It's been just over a year since my debut novel, "Covenant", was bought by Simon & Schuster after a fiercely fought auction that lasted over a week. The manuscript was sent to nine publishers by my agent on Thursday September 9th, 2010 - I'll never forget the date because it was also the day I was made redundant from my job of 12 years. So much has changed since then, all of it for the better in my case, but for the benefit of those who may not have followed my long ( LONG ) journey from hopeful, aspiring author to happily published and best-selling novelist, here's the heavily abridged version:
Started writing in 1994, after realising I would not be allowed to train in the RAF as a pilot due to my eyesight not being absolutely perfect.
Wrote two historical epics, Frontier and Man 'o' War, spending five years on them. Multiple submissions - no takers.
1999, began writing screenplays. Completed four of them, over six years. Multiple submissions - no takers.
2005: Wrote a contemporary black comedy novel, 'Four Fridays'. Multiple submissions - no takers.
2007: Wrote "Genesis", a converted screenplay from 1999 ( originally titled "The Nemesis Origin" ). Multiple submissions - one taker. Rejected as full MS after 4 month wait.
2007-2009: Re-wrote "Genesis", twice. Multiple submissions each time - no takers.
2010: Completed fourth version of "Genesis". Submitted to ten literary agencies. Eight rejections, two takers. Asked by one agent to re-write an entire third of the novel to suit the market. Agreed. Was signed to Luigi Bonomi Associates as a result of willingness to edit the novel.
Sept 2010: World rights to now re-titled novel "Covenant" sold to Simon & Schuster in a major deal for three books.
The reason that I'm posting this now is because, of late, I've heard a number of heart-rending tales of disappointment from aspiring authors who, for one reason or another, have been unable to gain a contract. Some have come achingly close to doing so, only to have success snatched away at the last moment. The heart-ache and frustration that this causes hopeful authors is undeniable, and having been there myself before now I do feel qualified to comment on such disappointments. I'm one of the lucky ones who got through and achieved the unthinkable, a major publishing deal that changed my future. However, it took me sixteen years to find myself in the right place at the right time, and good enough at writing to be signed up. I suppose my point to all this is that, despite all of the joy and delight of making it through, all that really changes is the next step on the author's journey.
There are many published authors whose book sales dwindle ( for far too many reasons to go into here ), who find themselves back to square one. The market is incredibly tough, and I've come to learn a great deal about that in the last few months. The sale of EVERY single copy counts, and can be the difference between success and obscurity. Margins are down, the rise of digital publishing is changing the market at an incredible pace, and publishers and agents are all struggling to keep up with and adapt to the changing environment. Things are changing fast and nobody really knows how it's all going to end up, so gambling tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds on unknown names isn't on the gameplan of many publishers right now. Agents are struggling to gain deals for authors on their own books, let alone newcomers. If it was hard to get published before, it's even harder now, but that doesn't mean the situation is hopeless at all.
The bottom line is that both agents and publishers would love to have to struggle to choose which authors to represent and buy because they were all so good. The harsh reality is that most of the work sent to them is rejected because it isn't quite right for the market yet, either in terms of quality or content, not because it's rubbish. My advice is to remember that writing is a hobby. It is something that we all do because we can't NOT do it. We'd get bored or frustrated if, for some reason, we couldn't write. Getting published is not just about being the best writer anybody in the industry has seen that year: it's about the right time, the right place, the right subject, the right tone, the right people seeing the work and the right publisher having the cash and the business plan to find a place on their books for your much treasured manuscript. It's a business, and if they're not sure, you're not going to get through. It doesn't mean you're not good enough, it means that now's not the right time for what might have been the perfect debut last year, or might be in three years' time.
But if you persevere, if you don't quit and stick with it for long enough, sooner or later the odds come down. The market shifts in your favour. The economic downturn ends. The digital revolution becomes everyday technology. Your novel now looks like it could be next year's BIG THING. And suddenly, unbelievably quickly, everything you've just read becomes a thing of the past.
Don't let rejection get you down. Keep writing because you want to, not because you want to be the next Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling. You don't want to be anybody's 'next', you want to be the first 'YOU'. Enjoy your hobby, don't endure it, and you'll get through eventually. Fifteen months ago, I was exactly where every other aspiring author was. Hopeful and determined, yet often disappointed and disillusioned. Letting 'failure' get me down was my only mistake, because in writing there is no failure, only the next step. Covenant peaked at #26 in the Sunday Times Bestseller list and is selling fabulously worldwide. It happens. Stick with it, just like I did.