What it feels like to have your manuscript rejected

What it feels like to have your book manuscript rejected (and three things I learnt from it)

This is quite a personal post – I don’t usually write from a ‘me’ point-of-view on here but I thought it would be interesting to share my experience in trying to get my story book published.

I’m going to skip through the borrowing pre-amble bit: basically, I have a manuscript (90,000 words) that I have been working on for, ooh, two years, and I decided that I should try and see if I could get it published.You know. Turned into an actual – eek – book. (I’ve always had this weird aversion to calling my ‘stories’ books. It just sounds so formal and serious and grown-up – and also further serves to emphasise that it is actually the very opposite of a book. Sob.)

Consulting my trusty Writers And Artists’ Yearbook, I skimmed through the chapters on manuscript submission. The best way to see your manuscript be waggled enticingly under the nose of a publisher? An agent, of course – a literary agent, who will seize your draft with both hands and do their utmost to land it on the most relevant desks. How hard could it be to get one? I thought as I flicked through the endless agencies Google coughed up. For one thing, how many people write books – and for another thing, how many people write good books? (I know mine is good as my mum said so. So there.)

I limited myself to half a dozen agencies and prepped the required material: typically, a cover letter, a CV, a plot synopsis and a double-line-spaced first chapter. Of course, this is no standard first class delivery, and factor in the SAE required for the return of your manuscript, and you’re looking at around £7 per delivery.

But it’s worth it – and as I popped each weighed-and-stamped envelope into the postbox, it was impossible to not feel excited. The next chapter – ho ho – was about to begin. Literary success, here I come…!

Six months later, I received my first reply. I read it whilst sitting on the stairs; I recognised the logo of the company and for a moment my heart fluttered as I wondered if – ooh! – this was about to be It. The big moment. I opened the envelope and…

It was a resounding ‘no’ – but I’m still feeling positive. And here’s why.

For one thing, no one gets their manuscript accepted first-time round, unless they’re famous and are having their memoirs/insightful fiction/etc ghostwritten for them. Chances of first-time success are slim at best, so don’t be disheartened if a flurry of negative compliment slips come flying through your letterbox. J.K. Rowling is a famous example of someone who initially had the metaphorical door slammed in their face when they first tried to get published – click here for some other well-known examples.

Besides: it was important to me that I triedI’d spent upwards of six years working on a couple of similar projects, which I’d never quite felt confident enough to push forward. It was a step in the right direction that I’d even got as far as addressing the envelope, let alone actually posting it.

Feedback is useful. Admittedly, the feedback I received with my rejection letter – rejection! Such a cruel, X Factor-y word – was minimal. The sender had simply said they didn’t ‘love my submission as much as they would have liked to’. Fine – and clearly a standard letter bolted out to all who sit on the ‘no’ pile. But no less: it got me wondering what I could have done to guarantee that he/she would love it more the next time I posted it – which in turn has led me to decide I should join a creative writing group. Even just some kind of forum where I can post ideas and have it critiqued and vice versa.

Any tips, anyone…?


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