Leaving aside those publishers who don’t respond at all to submissions (and there were surprisingly many in my case, including the smaller imprints Dark Edge Press, Hobeck Books, Muswell Press, Red Dog Press and Lume Books, to name just a few), there are also those who, in rejecting a novel, take the trouble to do so personally, and with surprisingly positive things to say.

Here are two superlative examples of how it can be done:

The first, from Finn Cotton, senior commissioning editor at Transworld:

‘There was a lot that I liked about this, but in the end, I’m afraid that we have decided not to make you an offer. I thought this was a thought-provoking, timely novel, from a talented writer…for he is a huge talent.’

And from Toby Jones, editorial director at Headline:

‘John is clearly a talented, accomplished and inventive writer – with a knowledgeable grip on the dark machinations of global politics.’

Given the pressures from agents, and the ever-growing slush pile, these editors have to be both unusually well-organised and sympathetic towards writers to go to this trouble in setting out their rejections in such positive terms.

In the case of Emperor, it seems that their sales and marketing people felt they wouldn’t be able to persuade retailers to take on commercial fiction with a Chinese theme. Cited as evidence was an unnamed series of novels centred on China, but the first to be published had apparently failed to live up its promise.

Am I too cynical in thinking that UK readers, with their awareness of the outside world hobbled by the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express and a BBC that censors news by omission, still suffer from a xenophobic outlook that has only become worse since the emergence of the extremist UKIP, the hard-right Tories and the self-inflicted wound of Brexit?

I’m glad to say Emperor will be published later this year, however.

In the meantime, I’ve shortened my lines, cut my losses and focused on what I hope will be a new series of spy novels set in the immediate aftermath of wartime Britain and Germany.

It begins with a tale tentatively entitled Bloody Snow: the Makings of a Spy. Paul Snow is the main character and the story begins with the German surrender in 1945 and Paul’s recruitment by the Secret Intelligence Service.

I asked five readers to have a look at the initial chapters at different stages. They caught a couple of cliches, asked a few questions and I made some adjustments. One – a fellow former Reuters correspondent – took the time to do a serious editing job and raised several interesting points. But they all seemed to like it and found it enjoyable.

So with that encouragement, I’ll crack on.

John Fullerton, September 2022

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