One day, early in the second half of 2015, I received a magical email. The name marked as ‘sender’ was Angela Meyer, Commissioning Editor at Echo Publishing. The email’s subject was Ghost Girls.
I opened the email fast, tore my eyes along the few brief lines.
Over more than a decade of freelancing I’d become used to reading publisher emails this way: at a speed reminiscent of ripping wax strips from my tender skin. This experience has taught me that it’s cleanest and least painful to skip straight to the point, avoid the gentle first lines of a let down and scan directly down to the kicker phrases: ‘not for us’; ‘not this time’; ‘we have a full list’; ‘not for the market right now’; ‘borderline but…’
As any writer knows, rejection is part of the deal. It is subjective and it often serves to cut the wheat from the chaff – not so much in terms of written word value, but in relation to siphoning out the truly dedicated workers from the rest. A writing life takes years and decades of writing. With each draft, each new work, each new page, a writer becomes stronger. Writers who use rejection as an excuse to stop pushing never give themselves the chance to develop and eventually succeed.
In the writing world rejection serves as a strengthener: it either make you flail or it hardens you and make you more determined.
When I read Angela Meyer’s email and learned that she and the Echo Publishing team wanted to publish my book, I was elated. It was a beautiful feeling. I read those few short lines over and over, my heart pounding, my breath quick and short. I phoned my husband and he almost started to cry. He knew how much my book meant to me.
A few days later came the fear. Ghost Girls would be a published novel. Other people would read it. Everybody would have an opinion. What if it wasn’t well liked? What if it got canned? What if this positive experience, one that I’d dreamed about for so long, turned sour and negative?
I went to a crime writing awards night. ‘How are you feeling?’ asked writer Angela Savage. ‘Scared,’ I said. She looked at me and I registered a recognition in her eyes. ‘Don’t be,’ she said. ‘You’ve written a novel.’ I looked around the room and realised I was surrounded by other women who had also written novels. I realised I had found a community of people who had been through the same experience. I started to talk.
In the time since then, almost nine months, I’ve experienced a beautiful editing process, been delighted and inspired by the design for the cover of my book and learnt about the intricacies of typesetting and proofreading. All of these processes have helped me to make Ghost Girls the best it can be. By the time it was finished and ready for printing, I no longer felt scared. The book is what it was meant to be and I am happy.
But these last few months have also been about friendship and community building. Talking to other writers about their experiences of publication, both positive and negative. I’ve had time to reflect on my fears and talk to other writers about theirs. This community building, like rejection and criticism and also the small successes along the way, is a part of the writing life that helps make a writer stronger.
I’m now at the point where Ghost Girls is trucking out to bookshops. I’m yet to hold it in my hands, but I’ve been fortunate to have received a few early reviews. I still rip my eyes through the text, scanning for the ‘kicker’ words. Fortunately, I’ve not yet been kicked in the teeth. This of course may still happen, but I no longer feel scared. I feel ownership now. And I feel supported by a generous community of writers.
My book, like a real baby, took about nine months from contract to publication. It’s the perfect amount of time to complete the strengthening work – of both words and mind – that is so important.