My most recent rejection letter was a particularly lovely one.
'Maynard Hill' is vividly imagined and well-written...
This is high praise from an industry where anonymous compliments slips are the norm. I've seen the length of the letter, however, and I know there is a But coming.
... but although I enjoyed reading it I'm afraid to say that it's not for us.
Then there's the usual blurb about the competitive marketplace and the cordial, but standard ending:
We are sorry to disappoint you and wish you the best of luck in securing an agent to champion your work and find you a publisher.
I added it to the pile, feeling that the workshops I have booked onto on "How to Get Published" at the Cheltenham Literature Festival are probably long overdue. I have been sending my novel around the literary agents on the advice of the Artists' and Writers' Yearbook but I can't help thinking that I must be missing a trick. The pile of rejection letters nods wisely at me. Money well spent, it intones sagely.
Certainly I wasn't given the elixir of life at today's workshops and neither was I handed the gilded key to the magical kingdom of The Waterstones' Front Table. I wasn't told much I didn't already know. But. There's something about sitting in a room with the motley crew of the Good Ship Hope that gives the aspiring writer a sense of solidarity. We swap stories, we laugh. We have colleagues!
Writers don't really have colleagues. This can be one of the best and the worst aspects of writing. It's an intensely lonely world. However, I have no competition in my workplace; three days ago I was named Employee of the Month and that was on top of my recent promotion to Chief Writer. Soon I hope to be made Chief Writer Extrodinaire.
I have certainly taken some good lessons away from today's workshops by Jo Herbert, editor of the Artists' and Writers' Yearbook, and Alison Baverstock, who has written books on the subject and used to work in publishing herself. One thing that was particularly hammered home was that we need to wear an entirely different hat to sell ourselves to a world concerned by shrinking profit margins and increasing competition. Forget Keats, think Alan Sugar.
That seems to be one of the main problems for writers: the sort of people who sit in dusty little studies talking over plot developments with their Weeping Fig pot plant are seldom the types who could sell coal to Newcastle (cider to Sommerset, hippies to Totnes).
My covering letter certainly needs revisiting. In the meantime, I have a weekend of Pitching your Writing Idea. A whole weekend? Is that really necessary? The pile of rejection letters nods meaningfully.