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On Being ON SUBMISSION
Hi everyone! Stacey here today, with fellow pub-crawler, Stephanie Garber, talking about the most painful exciting part of publishing, submission!
With the arrival of fall, and the end of summer Friday’s in publishing, it's time to talk about submissions.
You can tell a writer who is on "sub" by the long face they wear, the nails chewed to the quick, the scuffled toes of their shoes where they've tripped as they've paced waiting for a response from editors. We know how it feels, and we're here to tell you that you will survive. Let's stop refreshing our inbox for a moment, and take a deep, cleansing breath. Yikes, what have you been eating? Cookies? Okay, good for you. But you know what's even better for you while you're on sub? Take a walk.
We’re serious. It'll clear some brain space. And when you come back, you can read on, and we'll all be in a better place.
Hi again, now read on for our tips on how to survive SUBMISSION.
1. Recognize it might happen tomorrow, or it might happen a year from now.
We’ve all heard stories about books that sell lightning fast. But if you’re going on submission for the first time, for the sake of your sanity, be aware that selling a book in less than two weeks is the exception, not the standard.
Stephanie: I’ve been on submission twice. When Hearts Made of Black sold, it actually happened on the quick side of things. But before that I went on submission with another book, a sci-fi about space pirates. My first agent warned me that this book would not be a fast or easy sell. And she was right. We were on submission for a year and a half, and it didn’t sell. The closest we came was an R&R from an editor who ended up leaving her publisher shortly after I finished the revisions.
Stacey: It took nine months for Under a Painted Sky to sell. My agent told me historical fiction is a tough sell in YA, but at the same time, it is one of the staples that never quite goes out of trend. We were rejected by 26 publishers before the last one asked me for a revision. It took three months to revise, and it was a major revision. Those of you who have read my book will know it is about a friendship. Well, it used to be a torrid bodice-ripper! (Sort of kidding.)
For both of us, going on submission that first time was far from easy, but it helped that we both had agents who set realistic expectations.
2. Recognize it might not happen, ever.
This one is important, because the sooner you accept this, the more prepared you will be when it doesn't happen (and we're not saying it won't happen!!!). Bear with us. The statistics are depressing. It's a proven fact that the odds of being published are less than being eaten by a polar bear wearing moon boots.
Take another walk if you need it and meet us back here.
Chubby Hubby has a buddy, American Dream. Is there irony in this ice creaming pairing?
Prepared people know it is not the end of the world if it doesn't sell. Prepared people keep their survival kits close at hand (Chubby Hubby, family, Nordstrom gift cards, friends, not necessarily in that order) in case disaster strikes (e.g., my manuscript doesn't sell).
PLENTY of authors who you think are big deals have had to shelve manuscripts that didn't sell (like PubCrawl distinguished faculty Marie Lu and Jodi Meadows). Prepared people are already thinking about their next stories—and writing them. It’s like dating, the quickest way to get over one guy/gal is to meet someone new.
3.We'd like to point out that Submission rhymes with Suspicion
Why is this important? This is important because NOT EVERY GOOD BOOK GETS PUBLISHED, and here's the kicker, NOT EVERY BOOK THAT GETS PUBLISHED IS GOOD. We know this isn't how the world should be. There should be a little bell that goes ding! every time a great book (e.g., yours) arrives in an editor's inbox so the editors know which ones should be published. Unfortunately, the rules of "what is publishable" remain rather opaque. It is a hazy box that sometimes is not even a box but more shaped like a big iron shoe. In other words, if you get a rejection, it is not necessarily because your book is unworthy.
4. If you can find a trend in your rejections, rewrite to fix it.
Agents have different methods for submission, and not every agent uses the same approach with each submission. They might sub to a smaller set of editors for something more "controversial" where feedback would be helpful, or in the case where they've pinpointed editors who would just love your book.
Stacey: In the case of my first book, my agent subbed to a big list all at once, as she considered my manuscript tight and clean (this is where all that vetting you do with agents comes in handy; if you’ve picked a good one, you can probably trust their advice on this). The rejections confirmed that she had taken the right approach. There was no consistency to the rejections. We got everything from "we don't think there's a market for westerns" to "we don't like cross-dressing girls."
I didn't rewrite anything in the middle of submission, but I did take the one R&R offered to me; I felt like I owed it to my book. And once I got over the shock of having to do MORE work, I threw myself into it feet first. For me, I felt I had nothing to lose except a bit of time, and everything to gain.
Stephanie: But remember, just because you revise or receive an R&R doesn’t mean your book will sell. When I went on submission with my first book, I also received an R&R, which did not end in an offer. But, I don’t regret taking the time do it. I learned a lot, and I think my writing became stronger as a result. But, for the sake of your heart and your sanity (see a theme emerging), if you do an R&R, do it because you owe it to your book, not because you believe that if you do this, a publisher will owe you a contract.
5. Do not compare yourself to others.
Seriously, this is as bad as checking reviews on Goodreads.
Learn from other people, but don’t compare your submission experience with someone else’s. Nothing good comes from comparing—either you imagine you are better than everyone else and get a grossly inflated ego, or you imagine the opposite and feel like crap, or you come out neither feeling nor worse, but have just sunk a lot of time that you could’ve spent writing something new.
We don’t know who said it first, but there’s a great quote that goes like this:
Yes, sometimes other people’s grass is greener, but you don’t know how much manure that had to go through to get it there.
6. Remind yourself, no matter what, the fact that you are on submission means you have done two things that most people have not.
You have written a book and you have found an agent, neither of which should be easy things, so pat yourself on the back and take another walk (or eat another cookie, we approve of both).
In the comments, tell us how long you've been "on sub." What do you do to stay sane?