Saturday 12 January 2013

The R-word

So I thought I'd told the whole and unvarnished tale of my route to publication but searching on an old email account for the word 'rejection' I discovered a step I had wholly forgotten. I really haven't the slightest memory of it. Perhaps I was drunk... who knows? 

In 2007 at 1:05 AM I apparently sent a query to the Nelson Literary Agency that ran thusly (with small name edits):

Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:05 AM
Subject: Query
Dear Kristin,
                        I'm looking for an agent to represent a fantasy novel I have recently completed. I have appended a very brief synopsis.

I'm a 37 year old scientist. A US and UK citizen, currently living in the UK.
In 2006 I've had stories published in the following paying (to various degrees) magazines:
Fantasy Magazine (4), Fictitious Force Magazine (2), Chick Flicks (8&9), The 5th Review
(upcoming), Forgotten Worlds (upcoming), Espresso Fiction, and OG's
Speculative Fiction Magazine (upcoming), Ascent Aspirations Magazine

All under the pen name '**********'


               Mark Lawrence



Novel:  Prince of Thorns

The book has a fair bit of inspiration from 'A Clockwork Orange'. It's set in a post-apocalypse that has wound its way out of the stone-age up to a quasi-medieval era with elements of old technology in the backdrop as well as low-key magic.

Our 'hero' is an ultra-violent amoral fourteen year old, something of an evil genius, very charismatic, leading a band of older men on a rampage. The story is told entirely from his point of view, in the first person. The 'Clockwork Orange' inspiration makes itself felt when, after having painted our MC as black as can be, he wins the reader over, mainly through force of character. We get to follow him and his band through an adventure where his random mayhem becomes focused on getting even with his father (one of many minor kings vying for the vacant empire throne) and becoming a power himself.

As the story develops, other factors become apparent and our MC discovers he is being manipulated by various interested parties.

The original inspiration reappears at the end with parallels to the coming of age story.


The reply came 4 days later!


January 15, 2007                                                                                                       
Dear Author:                                                                                                              
Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query.             
           We’d like to apologize in advance for this standard rejection letter. The volume of queries as of late has been too overwhelming to personalize our response anymore.  Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and although your work sounds intriguing, we’re sorry to say that we don't believe we are the right agency for you.                             
You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the  right match.                                                                                         
Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.                                                        


Now this is in absolutely no way a poke at the agency in question. They are very successful and have many clients including a good number that have sold way more books than I have. Their website asked for a synopsis, they got one, politely told me it wasn't something they were interested in and suggested I try elsewhere. It was, perhaps, a lousy synopsis - and the best book in the world will sound unappealing if you describe it poorly (and it looks suspiciously like I made it up as I typed it into the email at five past one in the morning!).

In any event I followed their advice - it just so happened that life got in the way and I didn't expect to succeed anyhow (it had just been an email on a late night whim), and so it took me nearly three more years to try again. I had after all only sold my first short story eight months earlier (for $31) and only after a bunch of rejections. I didn't seriously expect to sell a whole book.

What I'm doing here is offering encouragement by sharing the oft-repeated truism that experts often reject books that prove to sell well and that many of us under-estimate our own potential.

Additionally I'll note the lost opportunity on my part (I should have kept at it).

And finally I'll point out that since this exchange happened six months after an unknown UK writer called Joe Abercrombie got his first book on the shelves, it somewhat deflates the frequent accusations that I was inspired to copy his style. That would have required me to invest in a hardback by an unknown on the day of release, start writing at once and bang out a rip-off in 6 months then immediately query for it... then ignore it for ~3 years.

[this mini-rant brought to you courtesy of the fact I still see comments like this one from a blog a few days ago:

The serious problem of the writing is: Mark Lawrence has evidently copied the style of writing genius by the name of Joe Abercrombie. Unfortunately, he must have lost a few pieces in the process of copy-pasting, to the point of view of the story.  ]


  1. Ouch! That comment HURTS and it's not even directed at me!!

    I hate getting rejected. All part and parcel of the job, though, eh? I'm about to submit something (only a short, not a novel) and am already gnawing at my fingers as the possibility of being rejected grows ever larger in my mind... :S

    I'm so glad you kept at it. My world would be a poorer place without Jorg et al!

