Two weeks ago The Booker Prize announced that An Island, the second novel by South African author Karen Jennings, has been longlisted for this year’s prize. If you knew nothing about the history of the book’s publication you might think there’s nothing remarkable at all about Jennings’ nomination. But you’d be wrong.
After Jennings finished the book in 2017 many publishers rejected it for years. According to The Guardian her publisher Holland House struggled to find anyone willing to review or endorse the book and when it was finally published only 500 copies were printed (in part due to the size of the press). “The only real response that I have been able to pin down,” said Jennings on her rejections, “was that it would not make any money.” Sound familiar?
Jennings’ story reminds me of William Goldman’s immortal advice, first conceived within the context of the film industry but always applicable to anyone that risks rejection for opportunity: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Goldman understood that a rejection, at best, is a guess. A bet if you will. I feel more and more that rejection is a necessary rite of passage for any serious author.
At one time Cormac McCarthy advised scientists at the Sante Fe Institute on ways they could improve their writing. One piece of advice he gave, quoting Rudyard Kipling, was “Trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.”
As silly as it sounds – believe in yourself.
Nobody knows anything.