What I’m really thinking: the failed novelist – A Response

I was saddened, humbled, and moved to respond to this week’s column in The Guardian’s ‘What I’m really thinking’ column this week, written by ‘the failed novelist‘.  It’s such an emotive word, ‘failed’, isn’t it?

I could have written that column myself. At least a good part of it. Feeling that writing was ‘my destiny’. Having a reputable and confident agent. The flurry of initial interest from publishers. Writing a second novel that was better than the first.

And in particular, I lived every word of this paragraph:

But, over several months, my manuscript was rejected for reasons that bewildered me: often because all the slots for debut literary fiction that year were taken; once because I was a woman; but mostly because editors “just didn’t love it enough”. When I took the call from my agent saying we had no deal, I cried like a little girl.

I also understand the feeling of being scarred. There is something very perilous about putting your novel, that very personal part of yourself out there for public scrutiny, even in a world of social media heart-on-your-sleeve exposure where there are seemingly no boundaries of the personal any more. It feels like trolling, when an editor says they just didn’t love it enough.

The emotional, intellectual, psychological and professional investment that goes into writing a novel and asking others to judge it is perhaps unlike the production of any other art form. I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about what self-publishing and KDP has done for levelling the playing field a bit, and that was a solution that helped me. But it would be trite of me to advise the author of that Guardian column to self-publish and be damned. It might be seen as patronising to suggest that writers are people who write, rather than only being those who are read by others.

We are watching a bereavement here, the passing and grieved-over loss of an aspiration. I have seen it many times before across many other professional lives outside writing. The inability to look with anything other than pain on the success of others, the incomprehension at the changing landscape, the feeling of neglect by ‘managers’ who should know better. These feelings are not unique to writers who have not been swept up by a publisher.

But when I look at those tables of books by new writers and new books by old writers and manufactured books by celebrities and those with talents in other fields that splurge into the literary realm, I don’t feel “pity and scorn for people with dreams”. I am just glad that I actually can write. Plenty of those I work with in all my other jobs struggle to communicate the things they want to say, in written or verbal form. The pleasure for me of writing is exactly that. The ability to say exactly what I want to say in the way I want to say it. How lucky I am. I would love for others to share in what I write under my other name, but it’s still a talent of its own that has brought me much joy, whether I am read widely or narrowly, whether I am praised or pitied.

And that joy, for all I have lost and mourned my once dearly-held aspiration, is still something I want to hold onto.


Cover Design for Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore Evie Woolmore is the author of magical realist historical fiction. Her novel Equilibirum was likewise signed by an agent and not quite loved enough by editors. But she loves it still.

When standing out just isn’t enough

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore shares her latest experience with a literary agent.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am happy to be publishing independently, and have largely enjoyed my experience with publishing direct to Kindle. But when I came across Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Firebird (which I reviewed recently) and realised that there were some elements in common with my own novels, I thought I would approach Kearsley’s literary agent, Felicity Blunt, to see if she thought the same. After the usual seemingly endless waiting period (in fact, a modest 4 weeks, which is short by many standards), I received this week a reply.

The Salt Factory by Evie WoolmoreWe enjoyed reading these sample chapters, which stood out from the many we
receive. Ultimately, though, we didn’t feel strongly enough to take the
project further, and therefore I’m afraid we are not able to offer you
representation. This is of course an entirely subjective response, and I
encourage you to continue with this project, and wish you every success with
your writing.

I wasn’t surprised, nor was I disappointed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made so plain in my covering letter that I was writing out of curiosity as much as desire for representation. But what struck me was the same question that always arises: what exactly are they looking for? A book they love, or a book that stands out? Everyone wants to feel strongly about books they read: therein lies the pleasure. But doesn’t pleasure belong to the reader? Surely from a commercial point of view, as the seller of books (agent) to another seller of books (publisher), you would rather represent a book that stands out, something original or different, something that isn’t like all the rest. But apparently that still isn’t the case. For if the book market has not moved on then nor has the same reply I have heard so many times before, from agents and editors alike: “I just didn’t feel strongly enough.”

And yet I do. I do feel strongly enough about writing original fiction to publish it myself.

Evie Woolmore’s novels The Salt Factory, Rising Up and Equilibrium are available from all Amazon sites, including UK and US