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?

     

50 Responses to On Being ON SUBMISSION

  1. Carinn Jade Sep 14 2015 at 7:20 am #

    We go out on sub today — this post couldn’t have come at a better time! Now where’s my pint of Phish Food?

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:00 pm #

      Good luck! Btw, sometimes if you write to Ben & Jerry, they’ll send you a coupon. 🙂

  2. Anita Saxena Sep 14 2015 at 7:56 am #

    Been on sub almost a year. Working on another project during that period was the best thing I did.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:01 pm #

      Hang in there! And look, you made another project <--awesome

  3. jeffo Sep 14 2015 at 8:16 am #

    I was on sub for several months before all the rejections came in. ON the whole, the rejections were quite encouraging, but we pulled the manuscript because editors felt the sun had set on this genre. We did float it again this summer, but things have been quiet. I’d like to believe there’s an editor taking it to the publishing team saying, “I must have this book!” but I suspect that’s not the case. I mainly try to forget that it’s out there, and sometimes, I succeed!

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:02 pm #

      Aw, I’m sorry. It’s discouraging to hear that you’re no longer in fashion. But genres do come back into style!

  4. Sarah T Sep 14 2015 at 9:11 am #

    For me BY FAR the worst part of it was not being able to talk about it. I found it very difficult to work on WIPs, even though that’s what you’re supposed to do. I kept Googling for posts like these, reminding myself I wasn’t crazy and other people had also been through this weird secret process. I was on sub for 5 weeks and I cannot express the depth of my admiration for people who were out there longer. I would’ve been mentally wrung dry. You guys are all superstars.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:04 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that; so important to have writer friends who understand to talk to about it. It’s definitely a good thing to find support. 5 weeks, haha, you rock.

  5. Elizabeth Torphy Sep 14 2015 at 9:54 am #

    For us who have not been on sub…we read with some jealousy at your pain! “I only wish I could be in a position of being rejected…” or something like that. Where you are wishing for publication, some of us are wishing just to get an agent. The point being…this is a waiting game no matter where you are at. The closest I am to your angst is my MS is out with a couple of agents…waiting. Same anxiety. Same drama. Your advice is good for all us: KEEP TRUCK’IN. (Is that even a saying anymore???) I am querying my first two novels, and moving forward with writing the third. I am not pausing for pain….just moving forward. Because I have a belief in destiny. It will happen if it is suppose to happen. I am doing the work, and continuing the process and that is what writers do. Write forward…..

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:06 pm #

      Ahh, I think the same rules apply for querying agents! It’s all such a painful waiting game. Crossing fingers for you. I used to have a bumper sticker (it came in the Captain Crunch cereal box) that said “KeepTruckin” – had no idea what it meant (I was prob 7 yo?) but i made my dad stick it on his truck. I often think of that sticker.

    • Julie Mayerson Brown Oct 12 2015 at 7:32 pm #

      I’m where you are, Elizabeth. A month has gone by since your post, so perhaps you have news?? Being with a supportive writing community is critical – either online or real life. One of the things I do to curtail anxiety and avoid binge watching shows on Netflix is write short stories and blog posts. It keeps me writing and connecting with others. Also, I just attended a conference and met many good people – some just starting to write and some much further along than I am. Writers tend to be incredibly nice and helpful people. Best of luck to you. Let me know how it’s going!

  6. JJ
    JJ Sep 14 2015 at 10:02 am #

    All in all, I was on sub for 6 months, which, in the grand scheme of things, is not a long time at all, although it FELT long. I coped by rewriting the lyrics to Stephen Sondheim’s “Agony”…which might show up on PubCrawl in the next few days… 😉

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:06 pm #

      Ear worm JJ. Ear worm.

  7. Nir Sep 14 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    Here is a story from the other side of the globe.. Published my book in Israel (that was a long process. no agents in Israel – writers send their manuscripts directly to the publishers slush piles)

    Once out there I found an [amazing!] international agent who helped me with some more editing and then, one week after submission, the English rights for North America were sold and two weeks later we sold the English rights to the rest of the world.

