Rejected? They’ve made a mistake!

by Neil Chapman

I’m new at this blogging malarkey. But that’s a good thing because it gives you a certain energy,and recently I’ve expended a bit of mine looking at other author’s blogs. As you do.

Very Interesting and they are all very different. Some are rubbish and I mean that; tap in to Google and see for yourself.  But some of these guys are good, and helpful too, in guiding you around the writing business.  They are experts, and justifiably so when they’ve got a number of published books out there.

It made me think and question. What am I good at?

I know.

Rejection.

That’s my area of expertise. So far.

There are a number of reasons I guess why people like me write books and then publish them on Amazon Kindle.  In my case, there are two. Firstly I’ve been rejected… I can’t get an agent sufficiently interested to take it on, and secondly, going the e-book route gives you so much more control.

(I have to say that I never even tried going direct to publishers. I’m reliably told that almost all of them only accept submissions through an agent, and those who do accept stuff, dump it on the ‘slush’ pile where it may, or may not, get read.)

So I tried the agent route. Now this will tell you all you need to now about me; I thought getting an agent would be a doddle. Don’t laugh, because we all daydream don’t we? And when I let my mind wander it wanders into some pretty serious territory.  I was thinking a good agency and then a decent advance from the publisher who’d won the rights after a frenzied auction. Then came signing events in Foyles to start with, then Waterstones all over the country, a bit of local radio, perhaps even regional TV. (If I had the time) and regular meetings and talks to my adoring fans clamouring for my next book.

Then of course there’s the film rights, because it does lend itself naturally to being the best British film thriller for years. So of course I quickly knocked out the screenplay.

Never forget that I really liked the book I’d produced and naturally thought everyone else would. Isn’t that what every writer must think?

My first rejection came from the biggest literary agency in the land, Curtis Brown. But even that seemed to confirm my optimism, coming complete with personally handwritten words of congratulations and encouragement. A  rejection yes, but close!

In all, over the next few months, I probably sent the typescript to around 25 literary agents. I got interest from 8 of them, all of whom wanted to read the whole book. (They ask that you initially approach them with just the synopsis and the first 3 chapters or so.) Apparently most agents get around one hundred new typescripts every week, 52 weeks a year and in a good year they might take on two new authors from that lot! So you work out the odds. Let’s just say they are stacked against you but on the other hand, if the book is good enough….

But even that doesn’t work does it? History is littered with great authors and best sellers slipping through the agent’s net, J.K. Rowling being the most famous modern example with over 40 rejections. There are loads more.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t me ‘having a go’ at agents, sour grapes or the like. Not at all. They are self-employed, and they only make money if the books they take on, sell.  So they have to be as sure as they can be that they can sell that book to the publisher. And of course the publisher needs to be confident that the book will sell enough copies to recoup the small advance they make you, and then sell more so they can make a profit.

So in a way, my book getting interest from one in three of the people I sent it to was quite encouraging. I thought.

And then I got their feedback. And rejection. What I also got was confused. Very confused. If to a man they had all said “ Look Neil, this really is absolute crap”, I would have understood. Disagreed perhaps, but understood. But they didn’t. They all came up with different reasons for not taking it further, and this is where I became confused because they all seemed to contradict each other. Time after time, parts of the book that some liked, loved even, the others didn’t like at all, and parts that some said needed work, other agents liked. Total contradiction. But they all said it was publishable and would like to see it again when I’d made the amendments they suggested!

Examples. One didn’t like the fact that it switches between first person and third person, saying it never works in her opinion. But others did, and one compared it favourably with Martin Amis’s ‘London Fields’ where it works wonderfully.

Another said she couldn’t see a structure, whilst another said how well it was structured. But that same woman complained after reading that a character in the book had smoked a cigarette indoors, (against the law since 2007). The fact that the book is set in February1991, and every chapter heading contains the date, seemed to have escaped her notice.

Even the book’s title caused dissent. Why it’s even noteworthy escapes me, because it’s something you can change in an instant. But good or bad, it was commented upon.

I could go on…

So what am I to conclude from all of these considered thoughts from some of our leading literary agents? Well, obviously I think they may be wrong in rejecting the book. I’m not saying they are, just that they may be. Now, you might see that as braggadocio and you might be right. But what I do know is that when my printer friend produced half a dozen paper backs, it allowed me to hand them out to friends to read. I asked them for the truth. The brutal truth. Let’s just say I got good positive feedback.

So what’s the upshot of all this? Well I can only speak for myself here but I find it encouraging. Simply that. I’m guessing the scenario I’ve described above has been played out countless times by authors worldwide, who now find themselves on Amazon Kindle and selling loads of books.

They are more in control, probably reaching more readers and earning more than if they had gone the traditional printed route.

It gives me hope. We’ll see.

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