Sunday 2 June 2013

Turning the Tables

I just wrote a rejection letter to a publisher.

I have to admit it was kind of satisfying. Through a long chain of events that was probably nobody’s fault, I had been kept dangling for two years.  Passed from pillar to post, promised that this time it would be different, told that I was going to hear soon.  This time.  Definitely.

Earlier this year, I gave them a deadline.  (You can take that as the first real stirrings of the Indie Author within me.) 

“Given how protracted this process has already been,” I wrote, “would it be reasonable to request that you get back to me not later than 1st June?”

1st June, as it happens, was the day that my novella, Gift of the Raven, was published as part of Triskele Books summer launch.  We had a party in Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road. (What better venue could there be for a book launch?)  

Standing there, looking at the display of Triskele books, hearing people’s comments, I knew – if there had been any doubt in my mind before – this was the way I wanted to publish my novel too.

So today I wrote a rejection letter.

“Dear X ... I asked if I might receive a response from you, one way or another, no later than 1st June. As this date has now passed, I would like to thank you for your interest in my work, but withdraw it with immediate effect, in order to pursue other options.”

I won’t tell you who the publisher was, because I don’t bear them any rancour.  I have some idea of the kind of pressures that editors and agents are under from the big global mega-corps that either own their businesses already or are trying to gobble them up.  Publishing is no longer first and foremost about finding and nurturing talent, about allowing readers time to discover new voices, about supporting authors’ careers.  I’m not saying those things don’t still happen – they do, of course they do.  But they happen in smaller and smaller pockets because too many in those big global mega corps think of books as commodities and authors as production lines.  They don’t open up new production lines unless they’re sure that they’re going be profitable, and they shut down those that turn out not to be. It’s just business.

Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot.  Maybe I’m cutting myself off from a level of marketing and distribution I can’t hope to emulate as an indie author.  Maybe.  But I will choose when I publish my book.  I will decide what it’s called and what is on the cover.  I will determine how long it remains on sale to readers.  I won’t have the help and advice of a traditional literary editor, but neither will my ideas be overruled by some anonymous marketing professional from a supermarket chain.

I feel liberated.


  1. Haha! Well done, Catriona - how empowering is that! A great example to would-be indies everywhere who are also sitting waiting (and waiting... and waiting...) for a response from a publisher. Looking forward to reading your novel, when YOU choose to publish it, and with the cover that YOU like best :)

  2. Bloody brilliant. More authors need to reject publishers in this way. In no other industry is it acceptable to keep a client or supplier hanging on, wondering and waiting ad infinitum. Massive respect for your actions. I feel sure that with this kind of conviction, your book will do amazingly well.

  3. Catriona, I'm also very familiar indeed with the prolonged waiting-process and the eternal silence, so congratulations on the grace and dignity with which you've rejected them and so many good wishes for your continued independent career!

  4. Here here! Good for you, and may your decision lead to many fantastic future opportunities!

  5. Hooray for you! I told my agent to withdraw my last novel from doing the rounds when I realised I just couldn't be bothered to waste 2 years waiting for all those rejections to come in. I'd been indie for a while and doing OK, so I came to the desion that I was going to stay indie.

    Oh, the relief! The sense of freedom & self-respect! But possibly this video of Dylan Moran on Youtube might have helped me make up my mind.

  6. I understand the pressures on them too, but what about manners? I've been approached by an agent or asked for work by agents, then heard nothing. Not even a polite 'no thanks'. Even agents I've met socially or been introduced to by writer friends. Your publisher could have spared time for a two-line email surely. Nowadays it's rare to get a rejection letter! More likely just silence. Good for you taking this brave step and good luck.

  7. oh and I've had three agents in the past who I had to part ways with when they didn't do anything for me. I've had ten books published by publishers (which I found) and one fully indie.

  8. Congratulations Catriona! and good luck. The indie route is hard, but it's the only way. I don't know why we've put up with being messed around so much for so long.

  9. Wonderful, Cat!!!