In 2012, my comedy teen novel ‘The Art of Kissing Frogs’ was shortlisted for the Greenhouse Funny Prize. This was key moment for me. After years of rejection – and after having more rejections than Mary Berry has had cakes – I really thought I’d got somewhere.
I drank wine. I did a silly dance. I thought I’d made it. I was convinced an agent would pick it up.
But the rejections continued. One after the other, after another. They were good rejections, with bright positive comments:
You write well, but…
I loved this so much, but…
I can see you have talent, but…
It was the ‘but’ that stuck in my brain. Despite the good stuff, all I could see was the less appealing negative bits. The fact the ‘comedy was tricky to sell’, that I wasn’t ‘distinctive enough’, that ‘the character motivation wasn’t clear’.
And this time the negative weighed heavily on me. I remember stomping round the house, muttering under my breath ‘I don’t care. I never wanted it anyway’ whilst inside I was so bitterly disappointed.
I stuffed Frogs into my drawer and scowled at my husband – “that’s it. I’m not writing anymore. I’ll take up knitting or something.” I really did wonder if it was time to give up, to face the fact that I would never be a novelist. I wondered if I was just deluded, like an out-of-tune X Factor contestant, looking for something I’d never achieve.
But I couldn’t quite bring myself to start knitting. Those big needles just freak me out…
What was strange, though, was how I couldn’t stay away from writing. From then on, instead of focusing on agents and publishing deals – I just wrote for pleasure. I started writing about stuff that meant something to me. A troubled teen, tormented by a bully, and a bully, tormented by her damaged family. The words took shape quickly and I was swept up in excitement. Within three months I had something to be proud of.
I sent the draft to some trusted readers and was delighted with their feedback. I realised I was a good writer, I just needed some luck. I also recognised that my own writing had improved and strengthened and the years of rejection had just made me more determined.
This time, when I submitted to agents, I had a tougher resolve. As rejections trickled in, I recorded them – noted any patterns. As I got requests for full manuscripts, I dared to believe this could be the time. Or maybe not. Either way, I was getting closer. Some agents dithered, they were concerned about the market and how well my book would sell. I tried not to let the negative feelings build – there was still interest and this was the main thing.
And then finally one agency, a bloody fantastic one, whipped my manuscript off the slush pile and fell in love with it. They signed me within two months and sold Seven Days a few months later. It was so fast I nearly had to stab myself with a knitting needle to believe it.
A year later, I was holding the proof copies of my first YA novel in my hand and marvelling at how quickly things can change.
I now have 8 YA/MG books published, with 3 more due next year. Not bad for a girl who thought she would remain in the slush pile.
Being rejected is not a bad thing at all. In fact, I truly think it shapes you as an author and an individual.
I wear my rejections as a badge of honour now, war wounds that I can proudly show off:
Hey, I’ve been there. I know just what it’s like….Please don’t give up.