As you can see here, I’ve written a novel, Human Noises. I finished it a while ago, and then sent it to a number of literary agents. They recommend that you do this rather than send it directly to publishers, as publishers are often tight on time and staff, and don’t have enough resources to wade through the slush pile at any great speed. Fair enough.
So, I sent it out, and got it back, and sent it to another agent, and got it back, and so on, until I’d approached around 75 agents. All of them rejected it, which isn’t what I was hoping for, but as the majority of the letters said something on the lines of ‘sorry, we’re not currently taking on new authors’, I didn’t get too disheartened. However, after a while I shrugged my shoulders and started writing something else, on the grounds that Human Noises is a lengthy and involved tale, and maybe I should try to catch the attention with something a bit shorter and more punchy, and then say ‘well, I do have this as well…’
Obviously, I didn’t always take the rejections quite so calmly – some of the replies I received showed that they’d not read the covering letter, let alone the chapters they were purporting to reject (best example: the agency who thanked me for the chapters I hadn’t sent them – I’d only sent them a letter saying ‘would you be interested in seeing stuff?’) – but I’m all too aware that rejection is a vast part of the whole scribbling deal. Some people, unfortunately, seem less able to take rejection or criticism (have a look here for examples, and here to see the other side of the coin).
Anyway, whilst working on the new book, I noticed that the author Susan Hill was running (as she has for the past two years) a First Novel competition, the prize of which is to see your book published. So I thought I’d send Human Noises in. No harm in doing so, after all, it’s not currently on anyone’s desk elsewhere. I e-mailed it off and waited.
Time passed, as it does, and as the shortlist was due last Friday, I had a look on SH’s site to see what the news was (I was kind of guessing I hadn’t made the shortlist as I thought I would have been contacted, but I could be wrong – it wouldn’t be the first time). Now, if you’re expecting all the above to lead to a dramatic “little did I know that I was the winner” type turn of phrase, then I’m afraid you’d better prepare yourself for disappointment, because…
… well, because some other entrants were clearly less well prepared for disappointment, even if it was only implied. What had happened during the judging stage was that one of the judges had commented that the overall standard wasn’t very high, and that they were going to extend the deadline for entries (and, I think, allow writers with agents to enter, though I could be wrong on that). However, a lot of people took offence at this, and started sending both the judge and Susan Hill angry e-mails and posting comments on their blogs, many of which seem to have been personally offensive. All because these people had heard that the judges weren’t too impressed with the calibre of entries, and somehow had concluded that this must apply to their entries.
So now Susan Hill has announced that the First Novel competition will not run in future years as a result of all this. I can’t say I blame her at all – some people have acted in a frankly childish manner as a result of a comment which they rather self-centredly appear to have concluded was aimed at them. I agree almost entirely with the comments made over at Struggling Author where Marie points out that the best thing to do in these circumstances is to get on and rewrite it, or to write something else. I actually happen to think Human Noises is a pretty decent first novel, but I’m sure it could be improved, and I’m sure there are better writers than me out there in unpublishedland, so I can accept that my entry might not have been up to the standard required, without sending stroppy e-mails to the judges – especially as, at that point, the stroppy folks didn’t know for sure that they weren’t in the running for the shortlist.
Anyway, that won’t be a problem for any unpublished novelists in the future, as the thoughtless behaviour of a few has led to the removal of a useful opportunity to be published. It all smacks of a child swiping the gameboard off the table in a tantrum so that no-one else can play. Bravo, I say, Bravo (hand-claps slowly and sarcastically).
The best way to deal with rejection, I’d say, is as per the old adage about ‘the best revenge is living well’, As I understand it, both Sylvester Stallone when receiving his Oscar for Rocky and Michael Palin when receiving (with his fellow Pythons) an award from the BAFTA folks took the opportunity to point out how many people had rejected them, and how they had, in spite of that, rolled their sleeves up and carried on working, and gone on to succeed.
A much more profitable use of energy, I think you’d agree.