Recently I was at a crossroads with my first novel. I’d done numerous re-writes, had attracted the interest of several big agents, three of whom had asked to see the whole book but still no cigar – or uptake. And no-one was saying quite why.
See, I like other writers I’m sure, don’t mind at all the hard work of re-drafting, especially when I know what it is that I’m going for and what I need to change. What really hurts, is knowing that I need this further re-draft while being unsure as to what direction it should take. This mapless part of the editorial journey has truly been the most frustrating one for me so far and agents really could be a bit more generous, especially to debut novelists, by giving out at least one measly sentence as to why they are rejecting your work. Morsels of invaluable feedback such as these can make all the difference. It’s quite possible that what is making you fall at the last hurdle may only be a minor thing and because you’re so close to the material you simply can’t see it.
Anyway, I said I was at this crossroads didn’t I? A bit unsure as to how to proceed…and a few writer-chums I turned to, frustrated at my frustration advised me to cut my losses, ditch the first book and start writing the second. They spoke about the need to ‘know when to let go’ and feared that I might be suffering from a kind of writerly ‘tunnel vision.’ And of course, they were, at one level right to urge me thus, as agents do look even more favourably upon you if you have, one in the bag and one on bubbling the cooker so to speak…and yet…and yet…. a little voice inside me countermanded my friends’ advice and insisted, ‘hang on in there. Don’t give up on this one yet. You are not quite done here.’
Until, on a particularly sunny day this unusually sunny summer, still pondering my dilemma, I was – corny as it may seem, listening to Pharell Williams’ song ‘Happy’ on Radio Two – when suddenly I was struck by a bolt of revelation/confidence/adrenaline imbalance/all of the above, and decided that, no, I wasn’t going to dump this book in favour of a new beginning just yet. I was going to dig deeper still and throw EVERYTHING I had left, materially and otherwise, at my first novel. Because I believe in it that much.
There and then, legs shaking at my imminent financial imprudence, I committed a large chunk of my insubstantial savings to a talent-scouting three-day event in York in September, at which I intend to bag an agent or three, and in advance of that, booked a pricey book report from the Writers’ Workshop to prep the book accordingly. I also shelled out for a day at the Faber Academy this month as a prelude to emptying the rest of my savings account in order to do a more substantial course there this autumn.
A flurry of impetuous phone-calls/internet purchases later, I felt simultaneously scared at my folly and thrilled by its audacity, and, HAPPY.
And so far, this renewed commitment seems to be paying off. My report came through a few days ago and it was SO encouraging and therefore worth every penny. Yes, I still have work to do but the way ahead is now crystal clear which makes the task itself very do-able. More to the point, the editor, marvellous Celine Kelly who works at Penguin as an editor across my genre; commercial, women’s literary fiction – much in demand at the moment (woop-woop), said she LOVES my book and is confident that with this final push it WILL (yes, she said WILL) sell.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, just when you feel you’ve done all you can and think it might be time to bail, think again. Switch on Radio Two, dig deeper and make sure you have truly given absolutely all that you possibly can. Because, you know what? It might just pay off. And….Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do….