The Debut Author Series

Nicky Schmidt

Part One - The Rejection Game - From slushpile to contract 

Most people when they start writing think it will take a year or two to land a publishing deal. The reality is anyone who gets an agent and lands a publishing contract within four years of starting to write is doing incredibly well. Those who’ve been at it much longer know that a 6 – 10 year wait is the actual reality – and for some, it’s even longer. It’s a time during which rejection letters become the byword of your life. 

“Not right for our list” means just that,                     and nothing more. 

After enough rejections, you become an old hand at the rejection game. While it always stings, you learn to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and carry on. You come to realise the letter that says, “Not right for our list” means just that, and nothing more. You stop reading between the lines for hidden runes because there are none. The publisher or agent is not interested. It’s as simple as that. You also come to realise that if you get a tiny bit of feedback you’re really lucky – editors and agents are busy people, they will only offer a hint of encouragement or some feedback if they think you’re worth encouraging. You cling to those words – as rightly you should. 

there’s a curved ball in the air – it’s called “Luck” - because the reality is that luck plays an incredibly big role in a writer’s life.

So you keep at it, even though the road feels long and hard and very often lonely. You wonder often about giving up. You realise there’s a lot about being a writer that’s a real mug’s game, particularly at a time when the publishing industry is in a state of flux. But still you carry on, because it’s in your blood and writers are just not sane or happy unless they’re writing. You come to realise you can never stop learning, that you will never know it all, and you understand there’s always more to do. You work at your craft, you attend workshops, conferences, you hang out on Facebook and Twitter with other writers, you join a critique group, you belong to organisations like SCBWI - and you keep going. You learn that when a single manuscript has received a certain number of rejections, it’s time to put it away and start something new. You also come to realise that while you’re doing all the right things, there’s a curved ball in the air – it’s called “Luck” - because the reality is that luck plays an incredibly big role in a writer’s life. Yes, that’s a sucky kind of idea, but it’s true. There’s a lot that comes down to your manuscript submission landing on the right desk on the right day. Who knows, maybe even numerology and astrology plays a role. 

but it’s not an ordinary rejection – it’s the sort of rejection that acknowledges you as a writer, that says you have talent and ability,

And then one day, after so many years of toiling in front of your computer, you receive a rejection letter – but it’s not an ordinary rejection – it’s the sort of rejection that acknowledges you as a writer, that says you have talent and ability, and that encourages you to keep going. And so you do. You learn more about your craft, you do your research more deeply, you rewrite your 7th novel for the 7th time, you may even send it off to a manuscript assessment agency or a literary consultant. And when you’re sure it’s ready, you send it back out into the world, knowing full well that you will get some rejections, and yet still quietly hoping that someone will ask for a full manuscript. 

And that does happen, particularly when you thought it never would – and suddenly all the years of slog, all the feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness and all the threats of throwing it all in are turned round. Want to know what it feels like when that happens? 

Want to understand the process of going from slushpile to contract to published novel?

Well, then come back in a few days and read the stories of four writers who after many rejections and years of hard work, finally landed their deals and are now real, published debut authors! 

An interview with Jo Franklin will be published on 21st July

An interview with Liz de Jager will be published on 28th July

An interview with Jeannie Waudby will be published on 30th July

And an interview with Christina Banach will be published on 6th August

SCBWI-BI “member abroad”, Nicky Schmidt  is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications director who "retired" early to follow a dream. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction (some of which leans towards New Adult) in the magical realism and supernatural genres. When not off in some other world, Nicky also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words & Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA e-critique group. Nicky lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers.


  1. Very true. A great read, Nicky. Thank you!

  2. Nicky brilliant!
    Best second person story I've ever read - I felt every word!

  3. Fantastic Nicky, can't wait to read the interviews now!

  4. Great stuff, Nicky, thanks. Re the long wait, I agree whole-heartedly that attending workshops, conferences, courses etc is an invaluable stage on the journey. You don't just learn shed-loads of craft (as it were) you meet lots of approachable, friendly, supportive and inspiring people.

  5. Brilliant article thank you Nicky. I have gone so far as to put a Kickstarter project together which starts next Wednesday to (hopefully) ensure my daughter gets a copy of the book I wrote/illustrated for her! Huge amount of work has gone into it and I hope to have a few copies left over to send to agents/publishers as a 'finished' product. Will this appear more attractive than a manuscript and sample illustrations? Hope so! Giving the rest away to schools and libraries so I can kind of say I have been published and can forget the slushpiles for a while! Thank you for all your advice :-)

  6. We are the battle-hardened veterans of the slushpile!

  7. Great advice. You really do have to keep going.

  8. Oh dear lord yep - aint' that the truth of it...

  9. Sigh....all so true - and yet we still feel compelled to write!

  10. Thanks for all the comments, really glad the article resonated. Hope you'll all come back to read the interviews. It was so fascinating to read the journeys, to see how everyone leaned something different even though the shared experience was so similar.


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