A couple of months ago I was searching for an old email and accidentally clicked on a folder that I hadn’t accessed in over a year. My stomach turned and I felt my hands begin to shake as I fumbled to click away from the horror of my Submissions folder, a graveyard of hopes that my first completed novel might be enough to secure an agent.
I know all too well how it feels to hold your breath as you see the notification pop up on your phone, an agent’s name flashing all too clearly, only to summon the courage to accept that once again, your novel is not what they’re looking for.
I’m writing now from a position of privilege. I got the agent I wanted in the end, and a two book publishing deal with a big publisher. However, none of that came with my first novel. People often talk about the novel in the drawer, that you have to earn the right to be published. Sometimes that’s the case and sometimes people make it on the first attempt. God knows, I wanted to be that person to do it straight away, to know that I was good enough. Now though I’m glad it took me another book and here’s why: Getting an agent isn’t the end of the journey.
When I was writing my first book I couldn’t look past this stage to what might happen next. An agent isn’t a magic ticket to seeing your book in the window of a bookshop. They have to sell it to a publisher, and that’s a whole new system of rejection and negotiation. I received around fifty rejections for my first novel, including from Nelle, my now agent. Not because she didn’t like it but because she couldn’t see it being bought by a publisher. I received that rejection in January 2017. I was gutted but I understood. She’d taken the time to write a long email explaining her decision and asking me to submit anything new.
Luckily for me, I had started writing something new, a novel of which I had a very vague plot and a few pages of an opening chapter. I managed to scrape together a synopsis and write enough of a first draft to enter the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, of which Nelle was a judge. She sent me an email in April 2017 and signed me on the basis that this novel idea was a lot stronger and that, even though I had hardly more than a few chapters, she knew I could finish a novel. That novel became This Lovely City and we sold it to HQ Harper Collins in September 2018.
Fun fact: I received my last agent rejection for the first novel over a year after I’d sent in the submission – and two weeks after I’d signed my publishing deal.
And just in case you’re reading this and thinking that it’s alright for me now, that my journey through stomach churning email notifications and lost opportunity has been completed, you’d be wrong. There’s a whole new world out there ready to reject you. Goodreads! Amazon reviews! Sales figures! The next book that your editor may or may not sign off on! It’s a never-ending process.
While it doesn’t get easier, knowing that you’re not alone does help. Through joining in with communities such as The Riff Raff, right from my days of editing that first book and feeling a part of something, getting to know other writers, having people to let off steam to, I have learned to deal with the rejection.
This Lovely City by Louise Hare was published in March 2020.