I Never Thought I’d Be This Happy to Get Rejected

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

Aspiring novelists must have issues. Getting published is a process which involves being rejected so much you could probably put it on your CV as a part-time role. In order to be an aspiring novelist, you have to have a very thick skin, or at least the ability to keep your crying on the inside when you’re at a party and someone asks: ‘So, how’s the writing going?’

Like any wannabe famous published author, I’ve had my fair share of rejections. If anything, I haven’t had nearly as many as I should have, because I’ve been busy; because I’ve been afraid; because I didn’t think I was good enough to even bother sending it out; because I spilled jam on the keyboard – the list goes on.

I did, however, rather recently get rejected again. And, surprisingly, I’m now going to tell you why that’s made me very happy. All right, I admit, I’m actually going to brag a little bit. But I need to tell as many people as possible, so it is either blog about it, or stand out in the street with a megaphone and accost people trying to buy shoes, and mobile phones, and cabbages, and bits of string, et cetera.

It all began just under a year ago (cue wistful, memory inducing harp music). The fantasy and science fiction publisher HodderScape held an ‘open submissions’. Basically these days if you want to submit your manuscript to a publisher, you have to go through an agent. Getting an agent involves pretty much the same process as you used to have to go through to get a publisher, which means your book now has to do it all twice, and the odds of success are probably considerably lessened. Open submissions are when a publisher invites people who don’t have an agent to submit their manuscripts.

Considering how hard it is to get an agent, an opportunity like this is golden for aspiring writers. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people would jump at the chance to have. In fact, a lot of people did. That’s important to remember.


I submitted a couple of things. One of them was a book I’ve been working on pretty much since childhood, which keeps accidentally evolving and getting more complicated (although not a boring, overworked kind of way) and so was never actually finished. I got the first three chapters all nice and polished – for what felt like the 15th or so iteration – wrote a synopsis for the novel, which is painful by the way, and sent it off along with a covering letter.

Incidentally, I also submitted Fallen on Good Times, just because I could. That one didn’t get very far, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s already published, after all.

Shortly after this – five days in fact – my son was born. This somewhat altered the paradigms of my life, and I forgot about such trivial things as hopes and dreams. Over the next 10 or so months my focus became one of eagerly anticipating and celebrating the micro things in life: Logan opening his eyes; my wife allowing me to get Logan a Batman onesie; Logan saying ‘Guuuuu’. I didn’t have time for my future; his was all that mattered. And it was happening a lot faster than mine.

It did occur to me once or twice to wonder what happened to my other book. It hadn’t been explicitly rejected, but publishers and agents are a bit like jobs – you’re very unlikely to hear back if you don’t get one. I assumed that the book had been read and passed over not long after Fallen on Good Times, and that HodderScape were simply too busy to get in touch and let me know.

I was wrong.


So fast forward, or rewind depending upon whether you are still living in my narrative past or your actual present, to last Thursday. Walking home from work I checked my emails on my phone and found one from a certain large fantasy/science fiction publisher. It was largely a form rejection, but there were a couple of interesting pieces of information, namely the fact that 1,500 manuscripts were submitted, under this paragraph:

‘We are aware that you submitted your novel to us quite some time ago. Multiple members of the team read and discussed your manuscript before we came to a decision, and we were all very impressed with it, which is why it has been a while since you last heard from us.’

I’ll come back to the number of manuscripts in a minute, because there is something very cool about that which I want to tell you. But I didn’t find out the really cool thing until later that evening. The information in the paragraph above is cool enough, though.

When a book is submitted to a publisher it is usually assessed by the aptly named ‘reader’. This is a person whose job it is to wade through the hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts from aspiring authors and to sift out those of some merit. The huge majority of submissions to a publisher or agent fall at this first hurdle. If the reader finds a manuscript that they think has promise then it gets passed higher.

