Rachel Ward wasn't scheduled to write this post, but after an uplifting comment I read on the SCBWI Facebook page, I managed to convince her to come onto the blog and share her journey to publication.
I can’t remember exactly when I started writing. I remember what it was, though – a ‘whimsical’ radio play, written on a whim after listening to a particularly bad play on Radio 4 one afternoon. ‘I could write a bad play,’ I thought. And indeed I could. And did. I sent it to the Beeb, and, quite rightly, it was rejected.
But by then I was hooked on writing. I wrote some short stories and sent a couple into competitions where they disappeared without trace. Then I started on novels. The first one was a book for 8-11-year-olds – a historical, dual narrative tale with a clunky message. I cringe now when I think about it, but I duly bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and sent it to a whole range of agents. There was a little thrill in taking my brown envelopes to the post office and sending them on their way, and an accompanying dull disappointment when they came back to me in their corresponding self-addressed envelopes like unwanted homing pigeons.
After a dozen or so rejections, I got the message that this book wasn’t good enough. I resolved to do better. This time I wrote a book for older children about a teenage girl with an alcoholic mother and an aging rock star father. (Had he just woken from a long coma? I fear that he had. *shudders*) Again, multiple submissions. Multiple rejections. I took heart from the one rejection letter with a handwritten note at the bottom. ‘I like your writing style but this book isn’t suitable for us,’ or something along those lines. A kind rejection felt like a sort of triumph and I cherished it.
I sent the manuscript to a literary consultancy and paid for an appraisal. Their assessment was a little ambiguous. I was looking for advice on which age range to pitch it at – they said it could be either, it was up to me to decide. I decided that I didn’t love the book enough to do more work on it.
While I was in the middle of writing book two, I met Alexander McCall Smith at a signing. I confessed to him shyly that I was trying to write and asked for his advice. ‘Throw your first two books away.’ Oh. Not what I wanted to hear, but, alas, he was right. It was third time lucky with Numbers.
I entered the first chapter into the Frome Festival Short Story Competition in 2006 where it won a local writers’ prize. Spurred on, I finished the first draft in six months (writing in the morning before I woke up my family and went to my day job). I entered the manuscript into a competition for unpublished writers, where it was shortlisted. Then, someone told me about that I could book a meeting with Imogen Cooper, at the time Fiction Editor at Chicken House books, again via the Frome Festival. I booked my session, she liked my work, I met Barry Cunningham at Chicken House HQ in Frome the following day and a month or so later I was offered a contract. After a very short time pondering I decided not to seek an agent or look for competitive offers and I put all my eggs in one basket at Chicken House. Eight years later, they are still my publisher, I’ve given up my day job and I’m still writing. It’s been a sort of fairy tale and I feel very, very lucky to have lived it.
A word of caution, though. It’s not all ‘happy ever after’. The fear of rejection doesn’t quite go away, even when you’re published. You worry about sales. Will the reading public reject you by not buying your books? Each time you finish writing one book, you worry that you’ll never have another idea strong enough to be published. It’s good not to take things for granted. It’s also essential not to let worries spoil things too much, and to remember what’s important. I started writing and continue to write because I love it. When you’re writing a first draft it’s like having a secret life. It’s intoxicating. Enjoy that feeling. Enjoy the moment. If you love it, keep going. Persistence is all.
P.S. I kept all my rejection letters in a cupboard for years. A little while ago, I decided to let go of the past and get rid of them. It was a good feeling throwing them in the recycling bin!
Thank you Rachel for sharing your rejection journey with us.
Rachel is the author of five books. She wrote the Numbers trilogy as well as The Drowning and Waterborn.
To find out more about Rachel Ward: