Here is a link to a podcast I did recently with the lovely Mr. Ken Ward on his fabulous ‘What I Don’t Talk About @ Barbecues’ where we got into the nitty gritty of the lyric impulse, the new normal post-Covid and what I’m really sure about…so really, happy to talk about most of this at any BBQ I get invited to in the next while!
- It’s a pity it is called rejection. It’s a loaded word. Particularly to writers who work with words. ‘Rejected’ smacks of turned down lovers, lost opportunites, the end of the line for an idea or concept or project. Of sobbing in private and feeling sorry for yourself, binge-eating and soggy tissues. It suggests the harshest of judgement: that we are not worthy. Synonyms for rejection are a bleak crowd of words that include: exclusion, brush-off, dismissal, turndown, cold shoulder, as well as violent manifestations like kick-in-the-teeth and slap-in-the-face.
How about we re-name this particular element of the writer and artist’s work-day –because they happen a lot.
- ‘Rejection’ is a term that is simply not useful. It gives the writer no-where to go from the point of the letter, or more likely email, landing on our desks. ‘Rejection’ suggests a closed door. What if we chose a word that was less final? Like ‘delayed’ or ‘suspended’ or even the term ‘turned around’ – words and phrases that suggest there is a crack in that door, or better yet, another door altogether.
- We know that one thing always leads to another It is inevitable. ‘Rejection’ is simply an unfortunate name for the moment we are sent in a new direction, on our way somewhere else. We are not diminished by this gesture, we are just sent elsewhere, our goal suspended, delayed…
- We have to handle it. Other writers and artists before us have handled it. Even people who became very famous (perhaps, especially people who became very famous) – in writing and in other fields like music and comics – handled it. We artists handle it every day. In handling it we can either grow thick skins or re-imagine what it means to not get the opportunity. When we can take the second course (being delayed instead of rejected) we see that other opportunities will abound.
- The problem central to the idea of taking-it-on-and-moving-forward is that we associate our work with ourselves. Our work informs our central idea of what we do and therefore who we are. Let’s remind ourselves, often, that we are not our work…there is, in fact, a clear line between who we are and what we make. That what we make, no matter how personally and passionately involved we become with it, is not our essential selves. That the feeling that comes with being turned down is real and can hurt, but it is not a reflection on us as people. It is often a reflection of something else altogether, that we will never really know…like that the publisher/agent/magazine has something similar in the works, or has a personal dislike that your work touched on…
- The terms delayed or turned around help emphasise that it is the work, not you personally. That the work is still moving, full of potential that will go elsewhere. Imagine saying: ‘My short story was just turned around by The New Yorker.’ Or ‘That poem I’ve been writing for the last four years was just delayed by the editor of The Australian.’ How much better does that sound?
- Most of the time you get some kind of feed back with your ‘delay’ letter. Something that will give you a handle on why you are not being published/winning the fellowship/competition/art prize or agent contract. Even though it hurts, it is worth looking these over carefully. They may give you a clue as to how to proceed, form a pattern that you can use to improve.
- If you are not into improving you should get off the bus. Everyone working in the industry is working hard to improve. If you are delayed in your dreams there is room to grow…
- Guy Winch suggests you revive your self worth in the light of rejection. One sure-fire way to do this as writers and artists is to make new work. To get fired up about something new and positive rather than dwelling on the past. Get your head down and write something new, like, for example a blog post about how to handle rejection…?
Guy’s excellent Tedtalk is here:
- Lastly, to survive the daily grind of making work and staying accountable to your creative self you need to make sure your goals are realistic, you are ready to work really hard to see them through and that you reward yourself with simple pleasures that keep you moving forward. Listen to your favourite music. Take a hot bath. Bribe yourself with fair-trade chocolate coffee beans. Whatever it takes. And, if you feel despair creeping up on you remember to reject it. Or turn it around. Or at the very least, be compassionate to yourself and delay it and talk to a friend.
I remembered something last night – as the rain over the city twinkled in the light and gurgled in the drain pipes. I remembered that I am in love with reading. And that this is why I write. Because if I can do to a reader what Ondaatje did to me when I was about 17 and just ready for a book that was a poem and a love song and a nest of complications to rattle my brain and reassure me that the world was not at all a simple place, then I will have achieved my life’s ambition.
The world is no simple place.
Is it the writer’s job to remind us of that – no matter what they write? Perhaps.
Here I am working away at many projects, some more advanced than others, some in poetry some fiction some non fiction, occasional journalism and I realise I am stabilising my view of the world by admitting – word by word by word – that it is more complex and nuanced and incredible than I will ever be able to fully express.
And that I am at peace with that. Because I have tried.
So, I went backwards.
Not in a bad way at all.