    So miracles do happen… 🙂

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      Woohoooo – that’s an amazing story. Glad you were able to find that int’l agent! I think most US agents are open to foreign writers who speak English like a native? How exciting for you and your book!

      • Nir Sep 14 2015 at 12:22 pm #

        I happened to find one who works in both Hebrew and English and located in Jerusalem 🙂

        Some of the authors she works with reside in the USA and some in Israel.

        The fun part is the editing I’m doing now in English.. I found that my IQ drops 50% when not writing in my mother’s tongue..

  8. ALC Writer Sep 14 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    I got an agent for my first book and went on submission with that. I thought I was sooooo close to being a “real” author at that time. But my agent subbed everyone all at once, and within 6 weeks it was off submission and never going to sell. That was rough. I was unprepared–I kind of thought getting an agent and getting it on sub meant I had a good chance of selling it. I later parted with that agent and am preparing to query my 3rd book. I’ll be way more prepared this time around.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 14 2015 at 12:19 pm #

      That’s painful, and very sadly more common than it should be. Thank you for sharing that, and best of luck with this new MS! Let us know how it goes.

      • ALC Writer Sep 14 2015 at 12:24 pm #

        Thanks! Hopefully I’ll be commenting in a few months that I at least got an agent. *crosses fingers*

  9. Nic Sep 14 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    Three books on sub over four years, with my third currently in the second round of submissions. No sales yet. There are days I want to fling myself off the nearest bridge. But then I remember that my agent believes in me and my work, and she wouldn’t have taken me on as a client if I were hopeless and a terrible writer and all the other things I think about myself at times. Agented writers are expected to sell, and I think it’s super important to acknowledge that publishing is a crapshoot, and it’s okay (and expected) to fail…until one day you don’t fail.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:46 am #

      You know it! It’s so true, and I’m sorry you had to go through all that. I know someone who wrote 15 books before she sold. And now she has several pubbed books under belt. A lot to be said for persistence.

  10. C.H. Armstrong Sep 14 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Ack! Loved this article, but not sure I should’ve read it today! I feel like I’m [-] close to finally landing an agent, and now y’all tell me it could be out on submission for YEARS! I wanna cry!

    Okay…I can deal. I mean, I’ve already beaten the polar bear odds through a smaller press. I guess I can live with this small glitch of potentially YEARS on submission! 🙂

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:48 am #

      So much is out of our control, such as what pubs are looking for, and how many similar manuscripts to yours are being shopped. May the publishing odds ever be in your favor. 😉

  11. Kim Sep 14 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    This is such an awesome post, thanks for sharing! Hearing about other authors experiences being on sub always makes me feel better. I’m a year as of last week on sub for my first novel (that got me my agent, probably like 5th novel in general). We planned on going on just one more round of subs before switching to my next project (aka the writing project that kept me sane during submission) when we got a R&R request. So hearing about both of your experience with R&R was super helpful too. I think I’ll do it—if nothing more, for the experience. We’re still going on our last round of subs while I work on the R&R, so we’ll see what happens. It took me a while to accept the “this might not sell” and to learn to let go in regards to submission. My first 2 rounds was maddening, I thought about it way too much, but my last few rounds have been a lot easier to deal with. It will or it won’t happen—but there’s nothing more I can do than to write the best book I can and let it go 🙂

  12. Dan Koboldt Sep 14 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    Under point 1, I think you might have intended to say that selling a book in less than two weeks is the *exception* not the *expectation*.

    A wonderful article for the many authors who must endure going on sub.

    • Pub(lishing) Crawl
      Pub(lishing) Crawl Sep 14 2015 at 2:24 pm #

      Thanks, Dan! We’ve gone ahead and corrected it.

