Written by A Guest Author

The Writing Project That Took a Quarter of a Century to Complete

By Lorraine Horsley
I was 26 with a toddler at my toes when I sent off my first manuscript to a publisher. It was a fun picture book and I pitched it to the publisher that published the cute picture books that stood at the checkout of my local Woolworths store.

It was rejected.

This was back in the day when you sent a hard copy, your work proudly printed on real paper (I had an electronic typewriter by then, so the work looked swish!), in a big yellow envelope with another big yellow envelope inside with your return address and return postage. Then you waited six months, not daring to challenge the publisher’s command of NOT SUBMITTING TO ANOTHER PUBLISHER WHILE WE REVIEW YOUR WORK.

When the rejection arrived, I was deflated. I knew my work was as good as those shiny checkout books. But it seemed they were not continuing the series. Just my luck. Wrong place at the wrong time. What I didn’t realize then was that the rejection I received was positive. The publisher had taken the time to send me a note of encouragement. I didn’t see that of course. I only saw the rejection.

And I went on to see a lot more rejection. 25 years’ worth to be honest. Some rejections were curt, Dear Author, thanks, but no thanks. Others gave me a glimmer of hope, We loved your story but it’s not for us/is similar to another story we are about to publish/our list is full for this year. Others took my story to the acquisition stage, where I like to imagine the publishing team wrestling with the marketing team in a fight to the death. The death of my dream that is, the manuscript would be returned with a We couldn’t quite get it over the line.

I started to hate my friends. Well, not really. I love my friends and always celebrate their successes, but I started to hate going on social media. My social media feed was full of authors and books and success. Which is not surprising, given that I’m a writer and I only really follow authors and books. But it seemed everyone was basking in publishing glory. One of my author friends’ goldfish even got a publishing contract. OK, so I made that bit up. But it seemed anyone who could write a coherent sentence got a publishing contract except me.

I decided I would quit writing. I was obviously no good at it. I didn’t have a publishing contract and it didn’t look likely I would ever get one. So, I quit. For a whole 12 hours. It was the worst 12 hours of my life. This is what happened. As soon as I made the declaration to myself that ‘I quit’ all I could think about was writing. Not publishing. Just writing. I remembered the little kid I’d been at school hanging out for English class, so I’d get to write a story. I remembered locking myself in my room to write a scary story for a competition (I scared myself so much I couldn’t finish it, ran screaming down the stairs and refused to go back into my room). I remembered starting my first novel at age 9 and bursting into tears when I finished it aged 12. I remembered the joy of writing. I’d lost that. Under the ton of rejections, somewhere, was that lost joy and I had to find it again.

So, I started a new project. I got back on the horse. I wrote a story. And another. And another. I’ve written a lot of stories, poems, children’s books, three novels. You can write a lot in 25 years.

I decided to go it alone. After a quarter of a century of getting rejected I decided I would self-publish. I wanted to write a book for my students to help them overcome anxiety and fear of failure. I’d done all the research on how to self-publish and I was ready to take control. That’s when it happened. I received an email from Dixi Books in the UK saying they loved a picture book manuscript I’d sent and would like to publish it. I nearly fainted and my husband cracked the champagne. They also asked what else I was working on. I told them about my non-fiction book. That has now been published by them.

Now I’m 51 with grandkids at my toes. If, like me, the thought of not writing is the same as the thought of not breathing, I hate to break it to you, but you are a writer. You have to write. But write for the joy of the word, the excitement of an unfolding plot, the fun of discovering what comes next. Forget about publication and the validation that you feel will come with that. Publication more often than not comes down to being in the right place at the right time with the right publisher looking at your work. You can’t control that. What you can control are the words on the screen. Lose yourself in them. Relish them. Find your joy. Create a body of work that you love. Why? Because further down the track, maybe 25 years down the track, if a publisher says to you, ‘do you have anything else we can look at?’ You can say with glee, ‘Well, I’m glad you asked!’


Bio: Lorraine’s first non-fiction book, You’ve Got This, Tips for the Uncertain Student was published by Dixi Books in 2021. Her first picture book, When You Left, is scheduled to be released later this year. Lorraine believes books can change the world, and the right book at the right time can change your life. You can see her non-fiction book here – https://dixibooks.com/product/youve-got-this/

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