HARDCOPY is an initiative run out of the ACTWriter’s Centre with the help of the Australia Council (or its new entity Ozco). Budding authors (fiction and non-fiction on alternate years) are invited to submit manuscripts that are assessed by talented professionals and then 30 are selected to participate in rigorous series of workshops, talks and panels. This equips the writers with knowledge of the Australian publishing industry, gives them a new lens through which to examine their own work and furnishes them with connections otherwise inaccessible – with publishers, agents, other published writers and other writers who are also seeking publication. These last are an amazing resource.
As an alumni from the inaugural HARDCOPY 2014 fiction edition I was able to attend the Friday seminars of ‘Intro2Industry’ which, from my previous experience, was one of the highlights of the HARDCOPY experience. Seriously. There you are in a room with agents, authors, publishers. The head spins, the tongue goes thick, there are little prickles of excitement as conversations are started and cards exchanged.
I was back there with my pulse accelerating, glassy eyed and dreamy listening to the talk of a world that seems so far removed from my experience – which so far has been and continues to be about getting good words onto the page and seeing where it takes me.
Here are my highlights from the 2016 HARDCOPY fiction edition Intro2Industry seminars from Friday 9th September.
Catherine Milne Publisher at HarperCollins
‘What Publishers Want’
Milne spoke engagingly and pitched her talk at exactly the right level for the group – well balanced between informal and informative.
She said her aim that day was to demystify the process of publishing and give us hopefuls greater knowledge when fronting up to publishers…
Milne had a turn of phrase of her own – while talking about the publishing market in Australia she confided in us that market spikes are like rare wild ibis. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites for example and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
Australian and International reading patterns are changing, Milne suggested. We are curating our lives on social media as never before and TV shows are improving, filling a gap in the market that reading used to occupy. But, she stressed, there is GOOD NEWS. People are still reading, publishers are publishing, there are better attendance of writer’s festivals than ever before, bookshops are opening and not closing.
‘Publishing is at the uneasy intersection between art and commerce – dangerous and exhilarating, like a cross road in New Delhi.’
Publishers, Milne stressed, are not gate keepers, not door bitches, they see their role one of collaboration with the author.
What it comes down to is this equation: the author says ‘Give me you $32.99 and 10 hours of your life and I’ll give you a story you will never forget.’
We loved that Catherine stayed and sat among us and listened to the rest of the sessions for the day.
Jacinta Di Mase – Literary Agent
‘The Role of the Agent’
Di Mase compared ‘getting published’ to ‘getting married’ – for a new author the focus is on ‘the dress/the cover’ and sometimes not so much on the longevity of the relationship.
An agent provides perspective and continuity.
On selling a new title she riffed ‘ This book is very sexy, witty think Gourmet Traveller meets Vogue – see, this is what an agent can do for you…’
Di Mase stressed than an agent has a combination of commercial sensibility and nous.
Alex Adsett – Agent and Publishing Contracts Specialist
‘Copyright and Contracts’
This was a less formal session as Alex encouraged us to throw questions to her as they came up. Demonstrating her amazing knowledge of the area she answered all comers concisely and clearly.
She told us about the Copyright Agency and urged us to join it.
Adsett broke down the concept of copyright into two sentences.
Copyright applies to original work in its original form. If you created it, you own it.
And while you don’t need the © symbol on it to own it, it doesn’t hurt if it is there.
In terms of contracts, Adsett is the expert, and she went into complicated details of the various concerns of the group. But, at base she stressed that you need to negotiate with a publisher, work out what a deal breaker is for you individually and walk away if it’s important enough. Make sure to read (or have someone you trust read) the sneaky fine print.
Only go into self publishing as if it is a business in itself. Do your research.
She closed on this note:
‘This is why I love publishing. Everyone has a vested interest in this industry and because it’s small we need each other to survive.’
Sulari Gentill, Adrian Caesar and Robyn Cadwallader
‘What I know about being published (and what I wish I had known)’
Fragments of what was said in the discussion of the topic with Nigel Featherstone.
Gentill: ‘I write into an historical scaffolding and that will tell me where the characters need to go…’
‘And let me just say that when the call comes through that a publisher wants your manuscript you will not be in the best position to make rational decisions.’
Cadwalladar: ‘I remember sitting in the British library and crying when the email came through, thinking ‘the publishers get it!’’
Cadwalladar: ‘I have had to learn to put my sense of the value of my wrting in a different place.’
Caesar: ‘I was pushed into fiction because of the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. People tell you to write from your gut, which is what I’ve largely done – which is why I’ve not been published.’
Gentill: ‘Here’s a tip, the program called ‘Wordle’ will seek out an overused word in a text. In my last book that word was ‘Burly’ everyone was ‘burly’. There’s one in every book I’ve written.
Cadwalladar: I think I learnt from writing The Anchoress that I have to write to find out what’s happening. It’s helpful to get to a certain point where I’m not just churning out plot – where I can see themes and deeper shapes emerge. It’s enormously comforting…’
Gentill on the best way of dealing with rejection: ‘Go and sit at your desk and keep writing…’