      Best,
      The PubCrawl Gang

  13. katz Sep 14 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    On sub for three months now and it’s not looking promising, but this post is really encouraging! Historical is a tough sell.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:50 am #

      Yes, there’s a perception that kids/teens don’t read it, but that was pretty much all I read as a youngster! And hang in there!

  14. Leonie Dewess Sep 14 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    Thank you for this! I thought I was prepared for submission, but it’s been pretty tough. My book has been out for eight months, with some near misses – editors who’ve loved it but couldn’t get the support of the whole house.

    It’s so hard to focus on the w-i-p, not only because I’m tempted to check email way too often, but because now I’m sadder & wiser. I know that the new book might not sell. I know how much that would hurt. I don’t have that blind optimism you have with the first manuscript, which helps propel you to the finish. I love writing, but the joy isn’t there right now.

    Writer friends all say it’s important to stay off the Internet when you’re on sub, and I do try. Nothing good comes from secretly twitter-stalking potential editors, especially when they post things like “You know that feeling when a book is pitched as the next big thing and it’s…not?” Or you see other deals, or agents post “It’s got to be Fall because I’ve sold 12 books in 7 days!! :)” etc. etc. ugh. brutal.

    Stay strong everyone. As my writing teacher once said, the writing is the fun part.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:52 am #

      Thanks for your honesty Leonie. I feel your pain. And yes, the internet can be a noisy disruptive place. Remember those days where we didn’t even know what twitter was? Sometimes I think those were saner times. Good luck and we’ll be rooting for you.

  15. Kate Larkindale Sep 14 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    This is such a great post. It’s so nice to hear that other authors are going through the same torture. My agent took one of my books out on sub earlier this year. No one bit, but we got some useful feedback. There may be some rewrites before we go back on sub with that one. In the meantime, she’s taken another book out in a very careful, thoughtful way. It’s a controversial book, so I appreciate the bespoke way of submitting it.

    Fingers crossed it works!

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:54 am #

      And I appreciate the fact that you used ‘bespoke’ in a sentence. Clearly, you know your craft! And good luck with your submissions. It’s so important to have a careful/thoughtful agent. Good for you!

  16. Amy Sep 14 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    I have been on and off submission for 8 years–yes, eight, and am newly out yet again. I have been on submission for five new manuscripts and major rewrites. I’ve never gotten an offer, but I’ve been “close” several times. A couple of months ago, I actually went to acquisitions only to get the rejection there. Sometimes it slays me. Sometimes it drives me. But I haven’t quiet yet. My agent and I are trying smaller publishers this time. I’m hopeful, but I’m also stubborn! I’m procrastinating writing now as I work on my sixth manuscript.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:56 am #

      I’m so sorry, that is rough. Stubborn is often what makes the difference. I read a great quote recently: Time has a way of demonstrating that the most stubborn are the most intelligent.
      Yevgeny Yevtushenko

  17. Lynn Hall Sep 14 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    Writers need this kind of honesty. Thanks for writing this. I was on submission for five months and fortunately, as of last week, I have my happily ever after (at least for this phase of the process.) But in those five months I nearly lost my mind. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:58 am #

      Congratulations to you! Makes getting a book deal that much sweeter, right?

  18. Abby Sep 14 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    Oh, gosh, I needed this post today! Going into my third month of being on sub and it’s so hard not to constantly refresh my inbox. Like Stacey and a couple of the commenters, mine’s historical, and my agent keeps reminding me that it’s a tough sell at the best of times. But we’ll keep on trying, and meanwhile I’m focusing on a WIP that’s decidedly contemporary, and trying to build community and meet other writers. It’s such a waiting game!

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 15 2015 at 1:59 am #

      I’m thinking we need to start a historical support group. We can drink absinthe while we wait. Great that you’re meeting other writers; the support is invaluable.

      • katz Sep 17 2015 at 3:23 pm #

        Sign me up for this.

  19. Julie Christine Johnson Sep 14 2015 at 8:11 pm #

    Stacey and Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for this post. No one talks about this part of the process; at least no one warned me it would be SO HARD.

