Here is a guest blog from Cameron Nunn, author of the best-selling Shadows in the Mirror -a book that every boy (and many girls) should read and will love reading - to embroider a quote from Gary Crew on the front cover:
WHAT DO ELEPHANTS AND BEGINNING WRITERS BOTH NEED?
The saying is that everyone has at least one good novel in them. However, writing that novel may only be the first struggle in a long journey.
I finished my first novel, Shadows in the Mirror six years before I finally held a printed and bound copy in my hands. There was a sense of celebration when I pressed that last full-stop. I scoured my bookshelves and the internet for addresses of publishing companies who might have wanted to publish my masterpiece. Armed with ten addresses and ten copies of the opening chapters, I mailed them off and waited.
Weeks went by and I began to despair whether something had happened to my literary gems. When the first reply came in, I ripped it open with trembling hands. A one line reply, dripping with insincerity, thanked me for sending them the manuscript but declined an offer of publication. Eight more followed with various remarks, from the patronising to the soul-crushing.
And then, finally a request to send the remaining chapters. Hope ran high even as weeks ran into months. Finally, another letter. Yes, but they would like to show it to the other editors. Another six months . . . and then the crushing blow.
As I sat, I pondered my brief foray into the literary world. Masochistic as I am, I had kept every rejection letter (no doubt hoping that like J.K. Rowling, I would be able to sneer at those ill-discerning publishers from the tower of my best-seller). As I poured over comments, I looked for clues among the more detailed responses as to what they didn’t like. Steadily I began to form a picture of what was and wasn’t working in the novel. Armed with this information I began to re-write, or more accurately, slash pages. One of my favourite maxims has become, ‘It is not what you write in the book that often matters most, but what you edit out.’ Five chapters were reduced to ten pages.
Shortly after, I asked a friend who had been a former publisher to cast a critical eye over the work. She came back with more suggestions but more importantly encouragement to try again and the name of some editors who might be interested in publishing this style of book.
Although I was fairly sure that publishers wouldn’t remember reading a novel that they had rejected a few years earlier, I changed the title just to be on the safe-side. Ten more copies and ten new letters, this time shamelessly name-dropping my friend’s endorsement of the novel as worthy of each publisher’s consideration.
Again, there were the usual rejection letters (which I’ve still kept in the hope of one day writing the best-seller that they missed out on). However, this time the interest was much stronger. A few publishers expressed interest but most importantly Black Dog Books were willing to offer the support necessary to develop my manuscript into a publishable work.
The journey from acceptance to publication is another long journey, but not nearly as tough as just getting the foot in the door. When I’m talking to students about getting published, I remind them that publishers get many, many more unsolicited manuscripts than they can ever read. A rejection doesn’t mean you should give up. Listen to advice and keep plugging away. What do elephants and beginning writers need more than anything else? They’ve both got to be thick-skinned to survive.