This is a letter to every one of the agents who contributed to my Wall Of Rejection, a collection of printed out emails on my wall that remind me of the number of times people have turned me down when I have sent them a query about my novel. And it’s genuinely sincere. That title is not sarcastic, though it might sound it. I am truly grateful that they rejected me.
And I’m not going to be talking in the wishy-washy sense that I’m glad they gave my book a chance, that they read my query — in this day and age, it’s not actually necessary to treat agents as if they are gods. I’m talking in a deeply personal sense because rejecting that particular novel was exactly the right thing to have done. It shouldn’t have been published.
Now, in a few months’ time when I start querying the novel I actually hope to share with the world, I expect I will feel very differently about rejections. But in this instance, it was helpful. And here’s why.
The novel in question is/was entitled Watching, and at the time I conceived it as the first book in a trilogy. After rewriting it numerous times, with the help of several incredibly patient beta readers, I was convinced that finally it was ready. It was time.
I worked on my query letter a little, and then sent it off to a few agents — I think seven in total. And then I waited.
Most of them rejected me immediately. Some took a little while, and then did so. One of them requested my entire novel, prompting me to freak out in a supermarket in Glasgow, before rejecting me. As you can imagine, that one stung a little. I was so sure I had a chance, and because they had represented a few of my favourite authors in a similar genre, it would have been a dream to work with them.
It was interesting, though: all of them said that the writing was good, but that the novel didn’t grip them, or that it didn’t have a personal connection, or that they were not interested in the characters. In other words, I was a good writer, but it was a bad novel.
Now I’ve talked about that novel a lot on this blog, probably because I’ve been working on it since early in 2010, and I’ve probably given away the entire plot by now. I mean, as far as there is a definite plot — I’ve written it nine times, and it was different every one of them. I tend to refer to it as part of my Death And Fairies trilogy… Recently, you might have noticed me calling it a series.
Because it is. After writing the trilogy, I realise that my characters have far more stories to tell if I started from an earlier point in their story, given that they were all mostly immortal. I wrote a prequel, which took place almost 400 years before Watching, and it was fun. It allowed me to sow seeds for what would happen later, but also to develop my characters a lot more, and understand them better.
And then I realised. Writing Watching had been a mistake. That wasn’t where the story started. That was near the end. This wasn’t a trilogy with a prequel: it was a series.
Now, for a second I was doubtful about that, because it would probably mean rewriting the entire trilogy to be completely different, but very quickly I started to see the appeal of the idea. I had so many characters I could develop more, those who died early on in the so-called “trilogy” had plenty of story before it happened. I could focus on them in their youth, explore their relationships, and all that lovely potential for backstory and disagreements could be put on the page.
I knew I didn’t have time to write the series immediately. For a start, this revelation came to me in August, when my hands were at their worst and I didn’t yet have Dragon. Moreover, I already had ideas about what I wanted to write for NaNoWriMo, and it didn’t involve intensive research into the English Civil War. But I made a few planning notes, and accidentally found myself with blurbs for all eight books in this series.
Did I say eight? Yeah, the trilogy actually ended up being the final three. The prequel is book one.
It’s crazy. It’s completely absurd. There is no way a publisher is going to take me on, untested, for a series that spans 400 years, kills most of the main characters, and goes from high fantasy, to historical fantasy, to urban fantasy. The only thing book one and book eight have in common is that they’re about fairies, and that my aim was to make my readers cry.
Okay, so there are some recurring characters, but generally the novels are very different in tone and take place in very different settings.
In other words, trying to market this series — to query it to agents — would be a fruitless exercise, and I’m not planning to do it for a long time yet. I’ve plenty of other novels, some of which can stand alone, that would be better suited for a debut.
In the end, if this ends up being a little bit too crazy, I can always publish it independently.
But it’s better. It’s better than the trilogy, it’s more original, and the characters are going to have so much more depth. I’ve been wanting to write something with this kind of scope — series, rather than a trilogy — for months, but I haven’t been able to come up with an idea big enough. And the reason for that was that every time I tried, all I came up with was the same characters I’d already used in this trilogy, because they were my favourites. I loved them, and I wasn’t quite ready to let them go.
So I wanted to say thank you to all those agents who rejected me. If they hadn’t, I doubt this series would ever have existed. Maybe, eventually, Watching would have been published, and I’d be forever known as the author who wrote a fairly generic young adult novel that was only saved from being utterly clichéd by the fact that so many of the characters ended up dead.
But they didn’t, and I thought about it, and I realised that the world I’d created had way more potential than I’d ever envisioned.
So I’m glad, that I’ve got five emails on my wall that I can occasionally throw things at if I get mad. I’m glad that they told me it was the novel that was the problem, and not my writing: if it had been the other way around, I can see myself having rewritten it forever and forever and never moving on. I’m glad that I had the chance to play around with silly ideas about my characters going to university and writing essays in flawless mediaeval Welsh because of all the Welsh poets they slept with at the time. I’m glad I had a chance to develop a massively diverse cast of characters from all different time periods and geographical locations.
In short, I am so pleased that they chose to reject me earlier this year. It was exactly what I needed.
I think this is one of those examples of where rejection proved to be for the best. It’s hard to see it at the time, when you’re too disheartened even to print the emails off because you don’t want the reminder. But eventually, in the future, you might just find you agree with them. They were right.
Have any of you queried and been rejected? Has your view of that experience changed as time passed?