Rejected and Selected

Rejected and Selectedyes-no

I was recently asked to write a blurb about the road to getting published – setbacks, discouragement, the happy ending, and a nugget of advice for anyone out there trying themselves. As you can imagine, there was more than a blurb's worth involved. Here's the long version.

Last April I was milling around outside one of Trinity College Dublin's many impressive-looking stone buildings when my phone started to ring. 'Janet!' the voice at the other end greeted me, 'Bad news, I'm afraid...' I closed my eyes and waited. There'd been a number of these calls lately.

It was my agent, telling me that another Canadian publisher had rejected my novel, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, which I'd laboured over obsessively for the better part of two years. I ended the call and took my place in the queue with everyone else, in my black gown and mortar board hat. It was graduation day, and I was about to receive my Master's Degree in creative writing, which I pretty much wanted to throw on a fire.

35900 10150745199474726 582089745 nI'd started Cinnamon Toast as a dare to myself in the six months before I turned forty. I'd always wanted to write a novel, but was convinced I wasn't good enough. I was also sure that nothing I could do would change this - as if 'talent' is some kind of magical fairy dust sprinkled on people at birth. It took the spectre of that birthday to make me realise that even if this were true, I'd have to ignore the fact and muddle on anyway – the alternative would be spending the rest of my life feeling disappointed and resentful. So I applied for the Trinity master's programme and let myself get caught up in writing the book. It was a backbreaking amount of work, but eventually I had something I felt I could show to other people.

I didn't know it then, but at that point the easy part of the journey was over.

I sent Cinnamon Toast to friends, to an agent who'd taught one of my classes, to a new competition at the Irish Writers' Centre called the Novel Fair, where writers with finished novels get a chance to meet with Irish and UK publishing industry professionals. And I waited.

Novel-FairAfter a few months, good news started to trickle in. I'd won a place at the Novel Fair. Yay! And the agent I'd met through school turned out to be interested. At the Novel Fair in March I spent the day grinning and pitching Cinnamon Toast for all I was worth, but deep down I didn't think anything would come of it. I'm Canadian and the book is set in Canada. Would an Irish publisher be interested? I didn't think so, and my agent agreed, so we concentrated on trying to sell the book in my homeland.

Then I got the rejection on my graduation day, and the colour seemed to go out of the world for a while. But four hours later there was another phone call. A major Canadian publisher was interested, in fact several editors there said they loved the book. I was thrilled...and then less so as weeks dragged by without an offer. Finally they turned it down. They didn't like the fact that I live in Ireland and had no internet presence – one of the reasons for the existence of this website.

Years ago I read a book by a playwright who'd given up acting. It wasn't because of the discouragement, he said. It was the hope – all the near-misses and the almost-acceptances. The disappointment as another opportunity disappeared was all the more crushing because he'd been so close. I'd agree – there was a lot of that involved in trying to get the book published. But it also taught me is that publishers are just people. Some of them will like your book and some won't. In fact I was amazed at how thoroughly the editors at different publishing houses disagreed with each other. 'There are problems with the narrative voice,' wrote one. 'The voice is perfect,' said the next. The only thing you can do to keep from going mad is to make sure you know your own work better than windowanyone, that you've edited it to a standard that you are happy with, and that this standard is your own and not someone else's. Then, if or when the rejections start coming in, you'll know that it's not you – it's them. And, like anything in life, a lot of this is a gamble and the results are almost impossible to predict.

About a month after graduation day, I was visiting my sister in Canada when I got another phone call. Hachette Ireland had participated in the Novel Fair, and they were interested in seeing the rest of Cinnamon Toast. Within a few months, I had an offer.

So I'd been wrong all along - an Irish publisher actually did want to back my Canadian book. Now I'm in Canada doing my best to promote it. What happens next is anyone's guess. I'm hoping for the best and getting to work on the next one. It's really all you can do.

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In Canada...or try here. Or go independent.

"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

"...poignant...heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults." Quill & Quire, starred review

"Witty, devastating, with a melancholy humour..." Sunday Business Post

"...page-turning, top drawer stuff..." BGE Book Club

"...warm, witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging..." The Irish News

"A stunning debut. I loved it." The Irish Examiner