It felt like an achievement to finish a novel of 100,000 words – it is an achievement, actually – and it was pretty devastating to send the manuscript off to agents and publishers only to receive a series of rejections. What was wrong with my book? I thought it was OK, and secretly I still think it is.
The commonest response was "Sorry, Gordon, it's not for me." I just saw REJECTION in that sentence, but with the benefit of hindsight I now take the statement at face value: my manuscript simply didn't do it for that particular agent or publisher. Others might have a different view. Five years down the line, I also recognise that commercial publishing means looking for books that sell, not for good books, and a book can be an enjoyable read without being marketable. Publishing is a business.
Eventually I ended up doing some publishing myself. I'm not running a business – Comely Bank Publishing is a self-publishing collective – but we still need to make sure authors don't lose money. So I listened to words of wisdom from cover designers, from editors, from printers, and most of all from booksellers. Even from LinkedIn. I believe that the books that we now put out are high quality, both the written content and the product itself. When readers that you've never met say the nicest things about your book, it makes all the kickings to get there worthwhile.
A happy ending? Well, sort of. However, just as you never stop learning in this business, so yet another kicking is just waiting for you around the next corner. This week, a normally very supportive bookseller took an instant dislike to the cover design of a new title. Even she couldn't identify what the problem was, which didn't help either, but her opinion will still be useful, whatever we choose to do next.
Because the second bit of advice (from the same person) was also useful: always have a Plan B – and a Plan C, a Plan D and a Plan E. Don't just wring your hands in despair, do something. I do have two or three backup plans, but I'm keeping those thoughts to myself for the moment.
It doesn't mean to say that any of those plans will actually work, of course. Another corner turned could mean yet another kicking. Which means the skin has to get just a little thicker in response.
This article first appeared on LinkdIn.