So the fact that this email from Hodder told me that my opening chapters had been read by several people in the team was incredibly heartening. This meant those chapters hadn’t just impressed one person: they had impressed several. While they were eventually rejected, doing so was a tough decision. This was not a case that one person picked up my opening chapters, read the first few lines and went ‘Well this is terrible’, before shredding the pages, setting fire to the shredded debris, burying the burning embers under three feet of concrete, and then blowing up the concrete. They were ‘very impressed’, and my opening chapters must have shown a lot of promise.

vintage clock

But now let’s get onto the really cool thing. The really heartening thing. You see, about this time I was scrolling through my Facebook feed I saw a status from a previous university lecturer of mine – the insanely prolific creator of National Flash Fiction Day, Calum Kerr – saying how excited he was that the book he had submitted to a publisher who had an open call for submissions had made it into the top 25. It was the fact he said that the publisher had been assessing 1,500 manuscripts that piqued my interest.

Could this have been the same publisher, HodderScape? But as soon as I wondered this I was confused. His status had been posted a couple of days before I received my rejection. So if he knew that his book had made it into the top 25, and he knew that before I was rejected, what did that mean for me? Sure enough, I got in touch and discovered that it was the same publisher. Not only this, but I found out that he only knew his book had made it into the top 25 because Hodder had been commenting on a recent blog post they wrote to keep everybody up to date on how they were progressing through the huge pile of submissions. And at just after midday, on 5th July, they commented to let everybody know that:

‘We’ve got about 25 manuscripts left to make decisions on, which means we have contacted slightly more than 98% of everyone who submitted to us.’

That was two days before I received my rejection. Which means that out of 1,500 (yes, 1,499 once you take Fallen on Good Times into account, but I’m sure they rounded the figure, and so will I) my opening chapters made it into the top 25. My chapters, my synopsis, my idea, survived the process where 1,475 others did not. My work made it into the top 1.67%.

I said at the beginning that getting rejected is a big part of being a writer. Well, so is self-doubt. I have plenty of comments, compliments, and indications that I am a good writer. It should be enough to have an unshakeable faith in my ability, but it’s not. I still fear, in my darkest moments, that I’ll never make it all of the way.

Developments like this remind me why I keep going. They remind me why I’ve always had the determination to keep on working. Being in the top 25 of most things is good (unless you’re in a ‘Best Door In An Advent Calendar’ competition, or ‘Best Episode In A Season Of 24’ countdown). Yes, I got rejected because there were better books. There are always better books.

libro antico aperto

One of the problems with being a writer is the uncertainty. I have plenty of rejections that comprise of nothing more than a couple of polite sentences on a sheet of A4 paper. Agents and publishers are usually too busy to provide personalised feedback. Which means you usually never know how your work really fared.

They might have thought it was the worst thing they had ever read; they might have thought it was great, but just needed one more rewrite. There is a huge spectrum spanning failure and success upon which your work could fall at any point, yet the average rejection letter gives you no indication whatsoever as to your bearing. It can be excruciating.

On the other hand, you could be holding something brilliant, but only failed due to the personality, tastes, or idiosyncrasies of that particular reader for that particular publisher. The next one on your list could be the one who absolutely loves it. We all know the stories of the famous authors who got rejected multiple times. But at the same time, the words on the page could be all wrong, the characters could be weak, the plot could be boring. You could be wasting your time, and opportunities, by sending out dirge.

Which is what makes this rejection so special. It’s why I’m so happy to have been rejected. Because this rejection tells me something that rejections usually don’t. It might seem oxymoronic, but this rejection has told me I’m good. I nearly got all the way to the end (although, in this case the end is actually technically the beginning: having the opportunity to submit the full manuscript to the editor for assessing).

So now I know that those opening chapters are solid. They did get rejected, so maybe they need a few tweaks here and there. Maybe a key essence of the character was missing, perhaps the world wasn’t quite as developed as it needed to be. Maybe the sentence structure exhibited some repeat issues. But overall it’s got a lot of promise. I know that I can send those opening chapters out to other agents and publishers, knowing that they are good enough to get far. They might not have quite worked for Hodder, but they might work perfectly for someone else.

