Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The other side of Karma

I've had to sit myself down and do some soul searching.  Finding it was the first problem.  I have it buried underneath so many layers that it takes a bit of digging to get to the real stuff.  Not that others seem to have trouble hitting the tender core.  No matter how much you wrap it up, it's like a tooth, there's always a nerve others can hit.  But getting down to it oneself is a different thing.  You know that something is painful - the crippling, hunched-over, agonised whelp is a bit of a giveaway - you just always don't know why - I mean really, really know.

So book three, written, finished, sort of there in the way you are when you go to an unfamiliar city.  You've done all the planning and got there with your list of things to do, but where you'll actually go is open for discussion.  And I send it off.  To a young agent who takes me out for coffee to meet me (somewhat redundantly since I've never heard back from her so there was little point in us doing the whole face to a name thing), and then to a more senior agent who was sort of nice about my previous book (didn't like any of the characters) and turned it down - a member of the Club of 6 - who I did hear back from eventually, or rather from her assistant who said it didn't have a good enough 'voice'.  'What you have,' says my colleague who read a 'bit' 'is a great voice'.  So go figure.  That's the problem with showing things to people.  One will say you've written three books in one, and another will say you need to make it more commercial.  Another will say take out this bit, and another will say leave it in.  One will say you manage all the different voices so well and someone else will get confused.

In the end you are the one confused.

The first book was only read by my then agent who took two months to tell me her assistant had read it and didn't think it was quite there yet.  That was it.  No encouragement, no suggestions, no 'can't wait to read it when you've pulled it together' just not 'there'.  Like where the fuck is 'there'?  You're suddenly in a car aged five asking your mother if you're 'there' yet without knowing where you're supposed be going, just that it would be good to arrive.  I was devastated.  Like dead dog devastated.  I put the book away in a drawer - well in the furthest reaches of my Dropbox, and forgot about it. Or let's be honest.  I didn't forget about it for a minute, I just told myself I had forgotten about it while continuing to agonise over its failure with a little dash of frustration thrown in.  It's hard when you spend a year or so on something to have it dismissed with a few words.  After I'd licked my wounds enough to wear a patch away on my fur, I resolved to rework it.  I've now done this twice and still never shown it to another soul.  I've reworked it so much that half way through the third time I've forgotten what I'm doing to it.  It's like trying to even up your fringe with a pair of nail scissors.

So, okay, on to number two.  I've written all this before and lost it when my computer crashed.  Time to rewrite I think.  And I do.  In seven months.  I'm fairly pleased with it.  I send it to a friend.  Love emanates for me it, and every step I take on the earth.  He's a good friend.  I should have married him.  So then I send it to the 6 'new' agents, having decided that the old one, who never calls except to speak snappily to others in my office, or otherwise enquires as to whether I'm still breathing unaided (during which time I've had a nervous breakdown and spent a week in the nuthouse, had a tumour removed from my foot, and also spent a month laid out with back pain), has lost interest.  Nobody likes it or me.  Nobody wants me/I'm nobody's child.  People in the office read it.  Three never say a word to me about it - draw your own damning conclusions.  I did.  The other three said conflicting things. Another two liked it.  But no agent. One later insisted she had spoken to me about it, but then corrected herself and said she'd spoken to another colleague about it.  A little bit of me died.

I realise at this point the world is neatly dividing like the Red Sea into those who say - you're crap, give up, and those who say - but there are a thousand agents, keep going, remember Harry Potter/insert another successful book/author here that wasn't placed for ages.

Yep.  I'm in the give up category, deep in my soul, but what's the band aid of denial for if you can't whack one or sixteen on top of the wound?  So I decide to write another.  A lighter tale, with more humour, something of a romp, something simpler, less pretentious.  And I do.  In five months.

'This is the best thing you've ever written' says a colleague.  'I loved it' says my daughter who hands out praise the way David Cameron gives state benefits.  So I give it to another two colleagues and my previous publisher who bought the first book, and three agents.

The colleagues never mention it again.
The previous publisher who wanted to 'built me' does not deign to respond after three months of silence.  When I eventually drop her a note to say, well I'm guessing the silence speaks a thousand words of no' she fails to respond to that too.  Go Viking.  The Caring Imprint.
Of the three agents, well you've heard the response of two.  The third said by return: 'I'll stop you there as I've just sold a book with the same premise to Quercus.'
I respond.  'Oh yes my friend said there was another she'd seen (she's a reader for Picador amongst others) but she liked mine better.'  Okay, okay, it doesn't sound like the way to win friends, agents or influence people.  I should have added the smiley face. I said it with a rueful smile, but it didn't read that way.  Agent snaps back 'Thanks for telling me that she liked yours better the one I represent.'  Bless, her feelings are hurt.  She with all the power and none of the grace, is offended.  Apparently I was incredibly rude.  'Incredibly rude.'  Not just a bit out of order, but 'Incredibly rude.'  Fuck me and all my sisters.  Really?  I responded by saying that I was merely whistling in the wind and that obviously that since her book was the one with a publisher and an agent, and mine wasn't then we both know which one was the best.'  But nope.  I am, dear readers, 'INCREDIBLY RUDE'.

I had to go home and lock myself in my bedroom after that one.  I felt like a snail that someone had pored salt on.  I mean, who is the one who can afford to be generous here?

That happened before the other agents assistant told me I didn't have a strong enough voice.

So now I do give up.  Why am I doing this?  And thus the soul searching.  It's a good question.  Why am I doing this?  I suppose I want affirmation.  And I get it, but the wrong things are affirmed.  It's rejection, failure and even worse, irrelevance, the feelings of not mattering, being brushed aside, not being good enough, being a nobody, a nonentity, unwanted, of no consequence.

I realise it's not even about the actual rejection, it's about my reaction to it.  It gets through my armour, through all the defences, to the dark, curdled recesses of my poor beleaguered soul, that the act of writing is supposed to nurture, not damage.

I'm not going to be one of those people who gets published on the 19th agent.  Let's face it, the agent is only the first of many hurdles on the way to getting your book not read by the book-buying public. In my ridiculously naivety I thought it would be the easiest part - former journalist, previously published novelist, but no it doesn't work like that.  You're only as good as your next article in journalism.  In novels you're only as good as your last book, or you're an as untried debut novelist who has yet not to sell and prove yourself unworthy of a second go.  Of course, it's all about the book.  Not really about it being good, though that too, but about it being saleable.  Honestly, honestly, honestly, I don't think my book is that great.  It's more than adequate I'd say, and certainly I see books coming through here all the time which in a race with mine I don't think would necessary beat it - though having a publisher already means they have.  It's so subjective.  But I do know it's almost certainly not going to race up the bestsellers chart or win The Orange Prize.  It's a jobbing novel with a beginning a middle and an end.  All three of them are.  But they are my worlds, that I made up, and formed and plotted and can see, clearly, in my head as though they are real places with real people in them.  Maybe that's why I keep on writing.  And fuck it if nobody reads them and they are not given the publishing seal of validation.

Maybe I should start my own Publishing House and call it Second Chance, e-format only, for people like me.  There are so many of us.  I know because with my other hat on I reject them every day.