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.
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
I was a very active member of Verla Kay’s Blueboards back before it merged with the SCBWI message board and I found it super educational. Thanks to that supportive online community I felt pretty well informed from the beginning. While querying agents I spent a lot of time on the blueboard in what we called The Trenches. Each month we’d start a new trench thread and then find new and creative ways to complain about how looooong response times were and how much we hated the sound of crickets in our inboxes. It was very cathartic; until someone kindly pointed out that the message boards were a public (and searchable) place and that maybe we should knock that whining shit off. So for editor submissions we all shifted our whining to private – ha! The trenches taught me that holding hands with others going through the submissions process is the best way to stay sane during the long wait.
Did anything about the process surprise you?
I thought that hearing that first yes from an editor meant that my waiting days were over. *cue maniacal laughter* My super-human ability to wait for news has come in handy again and again since getting my first book published. Even now, I have an eye on my email because I have a number of things in various stages that I’d love to get some good news on. Meanwhile, I’m trying to finish a draft on a really fun but challenging new project. It turns out that it was never just about hanging in there waiting to get my first ‘yes.’ Building a career has meant learning to ignore the things that are outside my control while I focus on writing.
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
Ha! I am quite skilled at editor stalking. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I’ve mostly given up the practice, but for a time I’d study editor’s bios as if they were tealeaves. Of course everything I saw just confirmed how PERFECT each editor was for my book and made the sting that much worse if they rejected my project. I’ve gotten much better at focusing on writing while on submission, but I’d be lying if I said I completely gave up stalking researching potential editors on our submissions lists.
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
In my (vast!) experience, hearing back from editors can take anywhere from one weekend to a few months. Sometimes a longer wait time meant my book was getting passed around for second reads or heading to acquisitions. And other times it just meant it was a longer wait time. It took nearly two years and several submission rounds to sell the third (!!!) book that I wrote. Then five months later my awesome agent sold the fourth book I wrote. So far that five-month wait has been the most lightning-fast thing that’s happened to me in publishing, so, yeah. *see super-human waiting ability mentioned above.* We often hear stories of fast sales and big auctions, but my slow, deliberate pace is just as valid and I suspect more common. As long as we continue to push ourselves to grow as writers we’ll get where we belong.
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that waiting to hear on submissions truly is a unique and torturous form of hell. I absolutely believe writing is both the cause and the cure and diving into another project is the best way to deal with the waiting. But sometimes being kind to yourself means doing other things like exercising or drawing or binge-watching Netflix. Submission hell is a no-judgment zone.
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
In my (vast!) experience with rejections, I’ve found that the closer one gets to a ‘yes,’ the more the ‘no’s sting. On one hand it is great to hear that a book is worthy and just missed the mark for whatever small reason, but on the other hand, getting shot down at the acquisitions stage can be pretty painful when it happens. Like exercise, I’ve found that it’s the second day afterwards that the soreness really sets in. Riding out that pain is just part of getting to play the sport.
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?
I have awesome beta readers who I trust and so I’m accustomed to that thing where I push through defensiveness in order to see what is missing/unclear/wrong/badly written/garbage etc… I’ve had a few R&Rs (request to revise and resubmit) over the years and have never regretted diving back into a project with an editor’s feedback. I’m pretty grateful any time someone’s willing to read my work and help me improve it. Or even just read it, really – I’m sort of needy that way.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
I knew we were going to acquisitions on a specific day and then I saw a bunch of hits on my website through my stat counter. I actually set up my webcam at my desk and hit ‘record’ when my agent’s number came up on my cellphone. Here’s a link to a small bit at the end of that phone call – needless to say I was pretty excited to hear the good news.
Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
I was very fortunate and got to share my news publically about a week after The Call. Which was good because after years of telling people I was a writer I was ready to explode with the happy news that I was about to become a published author. No matter what happens with submissions, as long as we continue writing we’re still writers. And that’s the very best part.