Just been Rejected by a Literary Agent? Keep the Faith . . . #writing #novels

I just pulled Stephen King’s On Writing off my book shelf. The shelf that’s only for my best books – the ones that inspire me to write.

I opened it up  and looked down at all the sentences I’d underlined. Here’s one:

‘You should have an agent, and if your work is saleable, you will have only a moderate amount of trouble finding one. You’ll probably be able to find one even if your work isn’t saleable, as long as it shows promise.’

Er, really, Stephen? Yes, I suspect there are writers who haven’t even finished the first draft of their books, and have still managed to get signed by an agent, but King makes it sound like a breeze, and let’s face it, for most of us it’s not.

If you’ve just opened a rejection email from an agent, you’ll probably be feeling a bit bruised. And the likelihood is that you might just have to read a few more of these before you find an agent who’s right for you.

It’s been a year since my wonderful agent Rowan Lawton took me on. Thanks to her, my debut novel The Maid’s Room is to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in November, and rights have been sold in four other territories.

But it took me years to get signed by Rowan. YEARS. My heart used drop into my shoes every time an email from an agent landed in my inbox. I’d curl my lip and say ‘Oh God!’ very loudly indeed. And that was even before I’d read the ‘thanks, but no thanks’. Invariably that email would ruin my day.

But the thing about putting yourself through all of this, is that if you take note, it can make your book better – I don’t mean the bog standard email rejections (they don’t offer you anything) but the ones where an agent has taken the time to point out things they liked about your book, and the things that they didn’t. Mull over, chuck bits away, rewrite. Let other people read it. When it’s the best you think it can be, find a good editor if you can afford one. And know this – as the rejection letters stack up, there might just be a genie lurking among them.

Rowan rejected an early novel of mine a few years ago. (Yes reader I kept the email.) Then in 2014, I was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize for the first time and decided to go to the awards ceremony. (Do go,  2017 shortlisted writers; it’s fantastic.) Rowan was one of the judges that year and I ended up talking to her for quite a while. It was then that I realised that we got on really well, plus I loved her ideas about books. I could have chatted to her for hours.

So I kept on trying, kept changing and tweaking, and occasionally even got a bit hopeful. And finally, my biggest, happiest, most wonderful turning point arrived – and Rowan signed me. (Cue chin wobbling, and an enormous amount of gushy thank you’s). But that moment only arrived when the book was in a much more presentable state than it had ever been.

If you’ve had a rejection letter today, I hope this post might inspire you to keep going. Keep the faith and keep writing because getting your book published really can happen.

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4 thoughts on “Just been Rejected by a Literary Agent? Keep the Faith . . . #writing #novels

  1. Thanks, Fiona – I really needed some encouragement after a series of rejections. They are like Chinese water torture, those little drops in my inbox. They erode confidence and make me wonder what is the point. Then I remember that the point is to write.
    Stephen King’s book On Writing came out seventeen years ago and if he were starting now, he might no longer think that finding an agent is a breeze.
    I’m beginning to think it is mainly up to luck – that the submission happens to reach the right agent at the right time. But since Lady Luck does not seem to have my contact details and my timing has always been a bit icky I must rely on Plan B: keep plodding on and self-publish when there are no more agents left on the list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you – it’s always a blow, and so hard to lift yourself up afterwards. And yes, I agree, you need a bit of luck. I’d had some very positive feedback from agents along with a stack of stock rejections, so I set my first novel aside, and wrote another one using the central idea. The rejections still kept coming, but this time, they were all saying the same thing. One of the agents recommended an editor. I rolled my eyes and thought, ‘what’s the point?’ But it was the best thing I ever did – she’s a miracle worker. Short story competitions kept me going along the way. Smaller, more manageable pieces – because of them, I met so many other writers going through the same thing as me – and God, how it helped to boost me. Keep going. All the best to you.

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