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Number One in a very occasional series
Kelvin Mason

Yeah, I know, what a terrible depressing place to start. But there are enough worthy texts that instruct you about where to use a semi-colon or how to approach publishers. Whereas, anyone intending to submit work for publication had better ensure they’ve taken the very first step and psychologically prepared themselves for rejection. Because it happens to almost everyone - it’s happened to every writer I know. And it happens whatever their chosen form: novels, stories, poems, articles... They come trotting back in that envelope you recognise instantly because you addressed it yourself. Your first novel hasn’t been hailed as the new Ulysses; they haven’t even compared you to Irvine Welsh. You haven’t won that new-writing competition – don’t even appear in the highly-commended top fifty. Sorry, but Coal & Coal Bunkers Magazine can’t use your witty ‘Smokeless Fool’ feature.
Writing is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned.

A seasoned scribe once advised me not to expect to make a living at the craft. ‘Dinnae gi’ up the fucking day job, pal,’ was his actual turn of phrase. Said writer, a feisty Glaswegian male, earned his crust by penning in the style and under the name of a long dead female romantic novelist, selling in modest numbers to a limited audience and attracting absolutely no critical attention. But even this dubious estate, he advised, was more than I should ever even dream of aspiring to. Ah but, I was callow and didn’t heed the wise old mage. I am talented, I thought, I am original, I am a real novelist: never will I sink so low as you. That was before ten years of rejection letters took their toll. Recently, I drafted an ad for the situations-wanted columns: Novelist for hire; more than willing to work as an anonymous hack for peanuts; any genre sycophantically accepted.
And to think I once set myself the target of winning the Booker Prize.

Here’s a genuine Catch 22. In the main – certainly in the mainstream, publishers only consider work submitted via an agent. Typically though, agents will only consider taking on a published writer as a client. Ah, you may be thinking, but what about those newcomers who do get published: talent will out. Very faintly possible. But I’m willing to bet that for every one who gets that far another god-know-how-many - just as talented - have perished in despondancy or thrown away their quills and decided to reclaim real lives.

Trends: Sally Plotter and the Philosopher’s Gallstone or Bridget Clones’ Dairy are not good ideas if you want to avoid rejection. Actually, perhaps they are. Because you never know. Get one popular pseudo-science book becoming a best-seller and you’ll get a whole chemistry set. But beware, you’ll never write Hotzinger’s Red-hot Helium Hypothesis in time: the bubble will burst. Write about what you know, the rejection letter will read. So, you’ll write about the trials of being a writer. Nothing doing, the next letter reads, there are far too many books about writers! Note, though, that such subject matter is still good enough to win the – my – Booker Prize.

I have a performance piece, puningly entitled Bleeding between the lines. Originally, it focussed on poets – perhaps the most rejected of us all; it goes with the turf, maybe even helps to generate the requisite melancholic outpourings, eventual alcoholism and suicide. (More people write poetry than read it.) Bleeding is readily adapted so that any rejected writer can learn to understand what a publisher is really saying in their stock response:

Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss (insert own name)
Thank you for sending me your work
What is this pile of crap?
but I'm afraid we are returning it to you.
It soils my desk. as it is not suitable for publication with us at this time.
Never, ever, ever!
We have been receiving many fine manuscripts
Proper writing.
from authors who are already on our lists
Chaps I went up to Uni with, actually.
and we are booked up for many months in advance for publication
So do not try this load of bollocks on me again!
Thank you for thinking of us
Now forget it.
and good luck with your search for a publisher
Not a cat’s chance, you feeb!
Yours sincerely
Yours insincerely
Richard Wise (Editor)
Clever Dick (and I've got the job to prove it)

Me, bitter and cynical? You’d better believe it. But I still have self-belief and, I hope, the ability to judge my own work. I do not burn down publisher’s offices or kidnap and torture their pets, though – reasonably enough – I have considered such retaliatory measures. Rejection may have withered me, but it hasn’t yet buried me. How to survive it? In Peanuts, Snoopy deals with a rejection letter by trashing the mailbox. This, I’m sure, is as good an approach as any.

© Kelvin Mason 2000

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