If there’s one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it’s the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren’t exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and – just like agent hunting – everyone’s story is different.
I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series – Submission Hell – It’s True. Yes, it’s the SHIT.
JM: I knew a little bit about it. I’d watched quite a few comrades-in-arms go through the process. My friends always talked about it in hushed tones, as if the experience was nothing less than a confrontations with Dementors, something they’d narrowly survived. And you know, I totally get that now. That’s pretty much what it feels like–a risky Azkaban prison break.
BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?
JM: Yes. I didn’t know how many variables factor into editorial response. Not only must your book be semi-coherent, but it must find the right editor at the right time. Has the editor recently acquired something similar? Do they hate Sci Fi? Are they looking for MG or contemporary YA? Have they bought comparable titles in the past that didn’t sell through? Will sales and marketing get behind a book about a girl Han Solo-type who races cars on another planet two hundred years in the future?
The other thing that surprised me? How varied the responses are. You might get a really kind rejection. You might get a phone call (and make a new friend!). You might get a quick line. But then again, you might get nothing but soul sucking silence for the longest time. I suspect Sara, my wonderful agent, shielded me from some of the toughest rejections, but I’ve learned that you just can’t take it personally. Everyone has their own needs and tastes. Most editors and agents are nice, cool people–they really want to fall in love with a book, but sometimes they can’t. It’s the same with readers. I’ve made peace with that.
BBC: Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
JM: Yes. Again, I give props to Sara. She is very open about the process and even asked me if I had any suggestions or concerns. It was fun to be included submission strategy. Often, my MS went out to people I really admired. And I do admit to googling and twitter watching. You can’t control the process, but scouring for info made me feel less angst-y. I know that sounds backward, but with my Eeyore imagination, the unknown is always worse than reality. But I recommend doing what’s best for you. Even if that means closing your eyes and ears.
BBC: What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
JM: Based on the (limited) totally of my previous experiences, responses can come in any range, from after just a few days to after months and months and months! With TRACKED, we did seem to get some responses fairly quickly, but even then, things didn’t start to happen right away.
True confession, comrades: Before TRACKED, I’d been on sub with other books. (I’ve even been agented before, when I wasn’t quite mature enough as a writer.) I am all too familiar with the slow death of a project. It happens. And you cannot dwell on it. You have to keep writing and growing and developing your voice. The game isn’t over unless you quit.
And if you’re on sub right now, I want you to know that things can move very slowly and still turn out beautifully. After all the waiting, the week my book sold was very hectic–the glacial pace of submission melted into a stream of phone calls, e-mail and interest.
Another true confession: I had the pleasure of getting to know my future editor a bit before the book sold. Getting editorial feedback beforehand can be very scary, but in retrospect, I actually feel quite lucky! I don’t have to nail-bite over my first editorial letter or phone call. I’ve gotten a taste of my editor’s vision, and I know for sure that I’m in fabulous, capable hands. I mean it, the first time we talked, something just clicked. And now she’s my friend and partner in bringing the book into the world. At the end of the day, I landed at a dream house with the ideal editor for my work. All the those setbacks? They just sweetened the outcome.
BBC: What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
Can I get maudlin and corny? I don’t know how else to say this: Writer friends, I really, really want you to know something. Going on submission is hard, but you can do it. You are brave enough. And I want you to know that your path–your particular journey–is normal and okay and that you are not alone. You might sell in a week. You might sell after years. You might self-publish to great acclaim. There are an infinite number of paths to success.
I wish I’d fully processed that along the way. So many times, I read about three day auctions and big deals and ‘overnight’ success stories and thought, “Something is wrong with me. I haven’t heard anything, so I must be a dreadful, terrible, loser-pants-wearing writer. Maybe I am wasting my time. I should quit.”
If you’re feeling that way, stop it. Cuss out those feelings of self-doubt. When you feel like you’ve got nothing left, when you can’t believe anymore, hold on to the person in your life who won’t let you quit.
That’s the best advice I can give about going on submission. Surrender. Recognize you can’t control the process and don’t stop writing. Open a blank word document or scrivener file and start something new. It helps.
BBC: If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
JM: Even though I’m an Eeyore and a self-doubter, rejections don’t hurt much. In fact, sometimes they are a relief, lending a sense of closure. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never gotten any mean-spirited ones. When I was querying or on submission, I just let my heart pound for a minute, and then I let the rejection go. That’s all I could do.
BBC: If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?
JM: I weighted editorial feedback very seriously, and I relied on my agent to help me decide what to do. (Thank heavens for Sara. You don’t even know how crazy special she is.) But honestly, most of the feedback conveyed the book just wasn’t what the particular editor was looking for–this business is very subjective. Yes, there’s always room to improve, and you should improve, but so much depends on the MS landing in the right hands at the right moment.
BBC: When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
JM: I think Sara knew an offer might be coming beforehand, but she didn’t want my hopes getting dashed. When she was more certain, she e-mailed to prepare me. I was watching TV (Dexter, Season Five) with my husband and my best friend. I started sobbing. It was this hideous, silent bawl-fest and at first, I couldn’t even speak at all. My husband thought someone had died or something. I passed the phone to him, and then we all just rejoiced. In the next few days, there were many more e-mails and phone calls about details, interest, etc. I may or may not have gotten choked up when Sara told me the final outcome. Okay, yeah. I did. I’m corny and ridiculous. So sue me.
BBC: Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
JML I knew I was a Penguin(!!!!!) on Wednesday, but we wanted to wait until the PM announcement went live. I had to wait a few days. Felt like the longest days of my life. When I posted the news to Twitter, my iPhone exploded, sending rainbows through the prism of my heart. I know, I’m such a freaking Care Bear. I’m probably losing all my credibility here. My protagonist is a BAMF, I swear.