A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
The setbacks. Rejections. It can be really tough to plough on not knowing if you’ll ever get anywhere. But those kinds of thoughts do no favours, so I pushed them aside and kept the hope that one day my MS would land on the right desk and I just had to keep going until it happened.
Absolutely the worst time on my journey was when a publisher, who’d worked with my MS for more than a year, decided they would ultimately reject it. I got the e-mail when I was away on what should have been a dream holiday and I have to admit it put a downer on things, no matter how hard I tried to push it out of my mind. How I overcame it? It simply took time. I couldn’t face sending the MS back out for around six months. But eventually I did and it all came good. I’ve learned that one rejection doesn’t mean the book’s a no-hoper. My recommendation: never open your e-mails when you’re on holiday!
The toughest time? If I’m honest, they are too numerous to mention. Every new submission brings anxiety and uncertainty and the writing and re-drafting of every manuscript gets the emotional barometer swinging. If I had to choose one, I think it would be getting a particular picture book on option – twice – to two very wonderful publishers, only for it to be dropped at the last hurdle by both. It’s a good job we love what we do, isn’t it?
The hardest thing for me was losing heart; after a string of rejections from agents, writing chapters that weren’t working the way I wanted them to, and generally feeling like writing was no longer fun because it now all depended on “getting published”, I grew disheartened and tired and just sort of stopped. I wish I could say I used a neat, handy trick to overcome it, but there was no trick. What got me back to writing was the fact that I still loved my story and it still nagged at me the longer I stayed away from it. I often get disheartened, even now, but stories I’m passionate about, obsessed with even, always bring me back.
The time between the first book deal and the second was the hardest. Having sold a standalone book, with no guarantee the publisher would buy the second, I was watching a lot of my author friends work on sequels, while I was back to square one, having to write a novel speculatively and approach publishers with it, on the back of a first book that hadn’t exactly set the world on fire.
It was a difficult time, frustrating both emotionally and creatively.
Although it took a while, I managed to find an agent and a publisher who believed in my second book. At the end of the day you just have to believe in yourself and keep on writing.
The time I felt the lowest was after my very first young adult novel – Blood Magic, which was eventually rejected by every children’s publisher in the UK and two in Australia – got incredibly close to being published. I’d worked on revisions for the editor who picked it out of the slushpile for about three months, and it had gotten to aquisitions, but the publisher eventually decided not to go with it. I was devastated. But I already had an idea for a new book which I was really excited about, and I was determined to finish that even if I was a talentless loser with no hope of ever getting published. And lucky for me, that editor was a very special person; he carried on emailing me throughout the whole next year, checking in on the progress of the new book and encouraging me. About eighteen months later the very same publisher who had rejected Blood Magic, Walker Books, gave me a contract to publish that new book, which eventually ended up being titled The Swan Kingdom. And Walker are still my publisher today. So it all worked out – and proved that sheer stubbornness and refusal to give up are very valuable qualities in both a writer and an editor.
Though I haven’t faced any disasters on my publishing journey, now that Glimpse is about to be published it’s easy to forget the amount of faith and hard work needed along the way. My toughest moment was when I came close to giving up on Glimpse. I’d submitted to agents twice before with previous drafts, and though I knew my new draft was much better, one or two more rejections and I was ready to give up for good. Luckily, my boyfriend encouraged me to try ‘just a few more’ — within a couple of months I had an agent, and by the end of the year my book had sold! I came so close to shelving Glimpse, and am so glad I didn’t.
Breaking into non-fiction writing can be a chicken and egg scenario – it’s tough to win commissions until you have a body of published work behind you. I overcame this by writing for free at first (stacks of articles and three short books), learning everything I could about how children read and how to build a great book, and by focusing on writing ‘what I know’ – the fascinating science I’d studied during my degree.
The hardest moment on my journey to becoming a published author came when I decided to submit Murder Most Unladylike to agents at the same time as I was applying for my first job in publishing. It was a terrible decision. I basically jumped into a huge black hole of rejection, and it made me feel like a complete failure. And then, ironically, my agent and my job turned up within weeks of each other. Good thing I didn’t give up.
The toughest time on the way to becoming a published author? Maybe it was the self-doubt. Or the need to be taken seriously. Or maybe it was the fear of rejection. Or perhaps it was those awful moments when it looked as if I would never make it. Now I’m published though, it’s all super-fantastic and . . . wait a minute. The self-doubt is still there. So is the fear of rejection and the fear that I just won’t make it. Only, now there are other things to worry about too – like whether or not my books will sell, and will my publisher publish more? Will the book market survive? What does the future hold for authors? And there are those reviews – I don’t mean the ones where people say they didn’t like my book, I mean the ones where my book seems to have insulted the very fibre of their being and driven them to write . . . such things! How do I overcome all this? Perseverance. A love of writing. A great agent and editors. And, of course, a strong, supportive family.
