I was sitting in my pyjamas reading how desperate Saxon villagers would hurl beehives at the unstoppable Viking hordes. I’d had a dismal day.
Turned down for a job I’d pinned all my hopes on (“We really liked you, but -”), sick with something long and determined that the doctors couldn’t define, I felt lower than I had for months.
And so I turned to the Anglo-Saxons for a sense of perspective. Pestilence, plundering and purgatory were beginning to lighten my mood. All things considered, I wasn’t being bloodily conquered by the Norsemen.
Then I got the email.
“We enjoyed your sample chapters, but -”
I felt like I’d been hit by a flying beehive.
It was my first novel’s first rejection, from an agent I felt sure would ‘get’ my work. Polite, but painful.
I thought I had prepared myself. I know no writer gets by without rejections, but the timing was as lousy as it could be. As the sting intensified, I laughed. Surely everything from here would be easier.
It was, and it wasn’t. The first time is naturally the worst, but, over the following weeks, the thanks-but-no-thanks dribbled in and I developed the nonchalance necessary to disguise the disappointment.
As most of the agents on my query spreadsheet are in America, most of my rejections arrive at 11pm, just as I think it’s safe to turn in for the night. One shot back twenty-four hours after I hit send. And I survived.
I think of my Headmaster sitting beside my English teacher at parents’ evening, saying gently:
'Verity, being a writer is one of those things like wanting to be a popstar.' And as I gave him that particular obnoxious teenage look of defiance, my English teacher leaned forward: 'Go for it.'
I am, unfortunately, a sensitive person.
In the business of writing, you find yourself straddling an uncomfortable line between your dewy-eyed hopes and the intimidating realm of economy, market trends and covering letters.
But perversely, I am loving it.
People talk of developing a thick skin, but how do you go about changing a fundamental emotional response? And why should you? My answer is to enter the querying process with your eyes open. It is going to sting. But it has its highs. The unfinished manuscript was longlisted for a prize, The Literary Consultancy were invigoratingly encouraging, and I’ve just had a request for a full. I remain optimistic, beehive or no beehive.
What has got me this far is a fanatical sense of purpose. That isn’t to say you ought to dive into this process believing you’re an undiscovered genius and that anyone who rejects you is a fool who’ll regret it on their deathbed. But being willing to learn at every stage, and to look back and appreciate the knowledge you’ve acquired – even in a few months – is a boost to optimism and self-respect.
Since my first rejection, I’ve made headway on my second novel, applying the skills I’ve gained from the hard slog of editing. Another short story is on the boil, and I’m working towards an illustrated collection of poems. This is what I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I trust myself not to give up.