A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

The Toughest Time on my Publishing Journey by Emma Haughton

‘The toughest time on your journey’ Remembering this was the subject of my scheduled blog post was a bit of a heartsink moment. Not because I couldn’t think of anything to write, but because I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to write the truth – because the hardest part for me so far is right now, three weeks away from publication.


But let’s rewind a bit. I’ve been through the writing mill over the years. I’ve been on sub several times, and have suffered the sting of rejection more than once. It hurts, yes, but you learn, rewrite, and grow a thicker skin. And each time it happens it hurts a bit less. Which is why, having snagged the agent and the book deal, I was totally unprepared for what happened to me recently: someone posted a two-star rating of my debut novel, six weeks before it was even due to be published.

When I first stumbled across this I was bemused. She can’t have read it, I told myself. But then it turned out that she probably had, and bemusement turned to something more painful. ‘The verdict is in’ chanted various unhelpful voices in my head, ‘and it’s a definitive thumbs-down.’ Cue several days of feeling downright miserable. There were tears. There were tantrums. I felt very, very sorry for myself – and anyone who’ll ever have to read the damn book.

A few weeks on and I can see my reaction was somewhat irrational. It’s only one person’s opinion, after all – but it was the very first opinion on my very first book, and it hurt as much as someone beating up your kid in the playground on their first day at school. In fact it hurt far more than I ever would have thought possible. I thought I was tougher than this; turns out I was wrong.

But it did get me thinking more about what we have to deal with as writers. Though we have to cope with rejection almost from the get-go – not least of all the denunciation that goes on in our own heads – it’s not till your book is pushed out into the big wide world that those rejections become public. Agents may pass on your book, and so may publishers, but at least that’s a relatively private anguish. Suddenly, once you’re published, those rejections are out there for everyone to see, including your friends, your family, and everyone you’ve ever met. It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it – apart from mainline wine and chocolate, obviously.

And let’s not kid ourselves, this is hard. Very hard. How many other professions involve a public assessment of your work? None, that I can think of, except perhaps actors and other creatives. No one in a ‘normal’ job goes online to find their boss’s annual appraisal posted up for all to see. And no one in a normal job has to deal with anyone and everyone pitching in with their own opinion of their performance. It’s not easy to endure, and not surprising that many authors I know claim never to set foot in Amazon and Goodreads.

That said, hiding from other people’s opinions of your work is easier said than done. What about blog reviews, for instance? Or reviews in the trade press? Or perhaps you don’t make it onto the shortlist of that coveted prize; or you make it onto the shortlist, but don’t win. We are surrounded by other people’s opinions on our books, indeed on our hopes and aspirations – impossible to sidestep them all.

So what’s the answer? I wish I knew. A thick skin is probably the best we can hope for – apart from five-star approbation from every reader (I wish). More realistic, perhaps, is that in the longer term the good stuff will outweigh the bad, and that we’ll survive to write another day.

Emma Haughton grew up in West Sussex and after a stint au pairing in Paris and a half-hearted attempt to backpack across Europe, did a degree in English and got a job as a journalist on a trade paper. Bored of writing about computers, she swapped to articles for national newspapers on everything from making compost to holidays in Sweden.

Her first fiction was a picture book called Rainy Day. She also wrote books for schools about things like death, stress and drug abuse. Cheerful stuff! Now she writes contemporary thrillers for YA readers – two coming out with Usborne in 2014. She loves intriguing stories – whether in books, TV or the big screen – and that feeling of desperately needing to know what’s going on or what happens next. Now You See Me is published on 1st May by Usborne.

7 comments on “The Toughest Time on my Publishing Journey by Emma Haughton

  1. sarahjnaughton
    April 7, 2014

    Emma, I know EXACTLY how you feel. The same thing happened to me. I wondered then, and I still do now, whether it give some people a kick to shaft you before publication date: it felt personal, it felt spiteful, and if you follow me on Facebook I’ll private message you some more about it! Sarah

  2. Kerry
    April 7, 2014

    Really great post Emma. I once did a visit and was subject to one person’s negative review of my book face to face! , Picked on everything. EVERYTHING! I’ve learnt to listen to criticism and take it on board if justified – but this wasn’t. Went home, had a cry, moaned to my agent, and picked myself back up again. SO VERY HARD! With hindsight her comments weren’t directed at my work, they were directed at me, and my agent wisely commented that it was probably a bit of green-eyed monster. Doesn’t make it any easier, tho.

  3. barbarahenderson
    April 7, 2014

    Hi there Emma, a great post – so very honest. We writers often don’t like to admit how much this sort of thing hurts. My debut adult book got all 5-star reviews until someone put up a 1-star, one sentence ‘review’ saying ‘it was boring’. This person has never done any reviews on Amazon before or since, so although I don’t know who it was, it felt very personal! It also means I can never get above 4.5 stars because of the system. That, I realise, is not as bad as what happened to you – so very mean-minded of that person to do that as you were building up to publication. But I think you are right to take the attitude you do. I’m really looking forward to reading your book! Best wishes, Bea

  4. Nikki Sheehan
    April 8, 2014

    Great post Emma. I feel your pain! After lots of really nice reviews I got a ‘meh, this isn’t my kind of thing’ 3 star that I wouldn’t have minded at all, but the person waited until my publication day and posted it in five different places! I’ve come to the conclusion that people don’t actually realise how sensitive we are to reviews and the only thing we can do is to try and grow a rhino’s hide. Best of luck with your book – I’m sure you’ll get loads of lovely reviews!

  5. Emma Haughton
    April 11, 2014

    Just discovered all your lovely comments here. So glad this resonated. Yes, I think it can be hard sometimes to admit how much things get to us. I think we often equate being professional worth being impervious. I am very pervious!

  6. dragonmis
    April 23, 2014

    What a horrible thing to have happened. Of course not everyone will like what we write, but to have put out this review pre publication definitely smacks of spite. Like you I’m growing a thicker skin and trying to concentrate on the fun and fulfilment of writing more than on success. All the best,

  7. Emma Haughton
    April 23, 2014

    Thank you, Misha. Yes, you do wonder about the mindset of some people. But then, unless you’re a writer and your work is out there, I’m not sure other people understand how vulnerable you can feel. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just a comment on a book – I don’t think it occurs to them there’s a real human being behind it. I’ve probably been guilty of this too in the past!

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