Yesterday I got an email through from the Bristol Short Story Prize telling me that the longlist of entrants were now on their website. And rightaway I knew I didn’t have to follow the link to find out if I was on it or not – that’s not the way it works (she says, sounding like a seasoned/hardened warrior); if you’re up there with the best of the bunch then you’d have had a separate email, before this one, telling you so and congratulating you.
And, as usual, the first person I told was my daughter. Simply because I want her to know that along with being rejected for about the… um… 23rd time this year (yes, it’s costing me a small fortune in entry fees… don’t even go there) I’m still gunning/going for it/hanging in there/plugging away. I don’t think you’re ever too old to be teaching the offspring a thing or two about life’s lemons and now she’s just graduated I think she’s enough of a grown up to handle the fact that mummy is (still) batting her head against the brick writing wall. But it’s okay (it really isn’t at times), this is a lesson mummy’s still learning.
And bashing my head against the writing wall made me remember another thing I created once. At the writing group I belong to (and one of us has a debut novel coming out in January 2017 which is wonderful – not, it’s not me) we had/have a Wall of Rejections… and mine went a little like this…
Thanks for this. Please email an attachment with the first 2/3 chapters.
All good wishes
Many thanks for this, Deborah.
Some good strong writing and very funny moments. Unfortunately, in the end we felt it was not something we could place for you, but wish you every success in finding the right agent.
All good wishes
Thank you for this. Please email me the first fifty pages of your ms.
Dear Deborah Riccio
Thank you for your email.
Please do send along hardcopy of the first three consecutive chapters together with a synopsis, covering letter and a SAE is essential for a reply or for the return of the material should it not be for us.
Sorry but not one for us, at this horrible time in the market for fiction. Good luck.
Thank you for writing to us regarding your work ‘Life, Lopsided’. I am afraid that, despite its qualities, we do not feel confident enough to offer to represent you.
I apologise for the impersonal nature of this email, but would like to wish you better luck in finding more suitable representation elsewhere.
Many thanks for sending me this material, which I read with interest.
I considered it carefully but I’m afraid on balance it just doesn’t quite grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent you. So I shall have to follow my gut instinct and pass on this occasion.
I’m sorry to be so disappointing, but thanks for thinking of us. Of course this is a totally subjective view, so do keep trying other agents and I sincerely wish you every success with it elsewhere.
Thank you for sending me the start of your new novel. It’s certainly very lively and fluent but I fear it’s too much of a chiclit novel for me. It’s certainly because I’m too old! I’m sure you’ll get someone else to take you on, you deserve it, and I wish you the very best success with it.
All best wishes,
Dear Ms Riccio
Thanks for emailing me about LIFE, LOPSODED.
Unfortunately you have caught me at a bad time. I am temporarily unable to
consider new fiction except from my existing writers because of an unusually
heavy workload. I simply cannot do justice to your book at thisd time.
Please excuse me, and good luck elsewhere.
The novel sounds wonderful. By all means send me the first few chapters and a brief synopsis and I will read them and get back to you. Please mark for my attention and ‘requested’, and enclose a stamped, self addressed envelope it you’ll want the pages back.
Dear Deborah Riccio,
Thanks for sending us your chapters – I’d like to see the rest, if you could send it on email. My initial impressions are that Maddie’s voice is very credible and well-observed, but that in order to get away with being as snotty as she is and still retain our sympathies, she needs to be consistently funny, too. As it is, she has her great moments (classifying Gordon Brown as a symptom of PMS springs to mind), but she’s also allowed to rant and ramble a little too much. We believe in her, but we don’t necessarily like her thus far – she’d keep us onside more easily if her observations were a little tauter and snappier. Also, I have a strong suspicion this would all start with more of a bang if she kicked right off with her rant about Gordon fucking Brown and his crappy Credit Crunch.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your enquiry. This sounds like an interesting proposal; could you send us the first three chapters and a synopsis as word documents?
I’d love to take a look at Double History. Can you please send through the first 3 chapters and a synopsis by email.
We’re still really enjoying this. Where are you based?
