Sunday, 19 October 2014

Riding the Rejections

Whilst aiming for your dreams, you can often get knocked back. My dream was initially to write a novel (that, I managed okay), and then to become a published author. The submissions went out, the rejections rolled back in. Rejections at any level are tough to handle… and the path to publication is seldom an easy one!  

A writing friend recently confided to me: “I know that the submission process is subjective, but I really feel disheartened. (You've been there, you know the feeling!) It's as though you just REALLY want someone to give (your novel) approval after all the hours you’ve sat tapping away.”  

I have been submitting my novels to agents and publishers for over 5 years now, I daren’t think how many rejections I’ve had so far. I have actually stopped counting to save my sanity! But the love of writing and the belief in my stories has kept me going. And finally, I have just been offered not one but two publishing deals – I have accepted with Harper Impulse, part of Harper Collins! This is such fantastic news and I’m still riding high. I had already been working on this piece about rejections for my blog, and I feel it’s even more important to share it with you now. The writing I found the easy part, but submitting  - aaarrgh!  

My experiences along the way helped me to learn, focus and develop. So here’s some hints and tips which I hope might help other aspiring authors who are feeling the knocks out there:

1.)    FOCUS YOUR SUBMISSIONS: Find out who’s looking for clients. I must have wasted so many early submissions on picking some big agency I fancied out of the Writers’ and Artists’ year book, sending a general submission, and getting a standard slush pile reply.  Try and submit to publishers/agents who are openly seeking writers to represent, and check they are interested in your genre. A good tip is to see which publishers and agents are giving 1:1’s at writing conferences. (Check out the Winchester Writers’ Festival, the Festival of Writing at York, the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference if you write romance, and there are now many literary festivals and events around the country). Your local library may have more information. If you can’t get along in person, at least have a look at what’s going on, and who’s there! Up and coming agents  are usually keen on debut writers - keep an eye out on the Bookseller “Rising Stars”, or agents who have left a bigger agency to set up on their own. Also, keep an eye on who’s judging writing competitions (and enter some, appearing on a  competition shortlist is a great thing to mention in a covering letter), and look out for articles on agents and publishers in the writing magazines. (Check out Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum.) If they are being proactive in seeking out and supporting writers, then they are bound to be more open to reading your submission. And don’t be afraid to go ahead and submit direct to publishers who state they will look at non-agented submissions, for example Carina UK, Harper Impulse for romantic fiction, Choc Lit, Bookouture, obviously check if it’s your genre they publish.  These are mostly digital first; as a debut author it’s a great way to get out there, get a platform, and professional publishing and marketing for your work.

2.)    BE PROFESSIONAL/RESEARCH: Research publisher/agent guidelines for each submission, check exactly what they are, and tailor your submissions. Try and get an individual’s name and have a good reason why you are submitting to them ie do they represent someone you feel you write similarly to, or the genre you write in? Have you heard them speaking, followed them on Twitter or Facebook, listened to their advice, met them at a conference. Think through your pitch, your covering letter, work on your synopsis. Don’t rush it, and equally don’t make your submission too long-winded (for a covering letter or e-mail no more than one page of A4) or gimmicky, just make it enthusiastic, describe your book with passion and a little about yourself, try and think of a single sentence that would inspire a reader to pick up your novel and read it, and consider briefly what’s unique about your work. Test out your letter/synopsis/first chapters on someone you trust, a writer friend or avid reader whose opinion you respect might be ideal. Blowing your own trumpet is sometimes hard, us writers are often shy types, spending hours at home with our heads in our laptops, but we have to sell our stories and market ourselves as a writer.

3.)    FIND A FRIEND (OR A FEW!) Writers are a supportive and friendly bunch. Try and seek out other writers/writing groups in your local area/genre. Again literary events/book signings/conferences are ideal places to make new friends and get some support. Writing can be quite an isolating activity, and much as our friends and families try and support us, it’s quite a unique activity. Another writer can really understand what you are going through. I’m not sure if I could have kept going through all the rejections without the support of my lovely RNA Northumberland group.

4.)    DEVELOP A THICK SKIN: Easier said than done, I know! A rejection will always hurt and give you that horrid sinking feeling. And the self-doubts creep back in. Am I any good at this? Will I ever get published? Am I delusional?  Yes, learn from any critical comments, especially if the same things are being said from various parties, but remember it’s often a  matter of personal taste. It’s like getting someone to fall in love with you – an agent or publisher needs to fall in love with your story. (I have had that response so many times – you write really well, but I just didn’t fall in love/feel passionate enough about it .) Take the positives, learn from any critical comments, pick yourself up, brush yourself down, have a cup of tea, piece of chocolate cake, glass of wine, hug, and carry on.

5.)    KEEP WRITING - DON’T GIVE UP! WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH THE TOUGH GET GOING. Perseverance is everything. The only sure thing you’ll know if you stop trying is that you won’t get published. If it’s worth it to you, you will find the energy/time/effort/bloody-mindedness to keep going. Remember why you started writing in the first place. Also give yourself a bit of TLC if you need it - I sometimes used to leave off the submissions for a few weeks, when I was feeling particularly sore after rejections and just get back to the writing. Then, I was soon re-inspired and ready to go again. And, KEEP WRITING! Book One might not be the one that gets you published ( I was on my fourth by the time I got a book deal), so keep going, even when you are submitting one book, get busy writing the next. You’ll be learning your craft, developing as a writer. And agents and publisher like to know you aren’t a One Trick Pony, that you have more novels in you, more stories to tell.
Let me know if you have any tips for handling rejections, or experiences too.
I'd love to hear from you.



  1. Great blog Caroline. Really good advise xx

  2. Thanks Lynda! Hope it helps and inspires - go girl! x

  3. Great blog. Congrats on the publishing deal. Harper Collins! You are now officially living my dream. Lol.
    I'm a Northumberland lass myself, so I love to see a local person do well. I see you like Bamburgh. I'm from Seahouses so I completely agree with you about the beauty of the beach, especially on a nice day, with the castle on one side of you and the Farne Islands on the other. When I was younger I used to go and get a packet of chips and drive up to stag rock and just sit there.
    Anyway, good luck and I'll look for the book when it's out. x

    1. Thanks for your comments Emma - glad you enjoyed the blog! And yes, we are lucky to live in such a stunning part of the world. It really inspires my writing.
      Best wishes x

    2. Hi Emma - just spotted your blog - I see you are writing too! Very best of luck with everything!
      Are you on Twitter? I put regular updates and writing info there. If so, my twitter name is @_caroroberts - might be worth a look x