Monthly Archives: October 2016

Why Rejection Is An Essential Lesson For Every Writer

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Rejection is the bane of every writer’s life – that soul destroying moment when you see the agent/publisher’s email in your inbox and a brief moment of hope flickers before you open it and your eyes quickly scan through the words….‘after careful consideration’…’unfortunately’…’not right for my list’…’another agent may feel differently’…’good luck’. Instantly you wonder if the off-license is still open or if there’s chocolate cake in the fridge cause you’re gonna need something to get through yet another knock back.

Having gathered more than my fair share, I’ve realised that those ‘no thank yous’ could be the best thing that ever happened to my writing. Allow me to explain.

The more the merrier!

Gather rejections. As many as you can, for some hidden gems may lie within. Keep sending out submissions but when you get to double figures on the rejection pile take stock. Is there a similar vein to each one? Casting aside the form rejections, did any offer feedback or insight and if so, are they of any use to you? We are too quick to let the disappointment in and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel deflated and not good enough but later go back, read it again, for there are nuggets to be gleaned.

Consider the market stall you’re setting out

One agent (whom I admire –that’s important) told me that while he liked my writing, he couldn’t place it as a historical novel right now (it’s set in the 1840s). Initially I was horrified. That’s my story, it’s not something that can be altered. Head explodes! BUT when I thought about what I had said to him in my query letter, what my title may be suggesting, what my synopsis was saying I realised that perhaps I was highlighting the very thing that is in fact putting agents off. Yes, my story is set in harsh historical times but it’s a fantasy, a swirling gothic fantasy. A good story should shine through no matter the setting.

His words forced me to look at my book with a marketing eye. I may have written a book worthy of release (I have to believe so) but I also needed to re-check what my market stall was actually selling. Are the two things the same? If that agent in question found the setting a daunting one, then I would need to convey it to agents in a different and more commercial light. The first part of that was looking at the title. I thought it was perfect but perhaps only had true resonance after the reader had finished the book. My new title, which I shall keep under wraps for now, is much more enticing and tells the reader what to expect in simple terms from the outset, from the bookshelf. In following my gut, I know it’s the right move.

I re-shifted too the focus on my synopsis. Play down the setting, play up my heroine. What she’s capable of, what her fight is. What the true hook is. Think, think and think again. What am I selling? Agents are so busy and see so many manuscripts that they are rarely going to take the time to break down for you what needs to change. They will reject and move on so you must learn to read between the lines. Rejection, in forcing you to take a long hard look at what you’re selling, helps you see more clearly. You are getting a taste at last of the literary world as it repeatedly slams the door in your face. You want in? Yeah well you’re gonna have to work that book and that pitch like you never thought you would.

Silence can be a lesson in itself

Earlier this year, one agent asked me for exclusivity in considering my submission. A writer friend had introduced us personally and so I put all those fragile eggs in one basket and waited. And waited. And waited. Six months and still no response but after three, when I had dragged myself from the pity pit of panic, I took up my manuscript for a little read and immediately saw ways to improve it. So I wrote another draft, a better draft. Without floating in that limbo, I never would have done that. I took apart my book forensically. Wrote out new chapter cards, stuck them all up on my notice board without the chapter numbers and just looked at the plot laid out before me. I was like a miner striking gold when the contents of old chapter 29 became new chapter 3. When 53 short chapters became 27 more meaty ones. Again an exercise I would never have done without rejection. Comments of short chapters from agents, were now dealt with. I saw my book in a way I never did before I started submissions and it was better.

Without rejection, you won’t realise just how much your work means to you.

Want to find out how truly deeply invested you are in writing? Try some rejection. It’s the most telling signal as to how you will feel about your book and how hard you are willing to work it until someone somewhere finally says yes.

So get it out there, take the rejections, take their lessons, bury the ones that hurt and move on. There is much to be learnt and we as writers have nothing if not time on our hands. Remember you’re in it for the long game and perseverance is key. Me? I go back now into the abyss, with hopefully a stronger book, a better title, a sharper synopsis. More rejections will come, for that is the way, but I’ll keep learning from them and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

 

Review – THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

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Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Cert: 15A Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: 5th October 2016

Good thrillers are always about surprises, curve balls we never see coming that sweep us up in a moment where we forget we’re reading or watching a piece of fiction and are immersed in a moment that shatters our perception of what’s gone before. How disappointing then when we begin to see the cracks early on, when the mysterious is in fact the plain obvious and once deciphered leaves us to bear out the tedium until that which we’ve already guessed, is finally revealed. While readers of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller need not be troubled, knowing as they do the culprit, the same cannot be said for the uninitiated, delivering a lacklustre journey made only redeemable by its leading lady.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes every day on the train to New York City, watching a couple (who seem to have no curtains), have breakfast, dinner and sex on her journey to and from work. When one day she spies the woman, Megan (Haley Bennett) with another man after which Megan disappears, Rachel injects herself into the investigation in an obsessive quest to find her. So far so good. But throw in that the gone girl of the piece is also the nanny to Rachel’s ex-husband (Theroux) and the woman Anna (Ferguson), he left her for and the plot begins to spin far too many webs to remain safely intact. Amidst flashbacks and viewpoints (we get Rachel’s, Anna’s and Megan’s) we are taken into the lives of a group of very unlikeable people and the tone goes from sinister to nasty as each character is unveiled to us.

Rachel herself is flawed. She is an alcoholic, swigging vodka from her water bottle on her commute, bitter from her divorce and scarred by her failure to conceive. All of the women are broken in some way and the depiction of motherhood as driving a woman to the point of madness is unsettling and disturbing to watch as none of the women paint it in even a faintly positive light. Blunt remains the best reason to give it your time and you can see why she would be enticed. She’s terrific and does bring a vulnerability but Rachel is the sort of person you’d rather cross the road to avoid than someone you’d like to help. As the plot threatens to strangle itself, any empathy we feel with her begins to drift away beyond our reach so that when required we can’t pull ourselves back into the story she began.

As a thriller, director Tate Taylor (The Help) sets the premise up well but the film is too self aware. It pushes the sexy button, then the dark button, the shocking one etc. like a vending machine dispensing what it thinks the consumer wants at that given moment. And they do probably want this, but by contrast where Gone Girl was dark and cleverly abstract, The Girl on The Train is heavy handed and pushes too hard leaving the ending when it comes, strangely lacking in tension and ferocity.

Fans of the book may enjoy or they may prefer the version they read on the page. The box office no doubt will tell the tale.

2/5