|My own jacket design for|
A couple of years ago my little novel Naming Names – you will have heard of it, I’ve written about it often enough – was runner up for the Mslexia novel writing competition.
It was an important book for me, and doing so well in what has turned out to be quite an important prize was a bit of a coup in lots of ways, not least because it boosted my confidence and secured me my first agent.
Since then the book has gone through at least a couple of incarnations. The first was a fairly major rewrite for my first agent in order to make it ready for editors to see. My then agent had very high hopes for it. She compared it very favourably with some extremely serious literary fiction. I was partly nonplussed by that, but also rather flattered.
The novel didn’t sell.
With hindsight, I wasn’t surprised. It was always going to be a tough sell... a very tough sell. It was always going to be a near-impossible sell from a first time author, a new name in the market place.
The book saw the light of day again with my new agent and underwent a very vigorous rewrite, so vigorous, in fact, that I gave it a new title. It felt so unlike the original to me that I needed to treat it like an entirely new project.
This was enlightening in many ways. The new novel was a thriller, something I hadn’t done before. I got to write a new character, whom I like very much, and I was able to rethink the story in a new way. It was a great exercise. I was able to consolidate my thoughts and feelings about the original story, about why I had written it and for whom. I was also able to employ the skills of my agent, someone with fresh eyes, a great deal of enthusiasm and a thorough understanding of the commercial market.
I’m very glad I did it.
The book went out to editors several weeks ago, and the verdict is in.
It has been rejected.
For all the right reasons, or, at least for plenty of well-articulated reasons, no one wants to publish this version of this idea, now called By Any Other Name.
Shit happens. We move on.
Of course, now, I have to make more decisions.
I had planned to write other stories, other thrillers with this cast. I had begun to be invested in my new character. I like her, I like the genre. My agent wants me to write more stories about her too.
I am still left with the inevitable quandary, though. I am a working writer. I can write every day of the year, and get paid for commissioned work. I don’t have to write on spec, hoping that someone will one day pay for my output. I don’t have to work for free. In fact, I have to very consciously take time out of my very busy schedule to write ‘for myself’.
There is a great deal of pleasure to be had from writing. There is pleasure in every project. There is joy in collaborating with the husband, on producing short stories to order, on working on tie-in fiction. I like the discipline. I like the security. I like the communities that grow up around these things.
I also like the stuff in my head, though.
I can take the rejection. I’ve been taking rejection for as long as I can remember.
In the end, though, my mantra has always been, The point of the writer, is the reader. I have readers. My commissioned work, my writing to order stuff is read, widely. As yet, the stuff I write for myself, isn’t.
There’s maths in there somewhere.
There’s also a list.
There’s a list of books I’ve written for myself that haven’t been published, and there’s a list of books that I have ideas for that are yet to be written.
Right now, I can’t bear to give up on those things. They’re like my children.
So, for now, like most writers, I have a day job.
Fortunately for me, unlike most writers, my day job is writing.
How could I possibly be any more lucky than that?