By Angharad Lodwick
As any aspiring writer knows, or is shortly about to find out, writing and rejection go hand in hand. J K Rowling was famously rejected as many as 12 times before she managed to find a publisher for her best-selling Harry Potter series. While I’m not quite at the stage of submitting manuscripts to publishers I’ve had my fair share of pitches and ideas rejected, and one of the most intimidating things about the prospect of writing longer work is the inevitability of more rejection.
When I was invited to attend panels at ‘Intro2Industry’, a three-day series of workshops as part of the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY manuscript development program, it was the panel on ‘Navigating Rejection and Success’ that caught my eye. My fellow ACT Lit-Blogger Emma Gibson was at the panel as well, and as we’re part of the online blogging program rather than HARDCOPY itself, we decided to dub ourselves the SOFTCOPIES instead.
When I arrived on the Saturday afternoon, I was hoping to get some tips on building resilience in the face of rejection on a grander scale. HARDCOPY Project Officer Nigel Featherstone chaired the panel presented by acclaimed authors Frank Bongiorno and Kim Mahood, and it swiftly became clear that my ideas about rejection were very narrow indeed.
Kim, author of several award-winning books including Position Doubtful, stressed the importance of practising self-rejection and learning to reject your own material to sort the chaff from the hay. Learning to let go of bad ideas or bad writing is really hard, especially when you’ve already invested so much time, and Kim talked about all the tens of thousands of words she deleted when working on her latest book.
She raised the issue of dealing with rejection in the form of comments and feedback from editor: “You think you’re almost done with the thing, and then you look at it and you’re like, f***”.” Having received many comments and criticisms on my articles from editors, it is definitely a learning curve when it comes to letting go of your ego in the editing process. Critical feedback isn’t a reflection on you, and both Kim and Frank emphasised the skills involved in editing and the necessity of trusting that editors know their stuff and know the audience.
Kim said one particular feeling that she has experienced is that “our books are generally a lot more intelligent that we are”, and there is a lot of pressure when touring and doing author events to be as eloquent and engaging in person as you are in your books. However, unlike books that you edit and rewrite and edit and rewrite, public speaking and self-promotion is a completely different skill set and you have to get it right the first time.
Kim and Frank also shared their experiences on what comes after publication: success.
Frank talked about dealing with success in the media, both in print and online. He said that negative reviews can be confronting, but even more confronting is the new trend in online abuse. Frank talked about the experiences of authors such as Dr Anita Heiss and Benjamin Law having to deal with racist commentary, harassment and threats of defamation.
Another issue raised was success not matching up to your expectations. Kim recalled a time when she had an author event booked with a second author, and the other author couldn’t make it at the last minute. The entire audience left, and the only ones remaining were representatives from the ACT Writers Centre, a literary journalist, and a man (after my own heart) who went to everything for the free food.
Both authors discussed developing realistic expectations when it comes to things like prizes, sales and wealth, and spoke of the kind of success that comes from reader appreciation and having people connect to your books.
This panel was a great dose of reality mixed with industry experience, and I felt like I walked away that afternoon with a much more holistic understanding of the rejection faced by authors pre and post publication. I’m really inspired to get working on my own manuscript and put in an application for a future HARDCOPY program myself.
Angharad Lodwick has been book blogging in Canberra for the past two years at Tinted Edges where she waxes lyrical about every single book she reads. Angharad runs a book-themed podcast called Lost the Plot and has been published in a number of online journals such as Feminartsy.
Angharad has a lot to say, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces. She is a very familiar face at National Library of Australia author events and liveblogs them before lining up to get her books signed.
Angharad loves to get out and about in the Canberra community to chat to people about various book-related things like street libraries, the Lifeline Book Fair, book shops and book clubs. Her family also runs a book charity called Books for the World. Angharad recently upcycled books for an art project with Blemish Books at Noted Writers Festival 2017.
Angharad is participating in the 2017 ACT Lit-Bloggers of the Future program, which is an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre in collaboration with the National Library of Australia. Participants are mentored by Sue Terry of Whispering Gums.
I was so sorry I couldn’t get to any of the events (with the other SOFTCOPIES – love it), so your write up is great, Angharad. Thanks. For me, who has no plans to be a published author, the point I most related to was “our books are generally a lot more intelligent than we are”. I feel like that with my blog too. You can spend time crafting a blog post, but when I’m at, say, my reading group, I burble along and am barely coherent. I’m glad I’m not the only one who experiences this! (Though, I’ve heard Kim Mahood and she sounded good to me!)
And, that point re negative criticism after publication. Authors of all time have had to learn to deal with that, but this hate stuff on social media is another whole issue, isn’t it. I feel for Heiss, Law and others who have to contend with that. Why people can’t engage in discussion and disagreement politely and rationally I’ll never really understand.