Yes, yes my friends. I have a new interview series for you, as the BBC brain is always boiling. 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.
Kicking off the SHIT for us today is Erin Jade Lange, whose debut novel BUTTER will be released by Bloomsbury in 2012. Erin writes facts by day and fiction by night. As a journalist, she is inspired by current events and real-world issues and uses her writing to explore how those issues impact teenagers. Erin is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
BBC: How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
EL: Not as much as I thought I did. Ha!
I knew a little about acquisitions (the mysterious team of people who give an editor final approval to buy a manuscript), but I sort of naively thought – if an editor likes it, they get the thumbs up, make the offer, one phone call, done. The actual process is a bit more complicated, which is why I say it’s SO IMPORTANT to have an agent who knows the ropes.
BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?
EL: Many things.
Despite what I thought I knew about the acquisitions process, I learned there was a lot more to it. First, an editor has to like your book. Then, likely, they’ll need a second read from one or two people in the department. If those folks like it, they’ll discuss it at an editorial meeting and decide whether to take it to acquisitions. The acquisitions team is a whole new group of people who may or may not be more into the business side of books (who decide whether they can market and sell your story). It was sort of overwhelming to realize how many people have to like your book/idea before you actually get an offer.
BBC: Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
EL: I did, and I do.
Just like when you’re searching for an agent, you want to know which authors and which types of books editors work with. You want to know if they have a good reputation, etc… So I spent a lot of time on Google and on publishing houses’ websites.
BBC: What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
EL: Well, here is the part where I confess my “submission hell” was not so hellish at all. I was extremely fortunate to have interest in the first few weeks. This is HIGHLY UNUSUAL, so it may have been a case of good timing. Maybe my manuscript landed on an editor’s desk at just the right moment when he or she had time to read submissions and was in the mood for an edgy contemporary YA. The stars aligned; the editor liked the story; the ball got rolling.
Just like when you’re querying agents, once an offer is on the table, it’s time to nudge all queried parties, and people respond faster than they might have without that initial interest. So we got answers very quickly after that – some more interest, some rejections, and some editors letting us know they wouldn’t be able to speed up the acquisitions process enough to compete on our now-rushed timeline.
It all went very fast, but if it hadn’t been for that first offer, who knows? I might have been on sub for months or years.
BBC: What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
EL: Write. Something. New.
This is my advice during ANY part of the publishing process that requires waiting. Waiting on agents who have your query, waiting on submission, waiting for the book to be published… it can all be maddening, so go to the place we writers always go to escape – crawl inside a manuscript and forget your worries. Build something new.
BBC: If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
EL: I was so lucky to have interest in BUTTER right out of the gate, because it really cushioned the blow of the rejections that followed.
I will say this much, though: I was prepared for MORE rejections on sub than during the agent search. I think of the path to publishing like a cone that gets narrower as you try to squeeze through it. Tons of people write, many of them get agents, some get published and a lucky few get famous. I prepped myself from the very beginning to fail at every step but not give up.
Expect the worst. Be pleasantly surprised if it all works out for the best.
BBC: When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
EL: My big “moment” was less YES! And more MAYBE!
I had just stepped off a plane in my home town, where I was visiting my family, and I turned on my cell phone to discover a string of messages from my agent basically saying, “GAH! WTF? WHERE ARE YOU? I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!” haha. ☺ She let me know there was an editor interested, and I remember I sort of froze in place right there in the parking lot of the airport, and my parents are trying to hug me and take my bags, and I’m all, “Shh! Shh! I’m busy!” with my face buried in the phone, furiously text messaging.
I got super excited, but that excitement was tempered quickly by my agent explaining that the editor still had to get through acquisitions and that interest does not always equal “offer.”
But that was the most memorable moment – the moment when it felt like it might really happen.
BBC: Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
EL: Again, I was unusually fortunate. I got more than one offer, so yes, there was a period of time when I kept quiet while my agent communicated with everyone and discussed the offers with me and such. I think, between that moment at the airport and the formal first offer, it was at least a few days. Then I think it was another week before we had a deal to announce. I learned so much in that time period, that it passed very quickly. And, I confess, I shared my news with my parents, my boyfriend and my two closest crit partners. Telling them felt like telling the world, because they all mean the world to ME.
But I was still bursting with excitement when I could finally post the deal on my blog. The online writing community is so supportive, and I was blown away by the kind words from fellow bloggers and writers after I shared the news. Writing can be a solitary pursuit, so it’s wonderful to have so many people to share the ups and downs with. It’s during those extreme highs and lows when you realize writing’s not so lonely after all.