Saturday, 22 August 2009


I think it was Mark Twain who said that giving up smoking was easy, and that he should know as he’d done it thousands of times. Something that doesn’t come any easier, despite its frequency, is rejection. Certainly you learn to brace yourself for it after the naïve outrage the first brings. Each further one toughens you a little, draws the cynicism a little nearer the surface, until you even start to expect it. But it still always hurts.

I stumbled on a few rejection letters I received some years ago from literary agents. Most were two-sentence sound-bites, generic and scything. One, though, offered a few generous and sagacious words, worth considering if rejection is starting to bite.

From the thousands of manuscripts I receive each year, I only take on 2 to 4 new clients. However, the overwhelming majority (over 95%) of submissions are so hopelessly bad that one shouldn’t really include them in any significant statistics.

Last year 130,000 new titles were published.

That there is a vast amount of undiscovered talent out there is a delusion. If you have genuine ability, persist; the real odds are less fearsome than they might at first appear.

So, if you’re confident you can write, regard rejection as a temporary inevitability, and just keep going.


Barb said...

I think a lot of people submit work too early.

At the rate I'm going, I'll be 106 before I send anything out, but at least it will be seriously polished!

Thanks for the positive blog post, Tom.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Yes, Barb, sending in work too soon is a common mistake. A useful trait to have is a permanent disatisfaction with your work - frustrating but it guards against this somewhat.

Nicola Morgan said...

Tom, I did once have a rejection letter that consisted of my letter sent back to me with the word NO scrawled across it. Turned out that the agent had intended the junior secretary actually to write to me couching that word more politely, but junior secretary just sent it to me.

The point about 95% being so unpublishable that it shouldn't count is very valid. I've been saying to people that the awfulness of the sulsh pile is a positive thing, because it makes it easy to shine out from it.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Wise words indeed, Nicola.

Fia said...

Another great post.

Thank you.

Debs said...

I don't know if I'm delusional or not, but feel much better having read this post and will now go back to the shed and continue with my umpteenth edit.

TOM J VOWLER said...

You're welcome, Fia.

Debs, despite some writers featured here talking of first drafts being good enough, I'm in the camp of editing to death. Write and write and write. Then sit in for the real work. The first draft is creating the block of ice, nothing more. Then take your time. Years if you need it. Chip away. Scuplt. Craft. Study the greats and refuse to submit yours until it resembles theirs. It's what they did, after all.

Simon Kewin said...

Absolutely. As a famous cricketer once said, "Never Give Up - Just Absolutely Never Give Up."