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A happy ending to a long story of rejection

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Here’s me reading my book seconds after it began existing (thanks to Marisa Wikramanayake for the pic).

It’s not that long ago I was feeling glum about ever getting another book published. Look at me, here, in the past, all glum. Now I have two books coming out at the same time. It’s pretty hard to feel glum about that (though knowing me I might try). There’s The Handbook, out in a couple of weeks. And now my manuscript has won Seizure’s Viva la Novella prize and turned into an actual book called Formaldehyde (which, coincidentally, is a book about hands: a hand book, if you like).

First, thank you so much to Seizure (particularly publisher David Henley) and to editor Marisa Wikramanayake for choosing my manuscript and for putting in so much effort to make it the gorgeous little thing it is today (seriously, it’s worth getting a copy of Formaldehyde or one of the other winners – The end of seeing by Christy Collins and Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward – just so you can touch the delicious, waxy covers Seizure came up with).

If you wanted to do a case study of the long, hard road a manuscript can take, Formaldehyde might not be a bad choice. I wrote the first draft in November 2000, my first attempt at Nanowrimo (then in its second year). On November 30 it was 50,000 words long and I thought it was bloody brilliant, so I sent it to an agent. It wasn’t, so they rejected it. I rewrote it a bit and sent it to a few more agents. They rejected it. I turned it into a 70,000-word novel. Several more agents and publishers rejected it. I rewrote it and sent it out some more so it could get rejected. By 2014 it had accrued 15 rejections.

Last year Rose Michael, who is a fine person, a great editor and the author of mysterious puzzle-novel The asking game, helped me rewrite it again, this time as a novella. Her excellent suggestions really sharpened the story. But I was also surprised how much, in the intervening 15 years, my view of the characters and what they would do had changed. Giant chunks of the plot needed to be totally rewritten, mainly because I am now a far less romantic person than I was at the turn of the century.

Anyway, the point is that I am so, so delighted it is finally a thing people can read, and a thing I am proud to have them read. Sometimes it’s worth the wait.

(If you’d like to hear Marisa and I burble on about writing, editing and a bunch of other stuff, here’s a podcast from Australian Women Writers.)

Parents + husband + publisher = lovely.
Parents + husband + publisher = lovely.
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16 thoughts on “A happy ending to a long story of rejection

  1. Congratulations on Formaldehyde – and amazing that you persevered over all that time and rewrites and succeeded. You’ve made me wonder what it would be like to revisit my first (and unpublished) novel. I spent so much time rewriting (and taking everyone’s advice) it that in the end I didn’t recognise it anymore, and came to hate it. Interesting how much your perspective on your story and characters changes.

    1. Thanks so much, Eleanor. My perseverance was also helped by my aunt, who was infuriated that no one would publish this story that she thought was ace. Every now and again she’d ask me if I was still trying, and then I would, again, for a bit. Perhaps I should have also mentioned that early on I got a professional manuscript assessment which suggested the story was great but that I’d have a hell of a time getting it published – the assessor may have dabbled in fortune-telling as well.
      It was certainly interesting to go back and read the story really critically. I think having had a book come out, and knowing which bits of that made me embarrassed now they were public, really helped me be a lot harsher about this manuscript, less forgiving of weakness and meanderings and in-jokes.

  2. Look forward to reading it – great to read about the work that has gone into it – tenacity yes, great, but also the flexibility of mind to change things. Impressive!

  3. That’s a great story of perseverance Jane – an essential quality for writers! Congrats again on your well-earned success and I look forward to buying the novella – either at The Sun in Yarraville or by any means possible.

  4. Congratulations, Jane! It’s wonderful new. And congratulations, too, for sticking at it—you’ve given me hope, although I’m sure you’re a much better writer than me. I love that you’ve worked on ‘Formaldehyde’ for so long—I know that sounds mean, but it’s not meant to—especially how you could spot the flaws in your earlier versions when you picked it up again. I’m at the point with my novel where I’m going to finish this rewrite and if no one wants it, I’m putting it away for a year or two. Firstly, I’m sick to death of it (if it were a husband, I’d been asking him to move out), and secondly, I’ve lost all objectivity. I’d love to have objectivity without the need to separate, but I think writing is one of those things that you sometimes need to step away from for a while for the insights to come.

    1. Oh thanks so much, Louise. Yeah, I hate giving up on something I’ve already put work into (I’m a great cannibaliser of old, failed manuscripts). Good luck with separating yourself from your manuscript! I’ve sometimes wondered if it would work to read it all out loud, record it, then listen back…

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