R. N. Morris: When There’s Nothing Left but Guts

Guest piece originally posted on Nevets.QST as part of a series in which authors discussed how they first came to be published. His content remains unchanged from the original.

Originally written in 2011 and published on Blogger.

Most authors have experienced rejection.  Many of us have faced it so many times we begin to take it for granted, but there are still different degrees of rejection.  No matter how prepared you are, some things can find their way inside your armor, and that can rock even a seasoned writer. British author, R. N. Morris came face to face with the worst sort of personal rejection — truly an author’s nightmare.  He calls it his, “darkest moment.” Now he is well on the other side of that moment. At the time of this guest post, he had published four novels and was working on the fifth. Now, he’s up to eleven published novels. How did he get there? Read about it in his own words.

As far as I could see, this was the end of the road.

Either I change my name, or give up

R. N. Morris

I remember meeting my agent for coffee. He’d been my agent for a number of years but without managing to place any of my novels. I have actually lost count of the number of novels he’d tried – maybe three or four. Maybe more. It’s a blur. It wasn’t his fault. He’d been able to get the scripts on the desks of the right people but there had been no takers. Apparently I’d come very close a couple of times, but something had always got in the way. One editor’s reaction was typical, if brutal: “I won’t be able to sell enough copies.” That was for the novel my agent had just been submitting and our meeting was to let me know how things were going. Badly, was the short answer. “Your name is starting to meet with some resistance,” he told me. I asked what he meant. “Well, when I tell editors I have a new novel by you, they say, ‘Ah, yes, we know him – don’t you have anyone else?’”

That was pretty much the lowest point of my writing life. As far as I could see, this was the end of the road. Either I change my name, or give up. That was the way it seemed. I didn’t like the idea of changing my name – it seemed a deceitful thing to do. I also didn’t like the idea of giving up. I decided to try one last throw of the dice. I’d had this idea for a detective novel based on Porfiry Petrovich, the magistrate from Dostoevksy’s novel “Crime and Punishment.” I shared the idea with my agent. “Yes, that might work,” was all he said. But it was all the encouragement I needed.

Actually, I had two last rolls of the dice. There was another idea that I had to get out of my system first, an idea that had also been obsessing me for years. A story about a guy who went round collecting mementos from scenes of tragedy or disaster. I decided I had to write that first and then get on to the Porfiry Petrovich idea, which I felt would be harder and would require more time to research. I wrote “Taking Comfort”, my first published novel, in a frenzied eight weeks. Then I started work on the novel that would become “A Gentle Axe”, my second published novel, immediately.

So I didn’t give up. I don’t know what I did – or how I did it. I wrote the two books that I most needed to write – the two books, also, that I was most afraid of writing. Maybe I learnt, not to give up, but to let go.


R. N. Morris has published eleven novels, most recently the latest in his Silas Quinn series, The White Feather Killer and the ground-breaking psycho-social techno-thriller Psychotopia.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Dorte H says:

    Thank you for one of those messages every aspiring writer needs to read once in a while. I haven´t considered changing my name yet, but in a year or two…. No, I also try to keep writing, learning more about the tricks and exploring new areas all the time. Because one day there must be a publisher who says yes!

  2. C. N. Nevets says:

    Roger, thanks so much for contributing this post. I appreciate your generosity in being so open about your darkest moment. I've gotten to a point where I can handle rejection of my writing with some maturity, but I'm not sure how I would have responded to finding out my name had become a buzzword in the industry for not-worth-looking-at. I love that you don't exactly have advice or a how-to on coming out of that moment, except that you had nothing left to write except what it was you probably should have been writing all along but weren't necessarily brave enough to. It goes along nicely with Scott Bailey's post yesterday at the Literary Lab, and the importance of being bold and writing what it is you want and need to write.@Dorte – Keep at it! One day I hope to see you leading a new wave of Danish cozies invading the bookshelves of the US!

  3. Summer Ross says:

    C.N. I really do love that you post these on your blog, they are inspiring. It's amazing that once he stopped writing for others and started writing what he really wanted to write then bam,there was his story.

  4. lisabratby says:

    Thank you!I had a wonderful moment followed by a dark period last year. After ten years, three books and dozens of rejection letters, I finally got agent interest. Nine agents wanted to see more. Two offered representation. It was amazing. This time, finally, it seemed like it was going to happen.I picked agent and she sent it out to ten UK publishers, all of whom rejected it because 'children aren't buying historical fiction.'It's taken me a year to pick myself up and I'm just getting going on a new book now. Your post. gives me faith that it will happen if you just keep going.

  5. Yat-Yee says:

    I can't imagine the despair I would be in if I found out my name had acquired such a notoriety. I'm glad he found reasons to keep writing, and how great is it that the reasons were actual story ideas? I bought one of his novels based on your recommendation. Vengeful Longing. Looking forward to reading it.

  6. It really is the main lesson, isn't it. Doesn't matter how talented you are, if you don't persist…

  7. That's really cool. I'm glad he never gave up. Sometimes we need to change up things. Great post.

  8. Oh my – thought I was going to have the same conversation with my agent at last meeting – thankfully not but what an inspiration you are – thank you for baring all.

  9. C. N. Nevets says:

    @Summer – Stop fighting against yourself in any endeavor, and the change is amazing.@Lisa – Thank you so much for stopping by to read Roger's post, especially since it came at such a great time for you to hear the message. I'm sorry you've had a rough time time for, but keep at it and let your voice shine through!@Yat-Yee – That's his contemporary thriller so it will be different than the one I've been reading, but I'm sure the quality will be the same. I hope you enjoy it! And I'm not sure how I would have handled hearing something like that personally.@Michael – Yep, keep moving forward and stop second-guessing yourself. We're our own worst enemies sometimes.@Clarissa – Yeah, if you keep trying and failing it can be good to look at what you've been trying. When it strikes you that there's this other thing you'd *like* to try but you're afraid to, then maybe you should take it on.@Kathryn – I'm glad you had a chance to come by and read Roger's piece. I think it's amazingly open and honest. I'm glad you didn't have that same conversation!

  10. Fantastic to read this – there are so many false 'it was easy' stories about – it's important to tell it as it is. Thanks to Roger – and nice to meet your blog.

  11. C. N. Nevets says:

    @Vanessa – Exactly so! This is the fourth in a series of pieces I've been running on a blog like this. I will put the whole list up in the navigation table at the top. It's so important for developing authors to understand that (a) it's a rough business, but that (b) people can and do triumph over the roughness! I love Roger's piece because the darkness is just so dark it puts the fear into a me, and yet he's now successful. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again around here!

  12. Hi,I have an award for you over at my blog, with Day 221 of 365 Days of Blessings

  13. What an interesting, inspiring post! I really appreciate this. I often wonder if even after getting published I'll hit rock bottom. In fact, it might be possible to hit more rock bottom after you've been published. Who knows. I'm being really pessimistic today.

  14. C. N. Nevets says:

    @Michelle – That's because you just hit a milestone, so it's time for the brief period of self-doubt, second-guessing, and doom-fearing. But, if Roger could survive being told his name had become a buzzword for "Thanks, but I'll pass," you can definitely survive this. 🙂

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