Oh, and there’s also the small issue of the fact that, because Logan was born pretty much as soon as these chapters were submitted, I never actually had time to rework the rest of the book in-line with this new opening. So, to be honest, if they’d accepted them and asked for the full manuscript, the next few weeks of my life would have been frantic, frenzied, and frenetic.

I mean I do have a book to be writing – the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times isn’t going to produce itself. But finishing the second book is going to be somewhat easier now. I’m still level-headed, I’m still objective, I’m still well aware of my flaws, but thanks to the events of last week, I can sit back in my chair and get to work on book 2 knowing that every sentence I dictate is coming out of the mind of an author who, if he works hard, has a tangible – if remote – chance of getting all the way.

The Wilderhark Tales come to an end

I think Danielle E. Shipley is just doing this all to spite me, really. She seems to have taken it upon herself to make a lot of self-published authors look bad. A couple of years ago she published Book One of the Wilderhark Tales – a clever reimagining of some classic stories and fables. It was entitled The Swan Prince, and it was very good. Now, with the pending release of the aptly titled The Story’s End, the 7-part novella series comes to…well, an end.

Today is the cover reveal for that final book. And what a cover it is, too:


As if the cover alone wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, here’s some info:

For Gant-o’-the-Lute, “ever after” has been less than happy. With the last of Carillon’s charm over him gone, the minstrel-king puts royalty behind him in pursuit of the music he once knew and the lifelong dream he let slip through his fingers. But dark whispers on the wind warn that time is running out – not only for Lute and the apprentice in his shadow, but the whole of earth and Sky.

The Story’s End (Book Seven of The Wilderhark Tales”, coming October 13, 2015; now available to add to your Goodreads “To Read” shelf.

You can buy and read the other six volumes from Amazon. Head on over to Danielle’s website to learn more about them.

Can’t wait to see what you’ve got planned next, Danielle.


Author interview – Danielle E. Shipley, The Surrogate Sea

Danielle E. Shipley Author Photo, Amazon JPEGIn between running around like a madman these past couple of weeks, I caught up with Danielle E. Shipley to ask her some questions about writering and her latest book. So what have you got to say for yourself Danielle, eh? Eh?

This is book 6 in The Wilderhark Tales. So that’s where we are as readers, but what about you as a writer – you must be at least one book ahead in your mind?

Always one jump ahead, Disney Aladdin-style! I’ll be spending at least the first part of Camp NaNoWriMo (the spring/summer version of National Novel Writing Month) in April getting a collection of shorter Wilderhark pieces into publishable shape for Book 6.5 of the series – “The Sky-Child (and other stories)”. That will provide some additional context for how it all ends in Book 7. And I’m putting you all on notice right now: There will be heartwreck. …which may or may not be an actual word, but nonetheless describes Book 7 all too aptly.

People might assume that by book six, you’ve got this whole book writing thing down. What specific challenges did book 6 provide?

Every new story is its own beast – some of them even more beastly than others. Keeping everything straight in “The Surrogate Sea” was tricky, because the story isn’t straight. It twists and tangles all over the place, with a number of motivations in direct conflict with one another, and characters making their moves at supernatural speed. I had to keep a careful watch on the choreography of events to avoid a mess of implausible plot holes, and couldn’t turn my back on anyone for long, or they’d run smack into a corner there was no writing them out of. And then one of the main characters had to go and— well, I won’t tell you what she did, but let’s just say it left a lot of us pretty rattled.

Do you have an end point in mind for The Wilderhark Tales, or will it continue as long as your funny ole brain comes up with ideas?

