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.
Today’s guest for the SHIT is Ruth-Anne Snow, author of When the Truth Unravels. RuthAnne Snow was born and raised in Kaysville, Utah. She has interned for the U.S. Senate, worked on policy papers for Congress and the State Department, and once spent a year sorting through emails looking for fraud. It wasn’t nearly as fun as writing fiction.
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
I knew a decent amount, based on friends’ experiences, but I still learned a lot when it was my turn to go on sub. Honestly, I think it’s important to be prepared for the fact that sub might be a little different every time you go out.
Did anything about the process surprise you?
Not really, mostly because I kept my expectations really low and flexible. So stuff happened that I didn’t expect, but I was kind of expecting the unexpected.
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
I didn’t—first of all, I didn’t ask my agent for names of editors, just imprints. One thing I strongly recommend is being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress before you go out on submission. If knowing your editor names will help you deal with the unknown, awesome! Tell your agent you want to know everything. If having that information won’t help you, tell your agent that too.
I know that I can get a little obsessive and it’s not good for me, so I told my agent I wanted a medium amount of information delivered in batches. And I trusted her judgment in determining what editor feedback to pass along directly and what she should summarize for me. So instead of getting rejections as they rolled in, I’d get an update about once a month. My agent included direct quotes from editors when the feedback was more helpful or illuminating, and summarized the feedback otherwise.
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
Some we heard back from right away, some took months—I am not sure we had an average.
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
I know everyone says this, but work on the next project! Have something else you can give your CPs and your agent after a few months. Focusing on new writing and new revisions will give you a little emotional distance from the project that is on submission—it takes the sting out of rejections and helps you stop refreshing your email so much.
Beyond that, find other outlets in addition to writing that make you happy. In my lawyer-life, we talk a lot about the importance of “work-life balance” to keep you grounded and sane. It’s the exact same thing with writing. You need things in your life besides writing that make you satisfied and fulfilled. For me, it’s hanging out with my husband and friends and our dogs, baking, hiking, going to the gym—whatever. And even though I also love a good Netflix binge, just remember that the thing that keeps you healthy and sane can’t be a passive activity like vegging out to Grey’s Anatomy for the fifth time. Relaxing is important and necessary, but it’s not the same as having another activity to engage your brain and really refresh you mentally.
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
I definitely had some rejections, ha. It was mostly fine—again, I think if you keep your expectations low, it really helps. I think the rejection that stung the most was an R&R I did that didn’t make it through the acquisitions stage. Even then, though, it wasn’t too bad because my agent had warned me that most R&Rs don’t come to anything, and because I had decided at the outset that the main reason I was doing the R&R was not simply to please the editor who had requested it, but because I felt like her suggestions were spot on. So that experience was a mix of disappointing (because obviously I was still HOPING that my R&R would be the exception to the rule!) but also helpful because I was happy with the changes I made.
But I think I was in a unique place by the time I went on sub because rejections on queries and submission both felt sort of muted to me. Before I signed with my agent, I had actually had a manuscript accepted by a small publisher. I did the negotiations on that contract on my own and ultimately it all fell apart. So that experience where I was so close to being published but ultimately had to choose not to be to preserve my own future (very potential at that point) career, really taught me how dicey this business can be. You have to have confidence in yourself but at the same time keep your expectations realistic. Which can sound grim, but in a way was nice because 85% of my rejections really just felt like, “Oh well. That’s ok. I’m still a good writer, this just wasn’t my fit.”
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 think it’s important to remember that editor feedback is way different than beta or CP feedback. When I beta read for someone, I am doing it with very simple and open-ended questions in my mind—what do I like, what don’t I like, can I see where it can be improved, do I have suggestions for the author.
An editor has to be thinking, “Do I have the right vision for this? Do I have the passion to work on this for the next year or two? Is this right for our imprint? Can we market this? Can it stand out? Do I want to hang my professional opinion on this?” And I think remembering that helps you understand that it really is a business decision at the end of the day. You wrote a good book, your CPs and betas loved it, your agent loves it, and now the question is not just whether or not you can find an editor who loves it, but an editor who loves it AND can justify the investment in it.
And I know that’s easy to just say and hard to really feel, but it helped that I had worked at an independent publisher so I had real-world evidence that it’s true. A ton of decisions really do just come down to business, so once you’re on submission, try to refocus on that. It takes a lot of the emotion out of the rejections and helps you see what common themes are there in the rejections and decide whether or not some changes need to be made to your manuscript. In my case, a lot of the rejection feedback was a mixed bag, so I tried not to put too much weight on it unless something really resonated with me, like with the R&R I did.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
I had a feeling it was coming when an editor followed me on Twitter, and then my agent emailed me to set up a call a few hours later. I tried to keep my expectations low (maybe another R&R?) but I had a gut feeling that this time, it really was the time. Even still, it was almost surreal to hear that there was a real offer on the table. I must have read the offer letter three or four times before it really started to sink in.
Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
I had a really long time to wait! There were a few contractual details to work out, and publishing is a strange business. Summers are really slow, winter holidays are really slow, and as luck would have it, we were waiting for our final contract in the fall of 2016 … which also was really slow, to say the least. It was difficult for sure, but I knew I was finally in the final stretch, so that helped a lot.