When I first wrote A Witch in Winter I made the rookie mistake of writing it, and then basically pressing print and sending it out far too early. I should have known better, considering I work in the industry and know how polished a manuscript has to be to get attention, but I still did it! I got full manuscript requests from every agent I queried and was holding my breath with excitement – and then one by one, every single one came back with a polite rejection.
I am not good with rejections and setbacks and I very nearly binned the whole book at this point – but I decided I would give it one more try. I went back to the drawing board and spent a year revising and editing the book, and showing it to friends and getting their feedback. I also joined an online writers group and got some brilliant advice there. Finally when I thought it was as good as it could get, I paid for a editorial critique. The manuscript editor didn’t tell me anything mind-blowing but she reassured me on the one point I was really worried about: it was of publishable quality. In fact she thought it was very good indeed.
With my fingers crossed, I pressed send on another batch of emails and within two weeks I had an agent.
Many people are (rightly) sceptical of the value of paying for editorial feedback on your work, and it’s certainly true that no matter how many reports you shell out for, no-one can make your manuscript publishable apart from you yourself. But I will always be grateful for that editor who told me at the right time something I desperately needed to hear: my work wasn’t crap. Her encouragement gave me the impetus I needed to keep going, right when I was ready to throw in the towel.
I think by far my most difficult time in pursuing illustration was at university. It was the first time I really felt like I might fail. There I was, surrounded by talented illustrators, being told by our tutors that only around 8 of us would ever make anything from the subject we so loved. For three years, our feedback was cold and harsh, we had to have a great sense of confidence to rise above it. My work was in no way the ‘favourite style’ of the University’s, so I was somewhat forgotten about throughout the process, and I floundered around trying to change it. Some friends left, some admitted they’d give up once the degree was over. Others flourished, of course. I knew giving up wasn’t an option, but I wasn’t exactly buoyant at my prospects. I think that despite the volume of work we produced for those three years, it was my least creative time. The week I came home to my parents house, I started drawing the way I would have drawn before I’d left. I haven’t given that place much thought ever since!
Rejection. And more rejection. And oh, just when you thought you couldn’t sink any lower…..plenty more rejection. My skin grew as thick as an elephant’s. (And on a happier note, I now take rejection really well!)
The toughest time I think I had on my journey , surprisingly, was AFTER I got an agent. She was fantastic. We got on great. She was with a great agency. I thought I was on my way. Unfortunately I naively assumed that once I had an agent everything would go smoothly. I would progress to book deal and then publication straight away.
Then my agent told me she was taking early retirement. I was disappointed but she passed me on to a another really good agent at the agency and things were ticking along. I got a contract to do some writing for hire with a book packager. I was enjoying that but nothing else was happening with my other manuscripts. Then I got the dreaded email- just before Christmas too. My second agent was letting me go. She was looking over her list and thought that we were not the right match. I was devastated. I felt like the whole tower of cards that I had built towards my publishing dream had just been knocked down. I was at the point of re-evaluating my whole career choice. If I hadn’t been in an amazing crit group I’m sure I would have given up writing at that point. A couple months later I saw a SCBWI competition for the Slush Pile Challenge and decided to enter. The manuscript that I wrote for that challenge was what became My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish ( my first novel that lead to my new agent –the lovely Gemma Cooper and a book deal with Macmillan). That manuscript would never have been written had a been with my former agent. I would have never entered the competition and I might still be waiting to be agented and published. So really, the lowest moment for my journey lead directly to hitting all the peaks I’ve hit so far. Fate threw the curve ball that got thwacked into a homerun ! ( Sorry I’m American, the baseball metaphors just jump out at ya sometimes).
I didn’t have a particularly tough journey into publication, and I think this was because I waited until my work was cooked through before sending it out. I spent ten long years alone in a room with no feedback as I wrote and wrote and wrote. I only sent my work to an agent when a friend coaxed me in to doing so. And luckily that agent picked me up and now represents me.
This wasn’t exactly the toughest time for me, but it was the thing I found hardest to do. Hitting send on an email to submit my book to an agent or editor. Some authors have boundless confidence, and submit their books before they are ready. I didn’t, and was desperately grabbing at excuses to delay submitting mine. After someone introduced me to an agent and editor, I ran out of excuses. When an agent or editor tells you ‘Send me the book.’, you really have to send it.
I got an agent in 2007, and after working through several drafts of my first YA novel (a contemporary) with her, we sent it out to publishers. I was full of hope as, surely, now I had an agent, that meant my writing was good enough to get published? But it was a no – a very nice no – from everyone, and realising that this novel was going to rest forever on my hard drive was pretty tough. It taught me a lot about persistence, though, and the next novel we sent out was bought by Random House, so it all worked out in the end!
Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, dystopian thriller ACID, is out now and was the winner of the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award. It will be followed by THE FEARLESS, another stand-alone thriller for young adults, on 24th April 2014. By day, she works as a library assistant and lives with her husband and dog in the North East Midlands.