“The thing you’ve got to have is determination; you’ve got to think ‘I have stories worth telling, I have stories people will want to read.’ So you’ve got to have some self confidence. You’ve got to be persistent, take knockbacks. I’ve got unpublished manuscripts sitting in drawers, I’ve got piles of rejection letters in the file somewhere. So don’t give up.” Ian Rankin
I think that’s great advice. But at what point do you decide to listen to all the rejections and give up? For me, it clearly wasn’t at the 100th ‘thanks, but this isn’t for us’ — I carried on until I decided to submit the first 3000 words of The Beggar’s Opera to the CWA Debut Dagger. The day the letter arrived advising me I had been shortlisted was when I felt my efforts had been validated, that this actually was a worthwhile investment of time.
But I’m not sure I would have had the stamina to continue without that marvellous and welcome feedback. Life is too short, surely, to keep willingly getting slapped in the face?
Some people, I know, love writing and would carry on, no matter how many rejections. But it wasn’t that way for me; in fact, I got angry when friends said to me, ‘at least you’re having fun.’ I didn’t find it fun. I didn’t like constantly opening an email from an agent to find either a generic rejection or worse, the rather more personal ones that ripped my efforts apart. De trop, one agent wrote. There is nothing you could do to revise this manuscript to my tastes.
(I had to look up that phrase, ‘de trop,’ in a French dictionary to fully understand the extent of the insult. It means ‘over the top.’)
I’m a lawyer; I have other things to do with my time. And I had calculated that (despite being only slightly taller than five foot two), my chances of getting published were rather smaller than my chances of playing professional basketball for the NBA.
I would have given up at some point along the continuum, but where? At the 200th rejection? When does that belief that you have a story to tell go past persistence and start being pathetic? When would even Ian Rankin have given up?
Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera here! It’s pretty cool!