characters cliched. No agent would bother to respond with hundreds of stronger submissions arriving each week. Stress levels soared, rejection was heading my way.
Weeks passed and silence pulled out.
I’d been right, my story was boring, going nowhere other than agent’s trash-boxes. A couple of standard rejections dribbled in then silence again. I relaxed, assumed I would hear nothing more and went back to everyday things. No real harm done.
I had been to a networking lunch when her email came through.
Two hours of chatting with fellow lawyers, local business owners and listening to a speaker about new tax legislation had kept me away from my phone. I read the agent’s email, checked it was meant for me. It had my name on it, the title of my novel. A woman I had never meet and who knew about books and publishing had pulled my submission free from the slush pile. She was looking forward, she said, to reading the full manuscript.
I danced a little jig in the ladies loos back at the office then sent off the manuscript. News spread, my writing group and tutor all held their breath. Again, more weeks passed, my mobile welded to my palm.
Rejection, when it came, had a very sharp sting.
Heightened by hope, the crash was steep. I rushed the novel out to more agents. Surely someone would offer on it? More agents declined. I was a junkie craving the next fix, no way could I stop now, not having come this far.
Exhaustion set in.
I paused, took stock and sucked up all the feedback from agents. I needed some expert help so I contacted Jericho Writers who teamed me up with Susan Davis. She looked over my submission package and said it looked good. Then a lengthy and detailed manuscript appraisal followed. Susan was generous with her praise and kind and clear regarding areas where improvements could be made. A lengthy phone call followed, more encouragement and advice was given. A fresh pair of eyes on the story made all the difference. I was clear about what was working. Taking to Susan solved problems with the plot and how giving information to the reader could be threaded through the narrative. The fog had cleared, I could, at last, see my way forward.
I set about redrafting.
The novel inched further along the path. Susan read the novel again. We stayed in touch with the occasional email exchange and piece of advise regarding agents, a kind word to keep me on track. The nagging voice became a mantra, restructure, restructure, restructure but I didn’t know how and it’s not easy to get advise on the big picture. I read books on the three and five acts, looked at character arcs, the turning points in a narrative.
I obsessed about fixing the novel.
Eventually, I pulled it apart, wrote out road maps, made lists, plotted timelines. During the Christmas holidays, I took a leaf out of Scrooge’s book and ignored the festivities, Bah humbug, all that could wait. I silenced the nagging voice and rewrote the novel.
I sent Haverscroft out to publishers and agents in the spring of 2018.
The novel was as good as I could make it. I knew that it worked. Without the rejection from that first agent, my novel would not have developed into the story it is today. The dogged determination to keep getting it out there would never have set in.
If you don’t send out your writing it becomes invisible, no one can hear you. The best protection against rejection is to become the very best writer you can be. I signed with an agent in July at a time when three indie publishers also liked the look of the book. I signed a contract with one in September. Haverscroft was published by Salt on 15th May 2019.
Now I wait for the reviews to roll in…
Sally Harris’ novel Haverscroft is available to purchase now. Our list of over 50 editors work with hundreds of authors like Sally, providing detailed, structural editorial feedback on your work including advice on how to address any problems raised. To find out more, click here.