JK Rowling, Ernest Hemingway and HG Wells show that writer rejection can be ammunition - Tony Earnshaw

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Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire.Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire.

It’s an occupational hazard when a writer that whatever you’re pitching might not find favour. In my case, branching out into short fiction has seen me navigating calm seas and, in recent days, choppy ones. That means the rejection slips have begun to arrive.

In truth I don’t know whether aspiring novelists receive such things anymore alongside their returned manuscript. For my own part the knock-back comes via email.

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Sometimes it’s a standard response: a form of words that says, in essence, that the material wasn’t a fit. On the other hand a publisher may come back with a reader’s review, giving detail and direction on what they liked – and what they didn’t.

Both are useful, especially to a writer (like this one) exploring the new landscape of short fiction. My first short story was written, submitted and accepted quickly. But that doesn’t often happen. Sometimes a writer can pinball around with a piece that no-one seems to appreciate. In that situation it’s best to get on with the next one.

But newbies like me should take consolation from those giants of literature that had door after door slammed in their face. Like William Golding, whose The Lord of the Flies was described as “absurd and uninteresting”. HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds was dismissed as “an endless nightmare”. And Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was said to be “tedious and offensive”.

Mega-selling writers like Stephen King and JK Rowling had dozens of rejections before they sold their first novels. It’s all about persistence or, in King’s case, not throwing your only typed copy in the trash. (His wife rescued it).

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Now, let’s rein back a tad, or even a lot. I’m no Golding, Wells or Hemingway. The point here is that if Tom doesn’t like what I or someone else writes, then Dick or Harry might. It’s all about finding a like-minded connection. That takes tenacity, patience and good grace, not belligerence.

Thus this scribbler is busily banking what he writes. A few months back I finished something that wasn’t quite there. The finale felt rushed. So I parked it. There hasn’t been a moment yet where I want to go back and re-read, edit or re-write. But there will be. At that point maybe it will find a home.

In the meantime there are other characters and situations to fashion – and other authors to explore. For me, it’s about seeing how the rest do it. And you can teach an old dog a new trick.

And those rejections… Call them food for thought. Ammunition. A treasure chest. It’s all grist.

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