  2. You should see some of the wonderful rejection letters I received after 20 years of working in publishing. One of the best was by email. The gist of it was I had written a book called The summer Puppy, because we had a puppy and it was summer. It was about a puppies world getting bigger as it grew, picture book for young children. Very simple book. Editor came back via email: We LOVE your book. So beautifully written, so clever so incisive. Only thing is, could it be about a kitten?

    1. Funny :D

      I'm collecting rejection letters on books that went on to be published - I plan to use 'em in a blog about rejection. So if you want to share you can email it to me at

  3. I consider myself a fan of both Abercrombie and you. I wrote once, people will know if they like Jorg/PoT rather quickly. For many people it's impossible to stand the intensity of your writing.

    This comparison must hurt, it's not right. I don't read you because you are a weaker Abercrombie! I read you because you are great, Jorg is a supreme character and I definitely prefer your style over that of the last two Abercrombie books, "The Heroes" and "Red Country", which were somewhat disappointing to me.

    I find both "The Blade Itself" and "Prince of Thorns" absolutely fantastic. I am afraid people won't stop annoying you with Abercrombie-comparisons, I did so once too, after all. :)

    That there are similarities doesn't mean there are no major differences as well, after all.

    1. I don't mind people commenting on any similarity they see. I've never read Abercrombie's work so it might be almost identical for all I know. I just resent the open accusations that I have copied his style.

  4. I can't remember if I kept my one snail-mail rejection letter for the book that was eventually published as "The Alchemist of Souls". It was a lot like yours - a polite form rejection saying that it hadn't clicked with them but they wished me luck in finding representation. I did get a really nice one from a top-drawer agent I'd met at a writers' conference, who (after saying they weren't accepting any new clients) called my writing "accomplished" - I felt like a Jane Austen heroine!

    As for the silly accusation...the interwebs are full of idiots.

  5. Just one more time I want to say that Abercrombie and you are different and I don't like to compare you two. It is true, though, that you are both impressive wirters and write about "something dark", but while you have your antihero Jorg, who just wants his own goals come true, Joe's >First law< has a whole lot of characters and the most of them trying to save the world from the Darkness. How can this be similar? Maybe >Best served cold< is a little similar to >Prince of thorns< but only if you look from - very - far away! So I object! Different wirters, different stories, different worlds, different time and the most important different style!


  6. Mark, what a wonderful idea to compile rejection letters, I bet you could get quite a group. I've never read Abercrombie either so I can't compare you. I never thought it fair to compare authors, even those with similar styles and content. They each have their own unique quality that would be rude to compare one to another.
    I only know that I love your novels, and when you are done with Jorg I can't wait to see where you take us next.

  7. Ha, I had a couple of pubs in Chick Flicks too. It's obviously a perfect breeding ground for writers of grim heroic fantasy. :D

  8. I recall saying I thought you were influenced by Abercrombie in my review of PRINCE OF THORNS. Stylistically I don't think there are are big similarities, other than the bleakness and cynicism.

    The accusation likely occurs because mages in your setting occupy an extremely similar role to the magi in Abercrombie's.

    ** Spoilers **

    In both cases, they're the puppet-masters pulling the strings of kings and queens from behind the shadows. As this is a fairly major plot point, it's easy to see how the connection is made. You'll know what I'm talking about when you get around to reading THE FIRST LAW.

    1. Yeah, but so are the Magisters in C.S. Friedman's novels (and Friedman predates Abercrombie). Plus hundreds of other novels.

      There are more differences than similarities IMO. First person narrative vs third. Predominantly single perspective vs invariably multiple. Abercrombie's Law novels are essentially epic fantasies. Lawrence's Thorn novels are more sword & sorcery.