On 05/03/2010 13:52, “Debs Riccio” wrote:
This submission is the start of a third wave for ‘Double History’.
I had requests for partials the first time I subbed with helpful comments which I used to totally rewrite 1/3rd of the book, change the ending and which formed the second lot of subs. This heralded more interest and requests from two agents for the full.
One declined and I’ve still had no response from the other (sent November).
I’ve made enquiries of a further ten Agents this time. You’re the first to have requested the full so far.
Thanks for your interest. I look forward to hearing what you think of it.
Sent: 05 March 2010 11:02
To: Debs Riccio
Subject: Re: Teenage novel enquiry
Thank you. Will read and come back to you. Have you submitted widely to agents?
On 04/03/2010 19:48, “Debs Riccio” wrote:
Full manuscript attached. Hope you like the rest of it.
Sent: 04 March 2010 18:11
To: Debs Riccio
Subject: Re: Teenage novel enquiry
I like this. Can you send through the rest of the manuscript?
On 04/03/2010 17:15, “Debs Riccio” wrote:
Please find attached first three chapters of ‘Double History’ and synopsis.
Sent: 04 March 2010 17:03
To: Debs Riccio
Subject: Re: Teenage novel enquiry
Thank you for this. Please do email through the first three chapters of Double History.
I would love to read anything you write – so yes please send me GROUNDED, and I look forward to seeing what you have done with DOUBLE HISTORY.
And sorry for slow response, I’ve just got back from the Beijing Book Fair.
It’s good to hear from you. Your email came through as I’d just started reading the revised DOUBLE HISTORY – I’m so sorry it took such an age to get to it.
And now I have read it, and this first chapter/synopsis, I’m very sorry to say that while I think your writing is very good, and funny, I just don’t love the plots of either of these novels enough to feel that I’d be the right agent for you.
I’m very sorry, and wish you very well with all your writing – I’m sure you will find an agent who feels quite differently.
Thank you again for your patience, and for letting me see both of these.
Firstly, please accept my apologies for the absurdly long delay in my reply. I have now had a chance to read Let’s Go Round Again and, looking at my records, I see that I have also considered your work before and turned it down on that occasion. I remember that I liked Double History and that it was a close call. I find myself liking your new book as well and, if you have not yet found an agent, then I would like to see the rest of the book.
I realise that my interest may come too late, but I look forward to reading the rest of your manuscript if it is still available.
With best wishes,
I have finished reading Let’s Go Round Again and I’m sorry again that it has taken me a while to get to it. Christmas, followed by flu, rather put me behind I’m afraid.
As I’ve said before, I like your writing and I have, once again, found it very difficult to make a decision on this. You write with great pace and enthusiasm, which really carries the reader along. The quality of your writing is also very good and you have obviously put time and care into your work. However, I did find that Casey’s character was quite irritating at times and parts of the narrative felt very repetitive and I felt quite bogged in detail. Casey’s constant disbelief at the differences in 1979 was overdone, I thought, and I think you could tone that down a bit – it’s obviously necessary to highlight this to an extent, but perhaps once it’s established you could make it a less constant theme.
So, after much consideration, I’m afraid I have decided that this is not one for us. I hope that you will stick with it though and that you do find an agent who will be able to represent you with all the enthusiasm necessary.
I’m so sorry that we can’t help and I wish you the best of luck for the future. Kind regards
Thank you for your email. Please do send over the first three chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter (again) to me.
With best wishes,
Yes please, I would love to read sample material from Grounded, so do please send to me.
Your adult novel sounds very appealing too.
Please could you send in the first three chapters and a synopsis?
Just to say, I started reading Grounded last night and, as always, you writing is like a breath of fresh air. Haven’t really got very far though, so can’t comment much more.
I’m going to re-read Double History this weekend, and chase the other girl in my office for her notes at the beginning of next week (she is only in Monday and Tuesdays but she is seriously bright and reviews books for a living so I want to get her input)
Have a good weekend.
Thank you for considering us. I’d certainly be keen on seeing some of this. Please visit website for details of how to submit.
