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Rejection and Acceptance

This is a photo of me back in 2005, when I was twenty-seven years old. I had finished writing my first book, The Poet’s Wife (which I called In the Shade of the Orange Tree – this was later changed by the publisher) and my then-boyfriend-now-husband, Andy, was taking a photo of me posting my first set of manuscripts out to around five literary agents. In those days, most agents still wanted hard copies posted rather than emailed. Imagine my printing costs!

I remember that photo being taken really well and more than that, I remember the accompanying emotions: I was so full of hope and so excited. I honestly believed that the chances were high that one of these five or so agents would take my novel on. Why did I believe that? Because I’d poured my heart and soul into writing my book and believed it was really good. Also, I suppose, I didn’t know then what I know now. I’d like to give my twenty-seven year old self a big hug and say, buckle in, this is not going to go the way you expect. You’re in for a long ride, Rebecca.

The Poet’s Wife, after around eighty-five rejections, was finally published nine years later in 2014.

And now, let’s fast forward eighteen years from that day I hopefully posted those manuscripts in Cambridge, wearing a bright pink woollen jumper. I don’t know how many times I’ve been rejected by agents and publishers since then. Dozens. Hundreds.

My son (aged twelve) has occasionally asked me, When you’re not teaching, what are you actually doing all day? On my more cynical days,I feel like telling him, Well, I’m being rejected. I could say that I am writing or creating new work, but that’s definitely not accurate. Because alongside the writing, I am putting myself out there again, and again, and again. And being rejected more times than I care to remember. Sending your work out to people is time-consuming and, as the rejections pile up, you have nothing to show for it. Each agent and publisher wants something different and you have to tailor your submission. That hope has never gone away, each and every time I hit the send button. This is good enough, a voice says inside me, just like that voice that told me the same thing in Cambridge when I was twenty-seven. This story deserves to be read.

And yet the rejections pour in. Unless you’ve been through this, it’s hard to understand how it feels. You know it’s not personal and yet, somehow, it deeply is. We writers – and artists in general – need to grow a skin as tough as a rhino’s hide. Mine has certainly thickened over the years, and I’m not sure in her blissful naivety, that my twenty-seven year old self could have coped with it. But I’ve learnt we must pick ourselves up again and again. To keep sending our writing out there and to keep getting rejected. Until that day we have to read an email several times over for the penny to truly drop that it is not another rejection, it is an acceptance.

So yes, this tale trails uneven, rocky ground until it reaches this point I now find myself. Fast forward eighteen years and just before Christmas, I receive an email that I’ve dreamt of for as long as I can remember with an offer of agent representation. There is no guarantee that my new agent will be able to find a publisher for The River Days of Rosie Crow (my latest book) BUT (and this feels like a very big but), my chances are now far, far higher. And I have somebody to fight my corner; somebody who believes in me and my writing.

It’s not easy to describe quite how this feels. Suffice it to say that it was the best Christmas present I could ever have imagined. Rosie Crow, the protagonist of my novel, has given me a little grin and wave before turning around and scampering off towards the River Mermaid. Finally, I can allow myself to follow her.

Thank you for reading this blog post. Compliment it with reading the blog I wrote in 2014 about all the rejections I received for the Poet’s Wife & an account of how I found the self-publishing journey with my third novel.

(Photo on header by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

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