    My first novel was something of a publishing faerie tale: I signed with an agent at 9:00 a.m. and with a publisher four hours later–the result of successful conference pitches. The novel never went on-sub! This spring, however, the second one entered the fray in the traditional way. But after reading this, and having talked to many other authors about their experiences, I have huge gratitude to have spent just five months on sub before offers were made.

    Plenty of rejections, one minor rewrite (not an R&R, but one I undertook based on some consistent feedback), one heartbreak of a close call at an Acquisitions meeting. And now, offers to consider. Although I’m thrilled that it seems to have a happy ending this time, being on sub is soul-gutting experience. I had to come to peace with the worst-case scenario: that this novel would never see the light of day. Having an agent who believed in the story and held steady was invaluable.

    As was carrying on with my work–writing writing writing and writing some more. Now in revisions of novel three!

    Thank you again- this is such good and needed guidance.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Oct 12 2015 at 8:53 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that Julie; I’m excited for your first book to come out (it looks really good!) and will cross my fingers for a successful purchase of #2! Sounds like things are moving ahead. 🙂

  20. Jennifer Sep 15 2015 at 11:35 am #

    I’ve repressed all memories of my first novel’s sub, as I believe it was out for about 5 or 6 months with no sale. The book that *did* sell was on sub for about three months when my agent and I decided it would be a good idea to revise it based on feedback. I did, and we were out for a couple more months and it sold! (And I don’t know if it makes folks feel better or worse, but it is historical fiction!)

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 16 2015 at 4:53 pm #

      How exciting Jennifer! Thanks for letting me know; I will be on the look out for that book. What a beauty of a cover.

  21. Darshana Khiani Sep 16 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    Hi Stacey!! Great post will be saving it for future reads.
    I’m subs but to agents and patiently waiting ….. what do I do to pass the time take a writing class or work on other PBs or maybe my novel.

    • Stacey
      Stacey Sep 16 2015 at 4:54 pm #

      Or join our book club. 🙂 Next Monday at 7:00 at Piatti’s.

  22. LUCY Dec 14 2015 at 6:52 am #

    thanks so much for writing this post! I’ve been out on sub with my debut for three weeks and it’s starting to amass the rejections…it is just such a horrible process that honestly makes you feel like you’re losing your mind!
    Such respect to everyone of you who has persisted and kept writing, if anyone has any tips on how to keep writing the next one I’d love to hear! It means a lot to be able to read fab articles like this so THANK YOU and good luck to everyone who has commented. We all know how hard it is.
    x

    • Stacey
      Stacey Dec 14 2015 at 1:04 pm #

      Writing the next one tips: stay away from social media, and give yourself space to think. I take lots of long walks. The time away from my desk makes the time at my desk so much more productive. And populate your life with supportive people if possible! Good luck!

      • LUCY Dec 15 2015 at 11:39 am #

        Thank you Stacey, that’s very kind of you! It’s such a horrible process! Social media is everywhere and I have to do it for my day job too, so it’s hard not to see all the “snapped up six figure deals!” But I guess that’s life. I can try the long walks thing!

  23. Ian Nettleton Sep 15 2016 at 5:01 am #

    I’ve been on submission for six months and my initial need to check emails and the excitement of almost being taken up have given way to a more stoical point of view. But I’m most of the way through a first draft of a new novel. I absolutely agree with you that you need to get on with the next thing, if you can. I’ve got a great agent, and it took a long time to get an agent (thanks to competitions, in the end). I do wonder if it’s going to happen, and the strange thing is that at times I have felt less hopeful than when I didn’t have an agent. It comes in waves. But I always think that there’s a pilot light somewhere that never goes out and that’s what keeps you writing (sounds like a Smiths line!). Anyway, thanks for your honesty. Appreciated.

  24. Stacey
    Stacey Sep 16 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    Yes, I love that analogy with the pilot light. Or maybe one of those tricky birthday candles. Good luck! <3

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