Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Submission Process For A Debut Novelist With Mary Elizabeth Summer

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.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Mary Elizabeth Summer, author of TRUST ME, I'M LYING. She contributes to the delinquency of minors by writing books about unruly teenagers with criminal leanings. She has a BA in creative writing from Wells College, and her philosophy on life is "you can never go wrong with sriracha sauce." She lives in Portland Oregon with her partner, their daughter, and their evil overlor—er, cat. TRUST ME, I'M LYING is her debut novel.

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

Nothing. Nada. Did no research. I went in totally blind.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I figured there would be rejections. I did not realize that it would take editors months to respond, and that when they did, they’d have a thoroughly detailed list of exactly what they didn’t like about the book. I could have asked my agent not to send me the rejections, but I’m glad I did see them, because I was able to pick out a common thread among the rejections. I then edited my ms part way through the submission process, and my agent sent the updated version to the editors who hadn’t responded yet. I credit that mid-submission edit with getting me a book deal.

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

I followed them on Twitter. No, I don’t recommend it. Also, if you follow your agent on Twitter, I recommend unfollowing her/him during your submission time. You will freak out every time s/he says there’s an offer on the table, even though you know they have, like, thirty other clients. Had I to do it over again, though, I’d probably ignore my own advice, so there’s that.

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

It varied so widely. I didn’t start getting rejections for a month or two. But some editors didn’t respond until seven months in, and only then because I had an offer on the table.

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

Everyone says this, but it is so true: Write something else. Really. First of all, it is the only thing that will be able to distract you from how your current book is doing. Secondly, you will not have time to write it later. Trust me. Write another two books, if you can.

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

I drank a lot. I kid, I kid. Mostly. ☺ I actually take rejection pretty well. All of the rejections were couched in the nicest way (editors are super nice, y’all), and that helped to soothe the sting of the rejection. Plus, I always look at it like I can learn something from it, which usually makes me feel better, as if the rejection wasn’t in vain.

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

First, I’d skim the rejection quickly. Then close it and do something else for a while. Then I’d open it again and really read it, trying to parse out what their objections were, whether I agreed with their comments, and how I’d try to change the parts in question if I could. Following that process is what enabled me to figure out the common thread in all the rejections that I was then able to rectify and resubmit. Getting the same kind of feedback from a beta reader is far less ouchy, so I don’t generally need to skim first—I can dive right into deep reading/parsing.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

My agent called me, and I believe I said something along the lines of “I think I’m going to barf.” She told me to wait until after she told me all the details. (I <3 my agent.) To be honest, it felt utterly euphoric. There’s no feeling in the world quite like it.

Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?

I didn’t have to wait long—a week, I think. My editor wanted me to wait for it to be announced in Publisher’s Weekly. But I did tell my friends and family, so waiting a week to publically announce it just seemed like drawing out the celebration for a few extra weeks. But I feel for people who have to wait months to announce. I consider it cruel and unusual, personally.

6 comments:

Artemis Grey said...

Thanks so much for answering these questions, Elizabeth!

I'm both relieved, and terrified, by all of your responses. None of your experiences contradict the expectations I already had, so it doesn't seem like it will be worse than my nightmares. At the same time since your experiences align with my theorized situations, they don't alleviate my nightmares about the process either :)

I'm SO grateful to have just this to go on, though. It does help those of us who have yet to face the 'first time submissions' process. Well meaning friends are always telling me not to worry, that once I have an agent, it'll be all downhill from there and the hard part will be over, and I never want to smash them for trying to make me feel better, but inside I'm thinking 'It's NOT over when I get an agent, it's just STARTING!!!'

So, it's reassuring in it's unreassuring way, if that makes any sense at all.

Thanks again!!!

Krista Quintana said...

Wow. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It gives those of us just starting out a little bit of hope. :)

M.E. Summer said...

Girl, you are wise beyond your years. Agent is just the beginning. The road is steep from there, and nothing really gets easier. Don't get me wrong, most of it is freaking awesome, but it's also super hard. Be prepared to work. Thanks for the comment!

M.E. Summer said...

If I can do it, you certainly can. The trick is to keep trying, even when it feels sometimes like you're slamming your head against a wall. (Tip: I sing to myself "Just keep swimming" from Finding Nemo during those times.) It's totally worth it, so just keep swimming! You'll get there! :-)

thomas h cullen said...



I've myself looked up repeatedly agents on twitter I've queried.


One of the best parts of the interview.

M.E. Summer said...

Thanks, Thomas! Glad you had the same experience. It's freeing knowing we're not alone in this crazy industry. ;-)