Submission, as we all know, is probably the least talked about process in a writer's road to publication. And rightly so. It's part of the biz that must stay professional at all costs. It's not something you can talk about in detail—especially in very public forums such as a blog. Thus, I won't be talking about my experiences in any detail, but only what a writer can expect from this phase.
For those who don't know, submission is what happens after you get an agent. It's when said agent sends your manuscript to editors, in hopes that they will offer a deal. This is, obviously, not the same thing as querying.
Querying = Submitting to agents
Submitting/Going on sub/Being on submission = Submitting to editors
Now that we have that cleared up, let's go through the most important aspects of being on sub and what to expect of them, in hopes of getting you a little more prepared.
The Actual Submission Part
Going on sub varies greatly based on your agent. In all likelihood, any certain approach is perfectly normal and acceptable. Some agents will have their authors write the cover letter that will be sent to editors with the manuscript. Some prefer to do that themselves. Some will call editors to pitch, others will email. Some will send out very few initial submissions, others might send out a little larger group.
As far as I've seen, the only submission tactic that is somewhat looked down upon is the "throw a bunch out there and see what sticks" approach. Editors sometimes feel this is a bit like spam, and those submissions may not get attention as a result. If you are concerned about your agent doing this, make sure to be open and honest.
In general, keeping communication lines open is a good idea at this point. If you have questions, ask! That is what your agent is there for. You are not being a burden. You are not annoying them. They know this is part of their job and are happy to do it.
Okay, so you are officially on sub! Your agent has sent you a lovely list of editors who have your book. The number one question I get at this point is, "How long can I expect to wait for replies?"
I wish the answer was more specific, but reply time varies A LOT. One thing I do know—the rejections usually come first. If an editor is initially interested, reads, but then doesn't feel like the book is for her, the reply can be rather quick. Getting an offer can be much more complex. It takes more time, because if an editor wants to buy it there are hoops to jump. Meetings to attend. People to convince. Numbers to run. Possibly even revisions to request.
If you want a number, I would say, on average, I've seen my friends get most of their replies within 2-6 months of starting sub. Of course there are a few who go shorter, and a few who go longer, but that seems to be an average for lots of replies. Notice I said replies, not sales. I won't even dare to put a number on that.
One thing I didn't expect from sub was the frequency in which I saw friends have requests for revisions. I went through this, too. It can feel overwhelming and frustrating, but know that revisions are a pretty common practice. You are totally normal if you get revisions. No worries.
There's also a lot of mystery around "acquisitions." This is a general term for the way in which a publishing house acquires a book. There are usually meetings involved, in which your potential editor pitches your book to the rest of the house. The goal of this meeting is to evaluate whether or not your book is a good investment. If they think it is, you might be seeing an offer soon. If not, well, yeah.
You can go to acquisitions many times or just once. It is a GOOD sign, but when you hear you're in acquisitions, it doesn't mean it's a sure thing. Once again, it is totally normal to not make it through acquisitions. I've been there—lots of people have been there. It does not mean your book won't sell; it's just the way it goes sometimes.
And...that's all I can think of right now concerning the actual process. Feel free to ask additional questions in comments if I don't get to it in the forthcoming topics.
Your Mental State
Submission can do a number on your sanity. I like to call it "pendulum swings." One second you will be "THIS BOOK IS SO GOING TO SELL!" The next it'll be "IT WILL NEVER SELL CUZ IT SUCKS!" Back and forth, up and down.
As far as I've seen, this is NORMAL. Every writer I've watched go through sub has had this swing in some form. It is not fun, but when you experience it, realize that you are not alone. This is part of the process, and these feelings do not reflect the reality of your book's future.
In fact, no one really knows if your book will sell. That's the maddening part. You literally do not know—your brain tries to read into every little thing in order to KNOW. But it doesn't. You just have to wait, and the waiting sucks. Period.
It is highly likely that being on sub will affect your confidence in some form. You may not be able to write as well. You might second guess your choices. It could be harder to get those words down. Again, all normal. Writing while on sub is hard, but also very important. You have to keep going despite the mental challenges.
Dealing With The Internet
It is very likely that the internet will be a difficult place to hang out when on sub. You will see other people sell books. You might start reading into editor's tweets and decide you're doomed. You could see similar books selling and feel like your spot is gone. Cover reveals could send you crawling back into bed. Earlier release dates might make you wildly envious.
The internet could make you feel like you are falling behind. It could encourage comparison at a time when it's most dangerous.
You are not the only one feeling this way. I've been there. Most every writer I know has been there. Jealousy is a very real thing in this profession, and you just have to face it and get past it. For better advice on that, read this post by Gayle Forman, Queen of Amazing. I can vouch for that advice, since that is how I've dealt with my own jealousy.
And when in doubt, stay away from the freaking internet. It can be toxic while on sub.
Facing Your Writing
No matter how hard, you have to work on that next book. Sub is NOT an excuse to sit around and wait for everything to work out. The writing must go on!
Writing can be very hard when you're waiting to hear from editors. It's hard to get that possibility out of your head and make room for a new story. It's always there in the back of your head—I could sell a book soon. And when editor rejections come in, it's easy to let yourself doubt. Your writing isn't that great. You're doing everything wrong. Your voice isn't strong enough. Why bother?
But if you let it, working on a new project can be a great comfort. When things are going tough, it can be your future, the book you will sell, the one that makes you smile because it's full of possibilities. And if sub is going well? It can be the same thing—your next book. There's always a next book if you're a writer.
Coping With Waiting
Oh, the waiting. The waiting is maddening. It's a quiet killer. The one constant in all of publishing. No one likes it—everyone must deal with it. I am not a patient person, and it has been quite the challenge for me to come to terms with the sheer amount of waiting that I've had to, uh, wait through over the past several years.
If you let it, waiting can destroy you. What you want will always be just one step out of reach, and when you're done waiting for that there will be something else to wait for. It's hard to be happy when you're constantly focused on that thing that could happen in the future, instead of what's happening in your life right now.
For me, being on sub impacted the way I lived my life. Mostly because of the waiting. Instead of living my life, I waited. Saundra Mitchell had an AWESOME post on this a week ago or so. The key to surviving the waiting is to DO. Whether it's write the next book or plan a vacation or learn how to cook like you've always wanted.
Life doesn't have to stop when you're waiting for something. It's shouldn't stop. For us writers especially, life is where we get our stories, so we better be living one, not waiting for the "Professional Author" one to happen.
When To Call It Quits
Yes, I'm going to talk about this. Having put a manuscript aside after almost a year and a half on sub, I think it's an important thing to talk about. It's not a fun thought, but it does happen. Actually, it happens far more often than you think. I think about half the authors I know have at least one novel that did not sell. They had to move on—I had to move on. Which is why you write another book while on sub.
The choice is a very personal one, but I can say you'll know when it's right. For me, it was when I no longer felt like the book on sub should be my debut. Enough time had passed that I didn't feel like it was my best work. I still love the book, mind you, but I'd moved on. It was no longer the first story I wanted to share with the world, and that was okay.
Sometimes, it's okay to move on. And if you have to face this decision, know that it is no reflection on your talent. It is purely a market thing. That's something I didn't quite understand when I first started sub. Publishers buy books that they can sell. Yeah, they're also good, but selling is VERY important. There are many books out there that are amazing, and yet not-so-marketable. That is okay.
Okay, whew, can we say longest post ever? But I hope that it helps those who are about to embark on submission or those who are currently going through the process. Please remember that you are not alone.
And, if by some chance I haven't answered a question you have about sub, feel free to ask in comments!