How to deal with rejection as a writer
My novel was rejected by 14 publishers before I got a book deal. Here's what I've learned
I promised myself that if I ever got a book deal, I would be open and honest about how hard it was to get there. I would celebrate my achievements on social media and in person, but I would not be that guy who pretended it was all glitz and glamour.
Because just as I have cried my eyes out after seeing on social media that yet another friend got engaged or pregnant while I remained single and heartbroken, I have also been the one to cry and curse when another distant colleague got the book deal or the promotion that I wished were mine.
So here goes.
Though my manuscript immediately sold in Germany, it was unanimously rejected by UK publishers on our first round of pitching in late 2019. I was devastated. At the time, I didn’t know the German deal would still stand without a UK one, and for the first eight months of the pandemic, I didn’t know I had a book deal at all.
At the end of 2020, we pitched a rewritten version to UK publishers, and this time my wonderful editor at Pan Macmillan snapped it up, publishing Single Bald Female last week. For more reasons than one, the year from late 2019 to late 2020 was tough, and I want to share how I dealt with that rejection, in case it is helpful to anyone else.
Five steps to dealing with rejection
Step one: Feel the feelings
When I received that final rejection email after an agonising wait, I cried and cried. I’d put my heart and soul into writing this novel over several years and had been sold the idea that it would be a hit with publishers, so this felt personal, not to mention unfair. I knew I had something worth publishing but it wasn’t the time to start the rewrites. I fully recommend ‘leaning in’ (to use a Sheryl Sandberg-ism) to your feelings and allowing yourself to feel sad, because if you move on too fast, you’ll inevitably make mistakes.
Step two: Take time out
I knew I had to go back to the drawing board, but there was no way I could do that when I was so emotional. My pride was hurt. Fortunately, I had a day job as a food writer and, even more fortunately, I was heading off to South America for an event. I took the time to lap up the vitamin D and throw myself into other work, rebuilding my confidence while doing the job I was being paid to do. By the time I got back to London, I felt replenished and revved enough to go back to the book.
Step three: Listen
In publishing, unlike in journalism, you often receive glowing and enthusiastic ‘passes’ (that’s publishing speak for rejections). (“Your writing is brilliant, but…”) Keep these emails, and save them for when you’re less emotional. After I’d taken time out, I went through my rejections with a fine-toothed comb and picked out the feedback that I thought might help me to improve. I discussed it with my agent and writing group and used it to rework the manuscript.
Step four: Pause
Once you’ve rewritten something, it’s tempting to feel excited by its renewed brilliance and to fire off emails left, right and centre, but don’t go too early. Give your work a breather, share it with a trusted colleague and send it off only when you’re sure. Most novelists will agree it’s worth ‘putting your manuscript in a drawer’ (read: not opening the Word doc) for several weeks or months between edits.
Step five: Believe
At the risk of going all Journey on you, I genuinely believe it’s important to keep your own self-belief. Every published writer in the world has faced rejection of some kind, but that doesn’t mean their work isn’t worth publishing. Often, it just wasn’t right for that particular editor - and that’s fine. At the end of the day, if you know you have a product worth selling or a story worth telling, you’ll get it out there in some shape or form in the end. Good luck to you.
The final word
Writing a novel is certainly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and it has commanded more resilience than I ever thought I’d need. But I’ve learned so much from rejection, and it has pushed me to create the best version of my work. Which reminds me of an old phrase I found shortly after my cancer diagnosis:
There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.
Single Bald Female is out now, and I’m eternally grateful to my agent Sophie Lambert and my editor Jayne Osborne for championing it.
A rundown of the stuff I’m loving right now.
What I’ve been reading:
— At the Table by Claire Powell. Very much my kind of book in every way, At the Table tells the story of the Maguire family, with every chapter set over a different mealtime. Powell’s writing is phenomenal and I am thrilled every time I see her book next to mine on the shelves, although I am supremely jealous that I didn’t write it myself.
What I’ve been listening to:
— Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place with Clover Stroud. We don’t talk about death anywhere near enough and this podcast episode articulates that so brilliantly. If you only listen to one podcast, make it this one.
— Her Perfect Twin by Sarah Bonner on Audible. Murder in lockdown, brilliantly narrated. If you’re looking for a place to start with audiobook fiction, start here.
What I’ve been eating:
— A celebratory meal at Kol, the restaurant I will keep going back to. Highlights from Santiago Lastra’s nine-course tasting menu included squid aguachile, langoustine tacos and nicoatole, a sort of savoury take on a Mexican pudding with corn and lovage custard and British caviar. Incredible.
Read me, hear me, watch me, meet me
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking on various podcasts and writing various articles around publication week. Links below.
— I talked all things Single Bald Female on the Book Reccos podcast. I had a blast, not least because the hosts are called Jess and Lauren, just like the characters in my book.
— I caught up with my old Bloomberg colleague Ollie Henderson about food and freelancing for his brilliant podcast Future Work/Life. Ollie has a book out next year, and it promises to be a good ‘un.
— I waxed lyrical about five of my recent favourite books for the Off the Shelf podcast.
— What I’ve learned from a decade of dating after breast cancer for Metro.
— Why bald is beautiful for Pan Macmillan.
— How to navigate the friendship pay gap for The Hyphen. This was the first guest post Emma Gannon accepted for her brilliant newsletter. It’s behind the paywall though, so you’ll have to subscribe to read it.
— I answered a few questions about writers’ block and chocolate for Pretty Purple Polka Dots.
I don’t know the precise definition of ‘book tour,’ but I’m getting some trains to a few different places in the UK over the coming months and I’d love you to join me for readings, signings and Q&As. Here’s the agenda so far:
Reading, Q&A and signing at Read Holmfirth - May 7th
Signing at Waterstones Huddersfield - May 21st
Vanguard Readings at Margate Bookie - June 2nd
TLC Being a Writer Festival - June 28th
There’s a further date to be confirmed at Maldon Books in Essex. Stay tuned!
Life in Food podcast
To celebrate the launch of Single Bald Female, I turned the podcast tables on myself and asked my good friend and voice artist Lucia France to grill me (geddit?) on Food and Healing. In episode four, I talk about the inspiration for the novel, the meals that helped me after my cancer treatment and why one of my first thoughts on diagnosis was 'what will I have for lunch?' We also talk a lot about tea.
For episode five, I talked about Food and Fertility with the brilliant British journalist Kat Brown, editor of the upcoming book No One Talks About This Stuff, which you can help crowdfund via Unbound. (Use the code LIFEINFOOD10 for 10% off). This was such a wonderful discussion covering everything from Kat's diagnoses of ADHD and binge eating disorder to finding comfort in Marks & Spencer trifle.
If you’re enjoying Life in Food with Laura Price, please do give it a rating on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Have you read Single Bald Female?
Single Bald Female is now out in the world, which means I can stop banging on about the importance of pre-orders. I’ll write more about the publication process in a later post but for now I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to those who have bought it. Seeing it in the Highlights sections in Waterstones Piccadilly and the big Foyles has been the life highlight to end all life highlights.
Have you read and enjoyed it? If so, please leave me a review on Amazon, as these really help new readers to discover the book and make sure it’s not just read by my mum and her friends. Thanks, and see you in two weeks!
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