Harriet Potter and the crippling fear of rejection.

I’ll be honest. There are very few Harry Potter references in this post*, just some JK Rowling quotes**.

A friend pointed out an excellent agent for my novel. I’ve decided that I want to query and they are currently open for submissions. This agent has made statements that would tend to suggest that they might actually welcome the kind of genre hopping, funny/dark thrillers that I write. There are literally zero rational reasons for me not to query this person.

It’s been more than two weeks and I still haven’t written the query. There are no rational reasons for this delay but there are about a million irrational ones. I haven’t had time (I do have time I’ve just been avoiding my computer unless I have some other task to do on it). It keeps slipping my mind (it only slips my mind when I’m using the computer). The agent is definately going to reject the novel so what’s the point (I’ve got nothing to loose by the wrong agent rejecting the novel and if they’re the right agent they won’t reject it). I’m scared (I don’t know what I’m scared of). I might I fail again (in this instance failure will cost me nothing).

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling

She’s right of course. Not querying the agent is a far bigger failure than querying them and being rejected would be. I know this intellectually so why is it this hard to accept?

The most confusing thing for me is that rejection is something I should be used to. I’ve been rejected all my life. As a fat, disabled, middle-aged woman I am pre-rejected by society. It doesn’t want me and it’s not afraid to say so loudly.

Maybe it’s because I know that society’s rejection of me is meaningless. Society isn’t rejecting me it’s rejecting the false version of me constructed by prejudice. When someone rejects my novel they’re rejecting the product of the best part of me doing it’s very best work and that is meaningful. That is personal. That really fucking hurts.

* By very few I mean none.

** By some I mean one.

Woo! Rejection! Again.

After waiting for what seems like years I finally received a rejection e-mail from one of the agents that I sent the finished novel out to. I don’t know if you can tell but I’m feeling a lot less enthusiastic about this rejection. Maybe it’s harder to deal with rejection when you’re in the throws of planning a new novel?

Or maybe it’s just the knowledge that there’s going to be so many more. I know that not everyone can like everything. I know that my writing is weird. But I also know that I’m writing  for a niche market that’s already overcrowded with authors and under-represented by agents.

Or maybe I’m just not very good? I’ve got no way of knowing. I’m the worst person to judge my own work, every writer is. I think my prose is strong and my plot is compelling but of course it seems that way to me. For all I know the plot is completely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t already know what it is?

Or maybe I’m just not persuasive enough? Agents are busy. I can’t guarantee that the agent even read the whole submission. They might have taken one look at my query letter or my synopsis and just decided that I was clearly either a lunatic or a hack.

Or maybe I am both a lunatic and a hack.

Woo Hoo! Rejection.

So the “getting used to rejection project” which started back in May has finally come to fruition. The agent got back to me. He wanted my novel for a particular publisher that, as of two weeks ago, decided they were only looking for straight crime series novels and romance. He’s working full time for the publisher and can’t spare the time to represent me.

I have to say I am surprised by my own reaction. I’m really not particularly upset about it. I’m a little upset about having to write more fucking query letters. I’m a little upset about having to tell people who were rooting for me. I’m really not looking forward to telling my Mother because she will surely launch into another conspiracy theory about how he was only after my manuscript to steal my novel.

In a bizarre turn I’m slightly pissed off to have got the bad news so quickly. Could he not have waited for me to finish tidying the house? Now I have to use my precious spoons to chase up agents and write query letters rather than clean the house.

Well I say I’m not particularly upset but I went out this afternoon and bought (amongst other things) loads of ice cream and crisps and then came back and had to lie down for two hours but that’s probably unrelated.

News of the Pitch.

I’ve written several posts on the subject of the pitch. I submitted work to a competition of sorts. If they liked your submission you’d get the chance to pitch to publishers and agents at an event called Xponorth in Inverness.

I only did it because I wanted to get used to rejection. I did my absolute best with the submission but didn’t expect them to like my it because they asked for a headshot and I am a fat, potato-faced middle aged woman and my novel doesn’t fit into any established genre.

Much to my surprise they liked the submission and asked me to pitch. I assumed they must be short of applicants. I was wrong. In fact there were over 200 applications and only 25 people were invited to pitch. That was my first shock of the day.

I was pitching last, which turned out to be a good thing as I’ll explain later, so I had to sit through the other pitches getting increasingly stiff from sitting on a hard chair and worrying that we might run out of time before I got the chance to pitch.

Listening to the other pitches was fascinating. We were a fairly diverse bunch in terms of ages, accents, genders and novels. The youngest writer looked to be in his early 20s and the oldest two seemed to belong to the same generation as my mother (i.e. born during or just after WWII). There were several novels that I sincerely hope get published because I am desperate to read them. The pitching style varied very widely too. Some were formal, some were polished, some were nervous but enthusiastic, some were personal and one was so lyrical it was almost a poem.

During my preparation I’d timed my own pitch and knew that it was consistently 3 minutes 29 seconds. Since I had 5 minutes that meant that I had time to allow for stumbling over my words, dramatic pauses and for adding additional information based on the other pitches. That meant that with every pitch I heard my pitch got better. Fair compensation for the fact that by the time it was my turn my legs had gone numb and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stand.

As I made my way to the podium I got my second shock. I pulled out my index cards with the pitch written on and then I looked up at the audience and started speaking and suddenly it was like I was flying. I was actually enjoying it. It felt good. Not only was I able to deliver the pitch easily but I could add the additional material that I’d come up with while listening to the other pitches.

