So, eventually, I found a publisher for my book, after a spot of rewriting and some lessons which I share here free of charge:
Lesson One: Reject Rejection
This came courtesy of my celebrity ex. My unwarned and unflattering appearance in his 'memoir' taught me that rejection only hurts if some secret (or not so secret) part of yourself actually agrees with the thumbs-down being dolled out. Rejection is actually a private test: if you can shrug it off then maybe your work (and self) are actually fine and just incompatible with the people who are saying no. Those people aren't truth-owning gods, they're just humans with their own agendas trying to scratch out a living on this cruel earth the best way they know. Time to stop waiting for random pats on the head from imaginary wizards. Get real about who you are and who they are, then move on to someplace more receptive.
Lesson Two: Get Over The Fantasy
This was kickstarted for me by reading a great 'how to get published' blog by Neil Gaiman. He says:
You look for publishers who publish "that kind of thing [you've written]", whatever it is. You send them what you've done... I'd written and published 3 books before I decided it was time to get an agent.
Not get an agent at all?!?
I hadn't really considered that before.
I hadn't really considered not getting an agent because despite writing a novel about mistrusting received notions I'd been all too ready to lap them up myself IRL. You write a book, you get an agent, then a publisher offers you two million dollars. That's how it goes, right?
Which is not to say this approach doesn't work, in more modest form, sometimes, if you've written a book that is... unfreakish, a known quantity that suits the established tastes and data crunching of specific editors and marketeers at big publishing conglomerates that agents have connections with. That's why agents are so incredibly keen to know the genre of masterpiece you are pitching: do they have the network to hawk it? One goes into this finding-representation malarkey imagining agents are there to crown and champion you for your literary merits – because that's how they spin it on their Twitters. Whereas in fact agents are there to truffle-out known product for their liege lords, the publishers, the ones with the actual power. And no, the majesty of your work ain't gonna sway them otherwise, better believe that once and for all.
So if you are doing something different, writing a big ole reality-questioning freakorama, for instance, perhaps it's best to cut out the middle man and go straight to publishers themselves, see if they don't have some sudden crave for strange.
Those publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, that is.
Those publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts and who publish the kind of thing you've written.
Which was who and what, in my case? I still had some way to go...
Lesson Three: Innovate
This came mainly from Seth Godin, a revolutionary master with oodles to say about writing & publishing in digital times. The wisdom I received from these two stonking posts (plus all the rest) set me on a new path. I didn't need an agent; perhaps I didn't even need a publisher. I had to embrace the idea of self-publishing as possibly the very best path. I had to consider giving my book away for free. Previously I'd felt very snooty about those options. Poor dainty me. Thank you Seth.
Only trouble was: how to build those networks Seth so evangelises. His thoughts are more geared towards non-fiction writers with existing platforms – though there are novelists who have triumphed using similar strategies. I read about Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howie, started building a site for my book, set up some social media accounts, started thinking about my book cover...
But but but...
All that work I knew nothing about: marketing, covers, making a book, making my work known, creating a network...
I noted that Hugh Howie and Seth himself had started off with conventional publishers. Only after initial, establishing publishing experience and success had they gone down the self-pub route. There was so much I didn't know. Which led me to:
Lesson Four: Do the Graft
Learn the ropes. Find out who the independent publishers who accept unagented unsolicited submissions are. Discover book bloggers and podcasts. Reach out to other writers. Plan your own marketing strategies. Build the network. Get professional. Plough on. All the rest of it. Divest yourself of the raiments of noob.
I sucked knowledge up from many sources, including the magnificent Sam Missingham, and her list of independent publishers. Something for everyone there. Another true educator was writer A.J Dalton, whose site was recommended to me by my dear mentor and friend the Celtic Detective Novelist. This post in particular was a very helpful kick up the arse. Thank you to these and many more for generously sharing hard-won tips.
The final, toughest and most important epiphany was:
Lesson Five: Be True To Yourself
In other words: Who are you really? What have you really written? Who will actually want to read it? Who publishes stuff like that?
Yes, pretty basic stuff I should have sorted already but hadn't. My challenge was that while my book is a conspiracy thriller, that isn't all it is. And when I eventually looked deep and saw my truth, or rather: understood who I could write an easy submission letter to, who'd get what I was up to without me having to twist myself into knots, I understood at last that I should be sending it to the publishers of books that had actually inspired much of it, even if those books weren't fiction.
And for me, that meant publishers of cultural and political theory.
Yup, sounds pretty racy, right? In fact, some of those books are positively the most electrifying life-changing things I've ever encountered. You can read about how they rewired my brain and revolutionised my life and love life here.
I researched those publishers, found out the ones who accepted fiction, sent out my stuff to them and shortly after accepted the contract that Zero Books offered me. TWICE is coming out with them in 2021. Simple as that...
Writing this brief account of my literary rejections has been great fun, liberating in fact. I recommend it highly: if you have true tales of (literary or other) rejection (received or meted) please send them in for me to put up here, anonymously if you prefer.
If you've enjoyed my journey, please sign up to my mailing list at the bottom of this page so I can tempt you with opportunities to purchase my book when it comes out (it's currently in production) and for you to get a sampling of my other writing and future projects. Recounting my failures thusly has given me a taste for exposure and I'll be back with Season Two of My Rejections shortly. This time I'll widen the net to share tales of rejection that have nothing to do with literary endeavours. I'm a Class A fantasist who's been kicked in the teeth by reality plenty of times over the years. Stand by to enjoy.
I've learned many lessons on my journey to publication. I have also amassed various driblets of wisdom for those I've encountered on my way. Although this advice is unsolicited, I feel it would be churlish not to include it. Therefore, in no particular order, please read my unsolicited advice for agents, celebrity exes and fellow upcoming writers here.
Read my rejection odyssey from the start here.