I noticed a link on Emma Darwin’s blog to an editor’s comments on rejection, which made me think some. Saracen Woman got rejected not long ago, and the note that came back with it was kind and polite, though bland. But then said editor blogged about the novels she had rejected, saying that the only reason anyone wrote most of them was for the vanity of being published. This was below the belt.
It seems to me that no-one writes 70,000 words plus out of vanity – life is too short. You put years of your life into your first book, and if your heart and soul isn’t in it, you’d never finish it. Or send it to people. It’s been your life and love and constant obsession for years, otherwise it would be just too hard to do.
So why did she say such a thing? Ruling out the possibility that she was being mean and spiteful, or just blowing off steam, what was the point?
Perhaps she was just exasperated at seeing the same old, same old stuff. A first work is often hackneyed, unoriginal, naive, and over-familiar. Everyone’s first work, like everyone’s first love, is almost always just the same as everyone else’s. You think it’s new and special and wonderful because it’s your first, because you have too little experience to know better, too little craft to transcend the basic thrill of creation.
You can’t expect a publisher to accept work like that, and you should expect them to tell you so.You won’t learn how far you have to go to be publishable until you set out and see the distances for yourself. It’s how you learn, right?
So I’m not saying a publisher should indulge new authors, and certainly not publish them. Joy Hendry, who said this about my early poems, was, frankly, my greatest benefactor.
You can work with criticism of your work, even if it’s devastating (at least once you get over the adolescent hissy fit). Being told that you are both vain and venal is something else again.
So, five years after I got that wise rejection from Joy Hendry, is Saracen Woman an unpublishable inexperienced first novel? I honestly don’t think so. I had several weeks of soul-searching about it. And then Eurydice Rising got reviewed by Steve Sneyd, who said exactly what I would have hoped to hear about my work. Saracen Woman is still going out there.