Is This the Worst Time to Be Unpublished?

First of all, thanks so much to everyone for the support today. It's no fun at all when you receive a rejection letter and even though Jamie Ford (NY Times Bestseller) sent me a lovely note telling me that there's nothing wrong with a few rejections, it's still an occasion that calls for extra sugar in the tea and a mild hissy fit at not being able to afford chocolate.

The important thing when your work is rejected is to be analytical; evaluate whether you could have done anything to improve your chances or not, and work out how to vary your strategy next time.

I was fortunate enough to meet someone who's been rejected by this particular agency and gone on to be published elsewhere. He told me to pay very close attention to their wording if they rejected me as they are good at pointing out exactly where writers have gone wrong.

They said nothing negative about my writing. They described it as 'fluent and easy to read' and went on to explain that the marketplace has become very tough and they lack the confidence to take me on in this marketplace. Basically: 'there's a recession; you're unpublished; we don't want to take a gamble.'

I've noticed that this is happening to quite a number of new writers at the moment and it's understandable. I'm not cross with this agent for not taking a chance on my writing, I'm just frustrated. If they'd told me that the characters weren't strong enough or the writing jarred I would have something to work with. This isn't something I can edit my way out of.

Everyone's going through this at the moment. Companies are closing and qualified people are unemployed. Why should the creative industries be any different?

Our writing can't just be 'good enough' or even 'fluent and easy to read' any more. It must be extraordinary. It must be the equivalent of the Family Guy episode that screened in England last night - The King and I with robots and strippers. If it's not completely different then it won't get noticed. If it is completely different, however, doesn't that also make it a risk?

I suppose I'm asking two questions:

1/how do agents/publishers make the right choices in the current market so that their own businesses don't go under?

2/how are we, as writers, supposed to handle these choices?

Melissa Marsh  – (16 June 2009 at 17:34)  

Here's my problem. I don't write extraordinary novels. My stories are not quirky or offbeat and do not lend themselves to any kind of "trend." I don't write about Jane Austen and Zombies or about a teenager in love with a vampire. My stories are about ordinary people facing extraordinary situations. So I wonder - how will my stories find a place in the market?

Sorry for answering your question with a question, but we seem to be in the same situation at the moment.

And BTW, I was close to the Cotswolds when I was in England last year!

Alissa  – (16 June 2009 at 18:40)  

I don't know if this is really a new problem. Haven't agents and publishers always been looking for something that is extraordinary and completely different from anything else out there?

I also think there are many publishers and agents who want something that's safe and known. If someone is a published writer with a decent track record, then they certainly qualify as safe and known, but I think new writers can be safe and known simply by writing stories that fit neatly into existing genres and styles.

I think at the end of the day, if you write a book that is undeniably excellent and happens to capture the attention of an agent or a publisher, if they can't put it down, then you're book will be published. It might take you a bit longer to find a home for a book as an unpublished author, but one way or another a good books find their way into print.

As for the recession, I would pay little mind to it. Books are still a relatively cheap form of entertainment. I think the bigger changes will be the technological changes taking place with the internet and the ways in which creative content gets distributed. The publishers that aren't going to make it are the ones who fall behind technologically.

Eric  – (16 June 2009 at 19:01)  

Nice post Rebecca. I'm glad to see you're taking this in stride. I think the answer is we just have to create the best writing we can. Though times may be hard right now, any economist will tell you that these things work in cycles. We just have to weather through the rough patches. Oh, and don't think I didn't notice the part about Jamie Ford. Brat.

Melissa, I think you probably do (or can) write extraordinary novels. Just because they don't cover the subjects you mention doesn't mean they are not extraordinary. It's the writing that makes a story extraordinary, not the subject. So keep working on your stories, refining them until they are ready. You'll find a place for them.

Stephanie  – (16 June 2009 at 20:46)  

It's all so confusing...what's a writer to do???? You're told you need something new, fresh, different than what's out there....but then if it's too won't sell. I was told my novel was too 'Sex and the City'...and I felt honored to be compared....but then realized they were saying it had been done.

It's been changed since then and was offered a contract from an epublisher.

Have you entered Flash fiction contests or submitted to flash fiction or short story publications??? I had several pieces place in contests and they were published. It gave me something to add to my bio...I had some kind of publishing credits. Check out the quarterly contests on

Rebecca Woodhead  – (16 June 2009 at 22:17)  

Melissa, you and me both. Tell you what, whichever of us gets a publishing deal first can advise the other!

Alissa, thanks for your support and good point about the tech changes.

Eric - super-brat! Put it up just for you :) Thanks for all your support.

Stephanie, thanks for the comment and well done on your success. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll definitely look that up.

Anonymous –   – (18 June 2009 at 01:24)  

Rebecca - Hang in there and keep going. Don't stop until you have reached your goal. We will all pay our dues before we break into the business but look at the silver have a massive support group. You will get there...this I am sure of.

Anonymous –   – (11 July 2009 at 02:54)  

I just happened across your blog, and I'm so glad I did! It would seem we are in the same boat, although maybe not sailing in the same sea (I'm in the US). I know that publication can be a lengthy process,but, as I'm sure you know, it can be a frustraiting wait. I wish you much success.

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