So I finished my pitch and I got my third shock. People liked it. I mean I know I’m persuasive but I was not prepared for how much people liked it. The panel had actually read my submission. And they’d liked it. One of them was so taken by the first page of it that he asked if I had it with me so I could read it out.

Let me remind you that this was an exercise in getting used to rejection. I went all the way to Inverness at my own expense to get rejected and I failed. What I got was a request for the full manuscript to be delivered in August. My only hope of rejection is that either the rest of the novel doesn’t live up to the first 50 pages, which I’m going to do my level best to avoid, or it turns out to be too similar to one they’re already publishing.

Does this mean that I can succeed at something but only if I’m simultaneously failing at something else?

The good news and the bad news.

I’ve written several times about a pitch event that I applied for and how I was only doing it to get used to rejection because I was sure that they didn’t want me. Only things didn’t go according to plan. The deadline was extended after I submitted my work and that meant I had to wait much, much longer for my rejection.

In the end I got so sick of waiting that I contacted them. I told them that since I’m disabled (true) I have to plan my travel in advance (true) and I was running out of time to do that (also true) and could they please let me know if they wanted me to pitch. They got back to me the next day to tell me that I’m pitching my novel at 12:50 pm on Wednesday 8th June.

Shit. I was totally not expecting that. Now I actually have to write a pitch. Now I actually have to speak to people face-to-face. I have to sell my novel and myself. I also have to get myself to Inverness on a tight budget.

It might seem strange, given my obvious self esteem issues, but I’m actually pretty good at speaking to people. I’m just shitty at selling myself or anything I’ve made. I’ve worked in sales and if you have a product I believe in I can absolutely sell it for you. I’ve represented organisations I love and I’ve done it well. But when it comes to speaking up on my own behalf I really suck.

It doesn’t help that I’ve spent so much time staring at the novel in question that it’s ceased to have any meaning. I couldn’t tell you for sure if it’s in English never mind if it’s well written.

Wish me luck?

Still making things worse for myself.

Last month I talked about some submitting work to a pitch event. I didn’t expect to be short listed because I’m not what they’re looking for.  They’re looking for young, pretty people with social media reach and I am a fat, middle aged, munter with a shitty blog.

Now originally submissions closed on the 1st of April with the short-listed writers being notified over the next couple of weeks and everyone hearing back by the end of April. But then the moved the deadline. By a month.

So now I don’t even know when to expect to officially hear that I’m not on the short list.  I keep checking my e-mail and checking the event website to see if they’ve listed the short list that I’m not on. I did not expect to have to wait this long for rejection.  It shouldn’t matter because I shouldn’t care. But I find myself halfheartedly planning a trip to Inverness for the event. I’m budgeting for travel and picking out clothes. I’m expending mental effort planning for something that’s not going to happen but I can’t be sure it’s not going to happen because they haven’t officially rejected me yet.

Dammit I want my rejection in a timely fashion.

Nope

Sometimes I look back at my life and realise it’s been a long string of nope. When I’m not being rejected I’m rejecting things because I think they’re not for me.

I get rejected a lot. I don’t really want to go into my long history of not being good enough except to say that after a while you internalise it and then it doesn’t matter if people are rejecting you or not because you’ve already pre-rejected yourself. Unfortunately it never stops hurting and it never stops feeling personal.

For a long time I thought I could never be a writer because being a writer used to mean that you had to persuade someone to publish you. I was sure I’d never be able to do that because I’m so easy to say no to. Things are different now. Now I’m half convinced that I can’t be a writer because I lack the business sense to self publish.

My heart sinks at the thought of all the self promotion a writer has to do, regardless of how their work is published.  I actually feel ill when I contemplate asking people to buy something I’ve written.  Why the hell would anyone want to do that? It’s not that I think that my writing is bad or that it’s not worth the money.  I’m sure it’s good.  I believe that all artists deserve to get paid.  I believe that my work is worth paying for it’s just that I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me.  Asking people to pay me money is dangerously close to asking for help and asking for help has always been a bad idea for me.

When I try to express my fears it mostly comes out sounding like arrogance.  “Self publishing isn’t for me,” sounds exactly like “I’m too good for self publishing.”  “I don’t want to promote my work,” sounds exactly like “My work is so good it should sell itself.”  “I’m going to have difficulty finding the right publisher/agent,” sounds exactly like “I’m too special for most of them.”

I have this deep and abiding fear that new and more horrible rejection is waiting just over the horizon.  This fear of rejection alone probably means that I shouldn’t be a writer.  But maybe I can manage the rejection?  Maybe I can deal with it in stages?

For anyone still reading this these are some of the reasons you might decide not to continue reading.

  1. I am disabled. And not in any interesting, heroic or photogenic way.
  2. I am fat.  Not curvy or voluptuous. It does not look good on me. I am not cute or fashionable.
  3. I will not be engaging in fat shaming anyone else.  I’m always amazed by how fabulous and stylish other fat people look.
  4. I am female but I am neither pretty, young, nor available.
  5. I am not wealthy.  In fact by British standards i’m fairly poor.
  6. I have been through a lot of horrible shit in my life but none of it makes for an interesting story.  It’s messy, mostly self inflicted and doesn’t make much sense.
  7. I’m Scottish (which is not currently popular in the rest of the UK).
  8. At some point in the future I may promote my own work in forms that you will have to pay money to enjoy.
  9. I complain a lot.

I might be alone now but I can handle alone.