There’s a definite end for the main series in Book 7, though it’s not the last you’ll see of the characters by a long shot. For one thing, see Exhibit A. For another, I’ve got legendary plans for someone who won’t be properly introduced until the last book, and as for the world as a whole… I’m still toying with ideas for down the road. Even a firm “The End” only means the end of so much. There’s always more story out there, somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

Where do you keep the collected works of Danielle E. Shipley in your home? Special display cabinet? Glass case protected by laser beams? A shrine?

Secreted behind a framed print of a mysterious woman attended by ravens and wolves on decrepit castle grounds. …No, wait, that’s my baby nephew’s room. The Shipley section of our personal library is duplicated on both my bookcase and my parents’, with Wilderhark Tales, my debut novel, and various anthologies in a steadily expanding row. Looking at the parade of spines is both gratifying and an obvious testament to my inclination toward shades of blue.

Any other projects in the works you can give us a teaser for?

Surrogate Sea cover, frontNext on the publishing docket: The refugees of Skycastle survived the end of the world only to fall prey to the dreaded Lord of Wings. Together with an assassin princess, a young man gone mad with missing memories must venture into the monster’s mechanized fortress to vanquish him once and for all. But the threat against Skycastle takes a most unexpected shape, forcing both princess and madman to brave the pain of the pasts that left them broken.

“A Mind Prone to Wander”, coming this summer! It will be my third short story included in a Xchyler Publishing anthology, and my first go at Steampunking a fairytale, so I’m pretty darn excited.

You’ve published or been featured in several books now. How does the reality of the position you’re in now compare to how you imagined, all the way back before The Swan Prince?

Oh, gosh, not counting some charity anthologies from a few years back, we’re at 10 books out in the world since the end of May, 2013. That’s… wow. I think I underestimated not only how fast I would move on my own (I’m a machine! Somebody stop me!), but how many doors would open to me through independent publishing houses right when I’d determined to take my career by the horns.

My past self being more optimistic than realistic, she figured I’d have more riches and fame already. And I mean, fatter royalty checks and exploding popularity still have their appeal, but in lieu of that, I’m happy with the work I’m getting out there, and my heart’s been touched time and again by some of the reactions I’ve gotten from readers. That’s worth a lot.

I also probably trusted me to know how to balance work and leisure time better, by now. That’s cute, Past Danielle. Downright adorable.

Does that feeling of holding your latest book in your hands in print form ever get old?

Never. Stroking, smiling, and the sniffing of pages happens every time a new title arrives in the mail. That reliable high is part of the reason I stick with this authorial nonsense through thick and thin.

When was the last time you read your earlier books? Have you ever read them back after all the editing/proofing/launching has been done?

By the time I’ve gone through proofread number gazillion-and-nine with a Wilderhark Tale, I am heartily sick of looking at the text. I recently managed a brief glimpse back at the first few chapters of “The Swan Prince” – (heh-hey! That only took almost two years!) – but since each book of the series is an extension of the ones that came before, part of me is still wailing, “Too soon!” I think it may be different once I’ve had some closure time after Book 7’s left the nest. ‘Til then… time to sicken myself over the perfecting of the next book!

You can buy The Surrogate Sea on:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Sir Terry Pratchett: An Obituary

Image Source: BBC News
Image Source: BBC News

These words will probably be lost amongst a sea of mourning, but that’s OK. I am just one among thousands who will be writing something like this. And in this case, perhaps it is more important to write the words, than it is to have them read. The fact my farewell to the great Sir Terry Pratchett will be eclipsed by better, more important eulogies is fitting. The outpouring of love for him following the news of his death earlier today will drown me out, and that is exactly what Terry deserves.

With over 70 books to his name, Terry Pratchett managed a rare feat – to create fantasy that even the most snobbish of literary types could love and be absorbed into. He showed the true power of the genre: the power to say profound things about every aspect of our existence, far better and more clearly than its possible when you are confined to the realms of the real.