Thank you for sending the initial chapters of Grounded. You definitely have something – voice, energy, understanding of teens etc.
However, I’m afraid the writing didn’t quite grab me enough. When I was just starting out as an agent I would have looked at pursuing things further, asked to see more of your projects, and possibly helped you with a lot of editorial suggestions. But at this stage I’m afraid I just don’t have enough time. So I would suggest you keep plugging away, perhaps try to find a new “hungry” agent who would be able to champion you…..and then in a couple of years time I’ll be saying that I wished I’d taken you on!
So that’s a little selection of some of the nicer ones… and these were the ones I picked out for confidence-boosting qualities and which I ought really to have pinned above my head to remind me of how ‘nice’ rejection can be… but I’m not entirely certain it would bolster this consummate self-doubter. And reading those email replies back now, I can still feel the little flutters of hope they gave me as I read, re-read, re-re-read again and again trying to find some miniscule twig I could grab hold of to not let me drop into the depths and give up… but I didn’t need the grip back then because I always had another book on the go which was more deserving of my time and attention (I nearly typed ‘talents’ there) and so if that rejected book had bitten the dust, then perhaps this new one might learn and rise from its ashes… type thing.
These ranged from 2008 – 2012 and I didn’t write another book after the last batch of rejections… the ones that ask ‘where are you based’ and ‘we’re still really enjoying this’ – were from the same agency and we even got to the stage where I was being sent great rafts of rewrites and suggestions for edits etc and yet still… another 6-8 months down the line, after I’d rewritten and addressed these enquiries and suggestions, I still got a ‘not for us, thanks’…. which hit me so damned hard at the time, it did put me off. Completely. A lot of other ‘bad, personal stuff’ had also happened during this time, and so for the next 2 years I stopped writing. But then in 2014, encouraged, as usual by my biggest fan – my daughter, I signed up to do a degree in Creative Writing to see that if by doing this I might learn a bit more about where I might improve – I hasten to say ‘going wrong’ and I hope that I really am… improving.
Maybe I’m finally rising from the ashes of that last round of submissions in 2012. Not being shortlisted/longlisted for writing competitions isn’t quite so hard as enquiring, submitting, waiting, submitting some more, watching the ‘No”s fly straight back into the inbox and waiting some more; because once you’ve hit ‘send’ on a competition there’s nothing to do but get on with life and enter a raft more while the judging process happens… and I am very delighted that I’ve been shortlisted now three times. It’s a boost, of course it is. And with every ‘invisible rejection’ from these competitions, I’m sure I’m learning. I read back the story/poem I sent in which didn’t hit the mark and have another go with it; rewrite it: from a different angle… from another viewpoint… move the opening …. change the ending… alter some genders and names and jiggle things around a bit – then re-submit to a different competition.
And only recently have I really felt back in the ‘book-writing’ game; after last year’s shortlisting with the Greenhouse/Faber & Faber Funny Prize, I’ve (in between coursework which truly, truly, keeps me sane and going and my head above water) I’ve continued with the book that ‘nearly made it’ and found that I still love it, and so I’m ploughing on with it. Because along with telling me that I hadn’t won or runner-upped, one of the judges said this:
…. You did very well to get as far as you did. We had a lot of entries and a fair amount of heated discussion about the shortlist, though your novel was never amongst the contentious ones. We all agreed that it should be on there. And I mean it sincerely when I say that I’d be delighted to read anything you write in the future, so please do send it if you’d like to – though I have a sneaking suspicion that if you send #### out to agents, you may well be offered representation. You should certainly get encouraging responses, even if they are ultimately ‘no’s and definitely none like that horrible one you received with ‘NO’ written in red across the front of it. That is unforgiveable and we can only hope that whoever sent it has since had their toes held over a barbecue flame . . .
Good luck in the future
Oh yes, ‘that one’ which was mentioned up there. Happened. Really did. Some of them can be nasty buggers, but I don’t keep those; it doesn’t do any good hanging onto bad rejections. Just these nice ones.