Ah. The old ‘How I got my agent’ post….. Or rather, the ‘Here is what happens before you find an agent‘ post.
Rejection, old chums. And plenty of it. So, how to cope?
It is extremely unlikely that you have written the greatest novel of our age or that the world will be changed by the message you carry. Soz. What you have done is written a story that primarily has provided entertainment and escapism for you. And that may well be enough. It should be enough. Writing is a hobby that some people are fortunate to turn into a career but it should always be fun, soothing, therapeutic. It should do you good, otherwise what’s the point? Stories are for falling into; immersing yourself in a different world for a few hours at a time. And, yes, stories are also for sharing – that is how we learn about life, but be honest, your book may not contain the secrets of the universe. It might just be a story about a dog and penguin. And that is perfectly alright – because who doesn’t love stories about dogs and penguins?
It doesn’t matter what your story is about as long as it pleases you and gives you a route out of the humdrum of daily life. If it then pleases those around you, that’s an enormous plus, but again, not essential. And if you make it to the hallowed portal of the slush pile and find that your story pleases an agent and then a publisher, well that’s great. But what you need to know right from the off is that this story is for you.
Imagine yourself standing with your book in your hands and before you stretches a queue of agents extending as far as the eye can see, over the horizon and into a distant land. Unless you’ve written something really niche, there are a helluva lot of agents out there who might choose to represent your book. There are also many smaller publishers who will take you on without an agent AND there is the burgeoning market of self-publishing. You are spoilt for choice. So, start with your top ten, research them, make sure they represent the kind of work you’re pushing and send it out to the first five (doing exactly as these sort of articles always suggest, following the submission guidelines to the letter). And then every time a rejection comes in, simply move along to the next one on your list and send it to them. This way you always have five irons in the fire and five emails to look out for with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Periodically add five more agents to the list and keep working through. Keep a record of it on an excel spreadsheet. Your list may run to fifty, sixty or into the hundreds. Who cares? What have you got to lose by sending it out? Nothing. What do you have to gain? Either a publishing deal or a lot of weight from your rejection chocolates – see below.
An idea given to me by a lovely author Pernille Hughes – she suggested buying a box of your favourite, most expensive chocolates; it had to be proper high end confectionary, a real treat. And then only allow yourself to eat one if you get a rejection. No exceptions.** No chocs if you’re just ‘having a bad day’ or ‘feeling a bit peckish’ – only for rejections. What happens is you find yourself feeling pretty cheerful when you see the ‘Thank you for giving us an opportunity to look at your work. Whilst there is much to admire, we simply didn’t love it enough to take it forward….’ email because you know that you can help yourself to one of the delicious Godiva Belgian Selection currently perched on the top shelf of your study (away from small children).
Mental toughness. We get told this as GPs all the time – resilience is the key to avoiding burn-out – as if it’s my moral weakness and lack of fibre to blame for the fact that I’m crying inside when faced with an absolute bloody deluge of medical work. One thing is true though, a career in general practice has prepared me well for facing the slings and arrows of publishing misfortune. And at least publishing people are courteous, or at worst they ignore you. It’s rare to have an agent reply saying ‘You’re the worst writer I’ve ever seen and I’m going to sue you if you don’t look at my daughter’s verruca immediately,’ or similar. In the main, people let you down gently. And an author who has faced no rejections at all (if such a beast exists) is going to find life very tough when they get their first bad review on publication.
If you put it out there you have to understand that not everyone is going to love it. But one person might. And if it’s the right person then you are on your way.
The key thing is – pick yourself up. Keep writing. Keep subbing.
That’s it really.
** Admittedly there have been some exceptions – and when I did get an agent I scoffed the lot, thinking my days of rejection were over – then had to promptly buy myself another box when we started subbing to publishers but that’s another story (quite literally)