The Discworld had such an influence on me as a writer. My work was often described as ‘Pratchett-esque’, to the point where I had to reign it in, for I wanted to be seen as more than a wannabe. As everyone does during their teenage years, I searched for a source of identity and inspiration. As a young writer, Sir Terry was a beacon of talent; a literary lighthouse that steered me towards new ways of thinking and of crafting with words. Even today I still dream and aspire to emulate his success. But never the man himself, because Sir Terry wouldn’t be Sir Terry if he was easily replicated.

His death has left a hole in the literary world. As readers, our only salve for this wound is the many wonderful novels he had left us with. But it will never be enough. It is not only his work that is beloved; it is the man himself.

Every time we turned a page, we fell in love a little more.

Cover Reveal – The Surrogate Sea (Wilderhark Tales Book 6)

Surrogate Sea cover, front
It’s time for another of Danielle E. Shipley’s Wilderhark Tales. Book six, The Surrogate Sea, comes out next month, and I’m taking part in the cover reveal. Look at it. Yum. So what’s it about?

The Sea’s storm brought them together, and the Sea’s rules will keep them apart, unless the mute but melodious Muirigan can find another to take her place, freeing her to pursue the human man she loves. But when her plan collides with the schemes of the sly South Wind, a princess’s agenda to look for love in all the most fantastic places, and a prince whose head and heart have been long years at war, the result is a tragedy of errors from which the world might never recover.The Surrogate Sea (Book Six of The Wilderhark Tales)

The Surrogate Sea, out Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Find it on Goodreads here.

Genre = Young-Adult Fairytale / Fantasy / Romance

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An enchantress’s curse turns a spoiled royal into a beast; a princess’s pricked finger places her under a hundred-year spell; bales of straw are spun as golden as the singing harp whisked down a giant beanstalk – all within sight of Wilderhark, the forest that’s seen it all.

You’ve heard the stories – of young men scaling rope-like braids to assist the tower-bound damsel; of gorgeous gowns appearing just in time for a midnight ball; of frog princes, and swan princes, and princes saved from drowning by maidens of the sea. Tales of magic. Tales of adventure. Most of all, tales of true love.

Once upon a time, you knew them as fairytales. Know them now as Wilderhark’s.

Author Bio:

Danielle E. Shipley Author Photo, Amazon JPEGDanielle E. Shipley’s first novelettes told the everyday misadventures of wacky kids like herself. …Or so she thought. Unbeknownst to them all, half of her characters were actually closeted elves, dwarves, fairies, or some combination thereof.When it all came to light, Danielle did the sensible thing: Packed up and moved to Fantasy Land, where daily rent is the low, low price of her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, firstborn child, sanity, and words; lots of them. She’s also been known to spend short bursts of time in the real-life Chicago area with the parents who home schooled her and the two little sisters who keep her humble.

When she’s not living the highs and lows of writing, publishing, and all that authorial jazz, she’s probably blogging about it at EverOnWord.wordpress.com.

Kicking off 2015 with a dark, paranormal fantasy anthology

Gates of Erebus CoverIntroducing Gates of Erebus, a dark paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction anthology featuring some of the best indie authors from around the world. And me.

Towards the end of last year I was approached by Su Williams about a fantasy anthology she was planning on putting together. Su wanted stories a bit on the darker side, and I jumped at the chance to have something published in the company of some great writers.

It had also been a while since I had written a short story, and I felt like stretching some unused writing muscles. Short stories are very different to novels, being more of a snapshot of narrative. I think of them more as raising a point, where a novel would raise the issue, explore its themes, and resolves its plotline.

My story started with a very simple concept. If you were to imprison a vampire, because they live forever, their guards would spend their entire life in the monster’s company. What would happen if a guard, on her way up the ranks and fighting in wars, had to chance to understand killing and evil from the point of view of the vampire?

On One Side, a Monster tells the story of an ambitious soldier who returns to the vampire at various points in her life. But is she looking to understand, or is she looking for guidance?

Gates of Erebus is an anthology featuring short stories on a range of subjects, from deadly serious to darkly humorous. You can get it in Kindle and in Paperback, and all profits go to the charity Reading Is Fundamental. You can find the buy links at the bottom of this page.

