I know, I know, after all that lovely writer’s karma I had built up yesterday here I was, suddenly being asked to rip apart my own temple of peace and imminent publishing deals. But joy was mine! She was a poet! I had a valid reason for this rejection; at Penguin we don’t publish poets! Oh rapture, the karmic equilibrium was restored.
The letter had actually been lovingly handwritten and was very touching, I’m sure it wasn’t the only time a publishing house had received such a letter. Thankfully I was allowed, nay, positively encouraged, to write a lovely reply where I urged said poet to keep writing but to also contact specific poetry publishers. I then advised The Poet, as I would to any writers, to search for an agent.
Note to all would-be authors: please do your research. There is very little to be gained from sending an unsolicited manuscript, that is, not sent from your agent, and you must do your research. It’s so important that you target publishers that you know will enjoy and understand your work. You don’t want to write a gritty novel of passion and despair only to have a jacket covered in curly handwriting and little gold, shiny hearts. Choosing the wrong publisher would be like sending a demo of classical arias to a heavy metal record company. Probably.
So, today I felt a lot more confident approaching the huge marble columns of 80 The Strand. I’ve been here before, I thought. I’m practically a pro at this turnstile beepy card entrance matrix, I thought, as I got my bag stuck in the gates. It’s far less embarrassing when you know what you’re doing, I said to myself, swiping my hand expertly over the door sensor like some kind of publishing wizard. I negotiated those silver ‘n’ glass corridors with strides of confidence. I wasn’t getting lost. I was getting lost with purpose.
Once I’d found the right floor I knew that the first place I should probably investigate (because I knew how to find it) was the tea and coffee room. Myself, along with roughly forty other sleepy looking publishy people, bumped into each other in the kitchen pouring various hot liquids in ever more dangerous circumstances. I don’t know how we, as a species, evolved into drinking scalding hot drinks at 8.30am but somehow we all managed it relatively burn-free. I marvelled at the compost bin the kitchen, possibly the first I have seen in London and, thinking about it, probably one of the few intentional compost heaps in London. Considering the amount of paper in that building I’m not surprised there are so many dedicated recycling bins but it did hearten this little hippy’s heart.
So for my first trick that morning I read a submission. I was informed by Sarah that I was allowed to print out the manuscripts if I didn’t want to read them from a screen all day again. This was exciting, not only because I wouldn’t again have to step out in the evening lights of London blinking like a tiny publishing mole, but because I got to use the Industrial Printer. The big one, boys and girls. Let me tell you, Mark Corrigan, if you think printing a few warm copies is fun you should try printing a solid two hundred pages of fresh words. Good grief. I actually hugged that manuscript on the way back to my desk.
Now, this was an interesting one because, unlike yesterday, this was a novel. Certainly not a bad novel, but not the right novel for this particular publishing house. It was interesting to see a submission that, whilst obviously written by a talented author, (you listening, karma?) was simply the wrong genre and type of story. It was also fascinating how quickly I could ascertain that it wouldn’t be suitable. Obviously, a lowly intern such as I (thankfully) isn’t given the final say over whether a script is accepted, but it’s heartening to see how many opinions are gathered just for the one submission. It’s also good to see that the rejection letter your tears are smudging the ink of is telling you the truth; you can write a good novel without being right for that publisher.
I pottered around doing some more reading before the dreaded (but not so bad and, really surprisingly, hopeful) rejection letter, then I ate my lunch in the beautiful, Penguin-themed lunch area overlooking the Royal Festival Hall, the Shard, Waterloo and Embankment Bridge, the Thames and a fair amount of unsuccessful rollerskaters.
I then had a very strange moment; as I was putting the letter into the mail bin I noticed a large packet. Not unusual, you may think. But on the packet was the name of a friend of mine from school who now lives in the city and works for a large, unmistakable corporation right here in London. It was certainly him, as it was addressed to that unmistakable corporation. It was surreal to see their name on this packet and I thought to myself, ah, what a strange coincidence! I shall run out and tell Tarquin (I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to root out that impossibly subtle pseudonym) forthwith! He shall be pleased and probably equally intrigued! But wait, what possible reason would Penguin have for sending my friend, who also happens to write, a huge parcel? Unless…unless we were returning his manuscript! So, I mused the dilemma of the afternoon over a cup of peppermint tea and decided to keep a respectful silence. I wouldn’t want to cause my friend the pain of the rejected writer. No, I decided, I shall leave that to the professionals. They probably send out headed tissues with each manuscript rejection. They’re far more used to dealing with this scenario:
Me: Hi Tarquin!
(possibly) Tarquin: Hi Charlotte!
Me: So I was in Penguin today and totally saw a huge manuscript-type package waiting to go back to you! How about that for weird, hey!
(Tarquin dissolves into uncontrollable sobs).
So with that cheerful thought I shall sign off for tonight. I have been left with a novel to read and, honestly? It’s pretty bloody good.
But, alas, it isn’t by Tarquin.
P.S. Many thanks for those have read, commented and offered me tea on the last post. I’m not sure if I can reply on here but if you see a lost looking woman swiping an ineffectual magic wand over a sensor and making ‘whoooosh’ noises like a Star Wars door on one of the floors of 80 The Strand I accept all types of chocolate biscuits.