___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

on saying no


The best things in life usually come from saying yes. Yes to the boy or girl with whom you shared a first kiss, yes to the course you didn’t really want to go on but which altered your views on life, yes to that holiday that didn’t appeal but which turned out to be one of the best you ever had, yes to that someone you may well spend the rest of your life with . . .

But sometimes, when you are yearning for a bit of positivity, some help getting going in the right direction, when you’ve been bogged down and all you see is the quagmire miring your ambitions, an offer comes dangling down, waiting for you to grab onto with a single YES! -- and you reach out, eager, ready to pull yourself up with all your might, to start off and finally get you on your way, young man . . . when something inside whispers, Don’t do this. This is wrong.

And with a heart dropping out of sight, you look around the stale miasma of your grotty position but nevertheless say it. Shape the word and let it out.

No.

I wrote a longish fantasy novel a few years ago. I knew it wasn’t a fashionable book and that it wouldn’t sit prettily alongside the thick secondary-world-set fantasies you could find on the shelves in Waterstones. But I thought it had some good things going for it. A strong protagonist on an interesting journey. A continuing theme throughout, that held together, with some neat (I thought) subtext, working.around the notions of doors, real and imaginary, open and closed. Although it was complicated, and pretty dense in places, wasn’t at first glance a light read, I liked the book a lot, thought I’d done good work on it. Sure, it could have been improved with a professional editor going over it, but then what book couldn’t be? It was probably as good as I could make it, with my own resources. So the time had come to send the first chapters and a synopsis out, see what would happen.

The answer was a flat, unencouraging nothing.

Couldn’t find a publisher with a slushpile who’d touch it with the clich├ęd bargepole. No one wanted to read it. I didn’t get any feedback. Flat form rejections. Do not pass go, do not collect £200.

I rejigged the book, edited it so that it would meet some word-count maximums for other publishers I found that were open to submissions of a certain length. Probably cut the book too much, in retrospect, if I’m being honest. But hey, I didn’t realise it at the time.

Didn’t matter. Same result. Flat form rejections.

And then, toward the middle of last year, I got a nibble. An independent publisher that had previously specialised in non-fiction work was building a new fiction list and wanted to read more than the opening chapters. Encouraged but cautious, because by now I was beginning to think there was something seriously wrong with the book I’d not managed to grasp and therefore anyone who read it and wanted to see more must be missing the same thing about it that I was, I sent the book off.

A couple of weeks later, a list of small edits were suggested, and an offer made to put the book out.

Okay, I thought, and sat down and thought about things. The edits were mostly fairly well made ones, and I could see the point in them. Some I could argue the rub on and would do. But for the most part, I thought they helped the book. So let’s do this, I thought.

Hell, an offer is an offer, agents and publishers will tell you; and they’re rare enough in the business these days. If you’re offered one, take it!

Sure.

So what did I do?

Turned the offer down, of course.

Because I had a niggle at the back of my head. No, this is wrong. There’s something not right here. I didn’t know what that something wrong was – other authors, new and established ones, were and are happily being published and their books doing okay with the publishers – but I wasn’t happy. The more I thought about it, the more I disliked the marketing that would be done for the book, the publishing schedule, the outlets that book would initially be put out through. Slowly but surely I the book didn’t feel like it belonged with this publisher.

Which sounds like crazy talk. And worse than that in some ways, stupid talk. Because if this publisher wasn’t going to put the book out, who else was going to? And what good is a book if it isn’t being read?

You might well ask. I sure did.

In the end, though, that niggle won through. I hadn’t yet signed any contract and so I pulled the book before anything went legal (and no, I don’t think I made any friends in that particular publishing house, though I explained as best I could the rationale behind my thinking and my reservations about the production process).

As soon as I’d said No, I felt better. Saddened that the book still wasn’t seeing the light of day, but better for knowing I wasn’t doing the wrong thing by going down a route I’d become increasingly uncomfortable with.

I can’t honestly say I haven’t had any second doubts. It’s over six months later now, and the book is still on my hard-drive, unpublished. And it’s likely to stay that way. So it’s natural that I should on occasion wonder what would have happened if I had said yes.

So yes, I wonder about saying yes and saying no. The difference one might have brought about in my life compared to the other.
But I don’t think about it much.

Because I still think I made the right decision.

No.

Hard to say it. But sometimes right to say it.


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