So that’s another book on my published shelf. Hopefully a couple more will join it; the second Laslo Kane book for starters. Which reminds me, I’ve got some chapters to write.

Gates of Erebus Amazon UK

Gates of Erebus Amazon US

Danielle E. Shipley book launch – The Sun’s Rival

Those with a particularly sharp mind may have deduced from a short series of dastardly subtle clues that today’s post is going to be about a book launch. Danielle’s imaginative re-tellings of popular fairy tales bring a new level of magic and wonder to the stories we all think we know so well. And now it’s time for the hotly anticipated 5th installment in the Wilderhark Series. So read on folks, and enter the competition to get your hands on some fantastic book-themed goodies.

The NovellaThe SeriesExcerpt
The Author

Spot Danielle E. Shipley in the wild: Website / Blog / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Win 5 books for Halloween

How would you like to get your hands on five spooky, scary, or fantastical signed paperback books? I have teamed up with fellow authors Mark Wilson, Sharon Sant, Calum Kerr, and Danielle E. Shipley to create a Halloween-themed prize pot for all the book lovers out there.

Halloween Prize Announcement Image

We have an exclusive competition mailing list (which won’t be used for anything else – your details are safe), so all you need to do is enter your email address and on Halloween one lucky winner will be selected at random.

What are you waiting for? Five free books, signed by their authors.

Click the image above to go to the sign up page now!

Cover Reveal: The Stone Kingdom, by Danielle Shipley

I’m rather flattered to be taking part in Danielle Shipley’s cover reveal. The Stone Kingdom is the second book in series of reimagined fairytales, The Wilderhark Tales. It’s out in September, so keep your eyes peeled. For now, here’s a look at the cover for the new book. Also, check back soon, as I’ll be posting my review of the first book, The Swan Prince, which is available now.

Stone Kingdom Cover, front

Love and prince, Both true, wed rose of white in realm of stone; For blood begins, But naught can be put right by blood alone.”

One thoughtless act is all it takes to bring the curse threatened on Rosalba’s christening day to pass. Now the princess must combine her desperate determination with the service of benevolent tailor Edgwyn Wyle to find the second half of the key to her kingdom’s restoration.

The Stone Kingdom Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales

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An enchantress’s curse turns a spoiled royal into a beast; A princess’s pricked finger places her under a hundred-year spell; Bales of straw are spun as golden as the singing harp whisked down a giant beanstalk – All within sight of Wilderhark, the forest that’s seen it all.

You’ve heard the stories – of young men scaling rope-like braids to assist the tower-bound damsel; of gorgeous gowns appearing just in time for a midnight ball; of frog princes, and swan princes, and princes saved from drowning by maidens of the sea.

Tales of magic. Tales of adventure. Most of all, tales of true love.

Once upon a time, you knew them as fairytales. Know them now as Wilderhark’s.

About the Author:

Danielle E. Shipley Author PhotoDanielle E. Shipley’s first novelettes told the everyday misadventures of wacky kids like herself. …Or so she thought. Unbeknownst to them all, half of her characters were actually closeted elves, dwarves, fairies, or some combination thereof. When it all came to light, Danielle did the sensible thing: Packed up and moved to Fantasy Land, where daily rent is the low, low price of her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, firstborn child, sanity, and words; lots of them. She’s also been known to spend short bursts of time in the real-life Chicago area with the parents who home schooled her and the two little sisters who keep her humble. When she’s not living the highs and lows of writing young adult novels, she’s probably blogging about it at www.EverOnWord.wordpress.com.


Full Title: “The Stone Kingdom (Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales)”

ISBN: 978-0-9891846-1-8

Genre: Young Adult Fairytale

Length: Novella (179 pages)

Release Date: September 20th, 2013

Future availability: Paperback (Amazon.com) and eBook (Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com)

Add “The Stone Kingdom” to your Goodreads shelf today!