Rejection!

Dear Jarrod,

Thank you for sending me Finding Cronos, and for giving Murdoch Books the opportunity to consider publishing your manuscript. I think the questions and themes you wanted to explore through your story do have merit, however I think the writing and structure of your manuscript still needs more work. I found the voice of the narrator endearing at times, but overall inconsistent. You might like to think about who exactly you want to tell the story (i.e. Jake as a limited perpective or a more omniscient voice?), and perhaps try rewriting some scenes in different voices to see what could work best. I found many of the characters a little exaggerated, particularly the father and the step-father, and I could not really understand their motives, or the complexities in the family dynamics. I did really like the idea of Jacob’s discovery of ancient Greek legends, but I would have liked to see this play out more prominently.

For these reasons, I couldn’t connect with the work overall and so I don’t think I would be able to be the tireless advocate that your novel needs in this very competitive market. Of course, this is only one opinion, and I wish you well in placing your novel elsewhere. I would encourage you to consult the Australian Publishers Association website, The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (www.awmonline.com.au), the NSW Writers Centre (www.nswwriterscentre.org.au) or the Australian Society of Authors (www.asauthors.org) for publishers who would be able to accept your submission.

Many thanks,

Ms. Blah.

I have been rejected many times now; I think my first novel, Mouthful of Stones, has probably had about eight or so, and the second, Finding Cronos, has probably had about 4. As I understand, the average novel suffers about 14 rejections before it finds a publisher, so that means Stones has another 6 and Cronos another 10 still awaiting them. I am attempting to sound cavalier, but in truth, I was entirely unprepared for the shock of my first rejection. Any of them, actually. I think that it’s a bit like getting hit in the face; you know what you’re in for, but a sentient, intelligent person is never going to quite get used to it.

As I understand, it is not the policy of literary agents to share their rejections with clients. My first rejection was after an interview with a significant Melbourne-based publisher (I am going to leave the publisher’s names out; I want to avoid being construed as overly bitter). The interview went well; Rodney Hall, who had accompanied me as my advocate, said, ‘Had it been an audition, it couldn’t have gone better’.

While this may have been the case, the rejection was quick to follow.  And it descended on me like the proverbial cartoon piano. The head of fiction rang and declined the manuscript. I asked for her reasons, in order that I could use the criticism to improve. She told me that the material was already being written about on blogs. It wasn’t ‘literary’ enough for her list, either. She finished by saying that she just wasn’t passionate enough about it to push Stones as hard as it needed to be pushed. I took it on the chin, thanked her for her time, and hung up.

Next, I decided to try for a literary agent. I got one; a prestigious one, no less. Sophie Hamley of Cameron Creswell, in Sydney. I was thrilled. She rang me while I was living in The Netherlands. We talked about the book for an hour; it was one of the best experiences of my writing life. Stones had been a decade’s ambition and took about seven years to write. She knew the story intimately and really did ‘get’ it. She was enthusiastic that she would get rid of it very quickly.

One publisher, who had published a ‘similar’ novel, was horrified by the scenes of dog–fighting in the book (the climatic one is published on here, under ‘Fiction’). Seeking criticism for improvement, I asked Sophie if I could see the rejections and she began to email them while I was in India. Sweating my bollocks off in Mumbai, I had a profound feeling of serenity; I had completed a fantastic trip, marred only the presence of a hideous girlfriend that I had finally managed to dislodge, and was all set to return to Australia to become a published author. I could see the golden door of transition, from kickboxer to novelist, opening before me.

Unfortunately, other publishers said similar things; they found Stones too dark, too depressing. I was partially consoled by the fact that they got some of the most obvious details wrong (like the protagonist’s name; makes you wonder how much time and energy they actually spent on the book). I got one ‘glowing’ rejection, however, from Text Publishing. All the publishers said I was a talented writer, however, and were interested in seeing whatever I wrote next.

Finding Cronos was something I had been working on as an adjunct to Stones. As a result, I had done a great deal of the structural thinking for it and when I sat down to write a draft, it ‘leapt out of my head like an animal’, to quote Paul Schrader. I gave it to Rodney to get his thoughts to shift the book from first draft to second. There was little to do, so I submitted to my agent shortly after. Both Sophie and Rodney were extremely positive about the book. Sophie believed it to be young adult fiction; a category I would have believed entirely unsuitable, given the content. Three or four publishers later, I discovered that it was not going to fly as YA because “a fourteen year old kid is too self-obsessed to read about a ten year old.” No one’s saying it’s a bad book, but it’s not going to be sale-able as a YA novel.

While attending the Melbourne Writer’s festival a few months ago, I met the publicist for Murdoch books. I am good with these people; a six and a half foot ex-kickboxer is interesting, and consequently, ‘marketable’. Once again, I submitted Cronos to the lady doing the reading at Murdoch and the above rejection soon fluttered into my in-box.

My average blog entry is 500 words, and as this has swollen to 1,000 plus, I fear I am swerving towards the self-indulgent (which I swore, in my statement of intention, I would resist at all costs). However, I felt that I needed to bring you up to speed, as it were. I know that literature is clotted with stories of the rejections of famous, brilliant authors; one of the most brilliant, Vladimir Nabokov, once had Lolita rejected thus; ‘… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

The Murdoch rejection is so hideous I can barely stand it! Unsure of the voice? It makes me sound so fucking… amateur! A friend of mine has a saying, ‘If three people tell you you’re drunk, you need to go home and lie down’. Two people – Rodney and Sophie – both thought it was a great book. Not good, great. Both of them are seasoned, experienced readers. So WTF is going on here?

Feeling faint upon reading the rejection, I forwarded it to Rodney for his delectation. When we met, he told me that the response was swift and Ms Blah had obviously spent some time with the manuscript. He also quoted Jean Cocteau: “Whatever the public blames you for, cultivate it; it is yourself.” In other words, like Stones before it, Cronos had put the wind up her.

All the rejections I have received thus far have been from women. There don’t seem to be any men in any of these offices. The books I have read of late which are rough contemporaries of mine are generally pretty gutless – books like Sam De Brito’s The Lost Boys, Peter Temple’s Truth and Chris Womersley’s Bereft are books about men who are pathetic shells of humanity, desperately seeking a redemption that can only be found concealed behind the skirts of female characters that the petticoat mafia approve of. Rodney did say to me that as far Ms Blah was concerned, ‘it was just one, subjective opinion’. However, the daunting reverse of that particular coin of wisdom is that a positive reception counts as much the same.

So where the hell am I?

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3 Responses to “Rejection!”

  1. Dear Jarrod, Have you considered the possibility that you might have no talent for writing and that people like R Hall have sucked up to you because you are a large kickboxer? And citing the Creswell Cameron agent doesn’t help. She’s a joke in the industry. Best. Bossy

    • No, I haven’t. I suspect my considerable talent dwarfs your own.
      I also suspect that behind your avatar cowers a member of the petticoat mafia. But I’m glad to know you’re reading.
      Kiss my arse!

  2. Oh it’s all too bloody familiar, Jarrod! I have won a couple of prestigious Literary Comps, had agents fight over me and then dump me just as quickly when my ms got shredded by the same people who judged me a Literary genius! I am a woman, but I know exactly what you mean about the petticoat Mafia…although I suspect they all wear blue-stockings and part their hair in the middle and eschew make-up and perfume…I could, of course be mistaken about that! Someone once said “Australia craves mediocrity” and I am sure this is true. My best friend, Anthony O’Neill (a writer whose books are anything but tame!) said of my work “I’m amazed you won anything in this country, your work clashes with the drapes!” It does, and damn it, I’m proud of that. Keep going and try offshore!

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