I often hear from people who want to write a book but don’t know how or where to begin. Or from people who have already written a book that’s ready for publication but don’t know how to get it published. I recently began a new blog series, Writing and Publishing Tips From Authors Around the World, to help writers.
The eighteenth contributor is U.K. author Gerry McCullough and she’s here to talk about dealing with rejection.
Becoming a Rhino: How to deal with Rejection by Gerry McCullough
I’ve been writing since childhood, with the encouragement of my primary school teachers, but it was when I was in my teens that I started sending things off to publishers/ magazines, and piling up the rejections. PG Wodehouse once said that he had enough rejections to paper the wall of his study. By the time I had a study, I had enough rejections to paper all four walls and the downstairs loo as well.
My dream was to be a great writer on the lines of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, acknowledged as a good writer by the literary critics but also a bestseller popular with the reader-in-the-street. I had no idea how impossible that is in today’s publishing world.
Twelve years ago, I had my first acceptance, a short story for a popular Irish weekly magazine. I was flying. This was it – no more refusals, now!
Well, no. The same magazine seemed happy to accept anything else I sent them but not many others were. The rejections kept coming.
A few years later I won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing for a more literary short story. This is a prestigious Irish award from Galway Arts Festival. Again, I saw this as a real breakthrough – but it wasn’t.
Did I see myself as a short story writer? No. I’d written lots of short stories and had quite a few published but meanwhile I’d also written at least six novels, the first completed and unsuccessfully submitted to publishers in my mid-to-late teens, the others submitted equally unsuccessfully over a number of years after that. I badly wanted to have a novel published.
Another breakthrough – I thought – was when a local agent accepted me and started to push my book, Dangerous Games. This was the story of three girls growing up in Belfast. Originally set during the Troubles, it had been re-written for the modern post-conflict era of drugs and money. Sound familiar? Yes, with a change of title it became Belfast Girls.
After a year of unsuccessful submissions, my agent suggested that I put it up on Authonomy.com, the HarperCollins online slush pile, and I did. The rest is history – the history of a hard slog. I worked to make my book visible, reading other books and commenting on them in the hope that their authors would be polite enough to at least look at mine in return. Mostly they were. Mostly they voted for it. I think if the book had been rubbish they wouldn’t have. But in fact at the end of five months I reached the top five, earning my book a review by an HC reader and the possibility of a publishing contract. I held on to my Top Five place for a month and then waited another six weeks for the review. I had convinced myself by now that a contract offer would follow.
Alas, although the reader said some very flattering things about the book, no publishing deal emerged. It was a bitter disappointment. Rejections still pierced. I hadn’t yet developed the hide of a rhino, which my friend Sam Millar, the crime writer, says all authors need. HC wanted me to turn my book into either a romance or a thriller, and I wasn’t up for that. Belfast Girls is about life – which means romance, thriller, comedy and much more.
However, the exposure of being on Authonomy won my book the interest of quite a few smaller publishers. Of these, Night Publishing was happy to take it as it was, without trying to push it into a genre. They offered me a contract on 1 July (a fortnight after the HC review) and a few weeks later I decided to go for it. By the end of November, the book was for sale on Amazon.com as a paperback and on both Kindles, etc, in eBook format.
Then came the really hard work.
Lots of articles are written about how to sell your book online and you’ll be glad to hear this isn’t yet another one. At first I tried to sell my paperbacks. After a few months, I realised that the major sales were coming from the eBooks, and started to concentrate on that. I had quite a few interviews on blogs, which was nice – but I’m not sure how many books it sold. I’d been on local radio, with a wide audience, three times, with the prospect of more, and I had a number of good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Writer Garbhan Downey compared me to Andre Malraux, and said my book was about the human condition, which pleased me a lot, because that was the intention. I was getting the literary appreciation I’d hoped for. But what about the bestseller status? Did I need to change, to label my book ‘Romance’? Change the title and cover and description? I thought about it.
Meanwhile, my husband had set me up on Facebook with a Fan page, and I began to make use of this. Suddenly I saw the book begin to climb the bestseller lists on Kindle UK.
I didn’t, like Byron, wake up one morning to find myself famous. But I did wake up one morning to find myself well up the UK Women’s Literary Fiction list, at No.32. And from then on it continued to climb until it reached the top 100 overall (and No.1 in its categories), and stayed there for a couple of months.
At first all the reviews for the book were good. Then, with the increased sales, a few bad ones began to arrive, and I had to find out how thick a hide I’d grown. Not very thick at all, I soon realised.
Since then I’ve changed to another publisher, Precious Oil Publications, and have had four more full length novels published, as well as a YA time travel adventure and two collections of short stories. Recently, I was asked to join a group of six authors producing a box set of Romantic Comedy. Rom Com is not my usual style, but I was pleased to be asked, and I wrote Hel’s Heroes for the set. Presently, when the box set comes down, Precious Oil will publish Hel’s Heroes as a stand alone.
My skin still isn’t as thick as I’d like. Bad reviews can still wring my heart. But I’m so glad I didn’t let early rejection put me off. If you are reading this, and you want to write, then don’t let rejection put you off either. Grow that skin and keep truckin’! You’ll get there in the end.