I wanted to write a post about the submission process, which can be one of the scariest times in a writer’s life. I remember when I first went on submission I spent ages reading blogs about it to see what other people’s experiences had been and compare them to my own, but the truth is, everyone has a different story.
I went on submission twice with The Doll House – once after doing some extensive edits for a particular publisher. The first time, I remember sitting in my kitchen fizzing with excitement after my agent emailed me to say it was out there, landing in editors’ inboxes. I spent the next few weeks in a state of near-constant anxiety, checking my emails like there was no tomorrow, and feeling sick every time my agent’s name popped up in my inbox. Every weekend, I would try to relax and forget about it for two days as I knew nothing would come through, but every Monday morning the whole process would start again – any day could be the day we got a yes. The second time, I was perhaps a bit more realistic, but it was equally nerve-wracking, and in the end when the offer came it was totally unexpected!
I’ve heard of people getting an offer within two weeks, and I’ve heard of people getting an offer after two years. The submission process can be horribly, heartbreakingly slow, and you can drive yourself mad thinking about all the reasons why you haven’t heard back yet. Working in a publishing house does give me more insight into this so I’ll put my editor hat on and try to explain some of the reasons why there could be a delay in publishers getting back to you or your agent.
When we get submissions in from agents, we forward them to our editorial assistant who then brings them all to our weekly editorial meeting. We have a list of all the submissions we’re reading and who is reading what, but if an editor likes a book, she will usually ask for another opinion from one or more members of the team. That can then take a while as people fit their reading around their other tasks, and of course there will be times when key staff are out of the office or on holiday. Then once we’ve decided we want to make an offer, we need to take the book to an acquisitions meeting and get it officially signed off. This involves running calculations, speaking to the sales and foreign rights teams, and putting together a pitch document – all of which can take a bit more time! So if you haven’t heard back from a publisher, it does NOT mean they hate your book!
On the other side of it, as an author I know how hard it can be not to let your imagination run away with itself and start questioning your novel more and more as the weeks go by. Sometimes the thought of other people reading my book makes me totally cringe, but remember, if you have a good agent who is willing to send your book into the world, the chances are it’s really not that bad a read. Publishing can also be so subjective – we do follow the market and put a lot of faith into books that we think will sell, but there are some submissions that totally divide opinion, and there are hundreds of stories of books being picked up after tons of rejections. What one editor hates, another might love. And luck comes into it too – one editor turned my book down as she’d acquired another novel about sisters just the week before, and if things had been the other way around she might have bought mine first instead! You can never know exactly what other submissions your would-be editor is reading and it’s a fact that at times, a list is just too full or saturated, so no matter how amazing a book might be, there just isn’t the space to do it justice.
One piece of advice I was given by many people when I was first on submission (and which I’m ashamed to say I don’t think I actually followed, but you should!) was to write something else. Let book one go out into the world and start writing book two, or short stories, or anything to distract you from your inbox and remind you why you like writing in the first place. If you start working on your next book, then worst case scenario when your submission is over and your book doesn’t sell – hey, you have another one on the go that could be ready for submission in another six months’ time. Try to use the submission time productively. I started going to the gym a lot (a habit I now seem to have fallen out of, much to my shame) and the exercise helped with the submission anxiety too, and was a good way to let off steam after another rejection came in with the phrase ‘not quite…!’
The other thing to mention about submission is be clear with your agent on how you want the process to work. Each agent deals with this differently, but for me, I wanted to be in the loop about the rejections or near-misses – I preferred getting each one individually rather than hearing nothing and then getting a stack all at once. Some authors prefer not to know, which is fine too – but if you speak to your agent at the start of the submission process, at least you know where you stand and you won’t torture yourself thinking there are things going on behind the scenes which you don’t know about. It is of course your agent’s job to handle things, but it’s fine for them to keep you updated with how many publishers are still considering your book, so you can be realistic and keep your expectations in check.
Submission is a really difficult experience – it was for me and it has been for basically all the other writers I know, but you can get through it, and you never know what will happen. Keep in mind that you’ve already got to a stage some people dream of, and that whatever happens, you can always write another book. I was very lucky in that The Doll House was the first book I wrote, but I did revise it heavily multiple times, and I know lots of authors who are now bestsellers but with a book in the drawer that didn’t sell. Not selling your first novel doesn’t mean you won’t sell your second, or third, or tenth – so keep going, keep it in perspective and turn the rejections into determination to succeed.