How does this thing work….?

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creationI’ve spent the last few months reading and writing and getting rejected.

I’ve read lots of David Mitchell and other British writers like Mark Watson and Ross Raisin. I’ve read “It” books like The Girl on the Train and Station Eleven. And I’ve read modern classics like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Remains of the Day.

I’ve been working on expanding my dissertation to a full-length novel while avoiding the temptation to dabble with other novel ideas. I’ve been fiddling with Blue Dahlia, my finished novel which is floating around slush piles all over the UK and US. Every few months I send out a batch of five or six queries to agents. The process of distilling a 250+ page story into a page-length synopsis is well…. there are no words for how painful it is. I’ve done several drafts and consulted fellow writers, and I’m still not happy with it.

Which makes it unsurprising when the rejections come in. I’ve gotten 15 of those so far. Some are informal and encouraging, others are boilerplate and polite. But they all say the same thing, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

And then you hear about Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, which just won the Man Booker Prize despite being rejected by publishers over 70 times! or you hear about Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction even though it took ten years to get published. And you wonder how in the hell anybody manages to get their book out.

I knew getting a novel published was hard. I had no illusions on that front and I’m willing to do my waiting. But at times the whole enterprise seems to be some cosmic crap-shoot where nobody knows the rules and the ones who manage to crawl, bloody and bruised, across the finish line win.

How can over 70 industry professionals not have seen that James’ novel was Booker-level work? How could it have taken ten years for someone to see the value of McBride’s debut?

How does this thing work?