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 my SHIT is Sarah Glenn Marsh, who writes young adult novels and children’s picture books. An avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life, she’s been making up words and worlds ever since. Sarah's newest release FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP releases from SkyPony on October 11th.
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
I knew a lot before my first time on sub! Or at least, I thought I did from all my Googling, which included reading some interviews in this very series. Yet nothing I read prepared me for the various stages of emotion that would accompany this long wait. Also, I had no idea that an editor needed so many people’s approval (their team, their boss, the marketing department) before offering on a book—or on a related note, how much the acquisitions process varies between imprints and houses.
Did anything about the process surprise you?
The sheer amount of subjectivity. For instance, I’d get a pass that would say (making up an example here), “I don’t like the voice in this, but the plot was great!” And then a few days later, I’d get literally the opposite feedback—“I don’t like the plot in this, but it had a great voice!”
This was both surprising and admittedly, slightly maddening, because I like to have control over things and there’s absolutely no way to control or predict the opinion of someone I’ve never met!
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
With my first book on submission—Fear the Drowning Deep—which I’m discussing here, yes! I read every editor interview I could get my hands on. And while it occupied my anxious brain for a little while, mostly it just gave me false hope when I’d see something like, “Oh, this editor loves ocean stories! Hopefully my book will be for her.” See my note on subjectivity above, but basically, there’s so much that has to happen for an actual offer to be made that getting my hopes up like this was pointless. Then on the flip side, sometimes I’d see that an editor who had my book had just bought something similar, which would send me into despair for a few days.
I’ve since had other mss go on sub, and each time, I’ve looked up the editors less and less, to the point that with my recent YA which sold in the spring, I didn’t do this at all. I was happy to just go about my business, because I’ve realized looking up editors doesn’t add or detract from a book’s chances—it just makes me read into their tweets and words when I shouldn’t.
On that note, I don’t recommend researching editors—there are other things to do to keep yourself occupied while on sub!
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
Generally, responses came within one to two months. One outlier, who I’d convinced myself would never respond, took about 8-9 months. Fear the Drowning Deep sold at 10 months on, to someone who’d had it for about 3 months.
Here’s another example to show you how much this can vary, though: my recent YA sold after just about 3 weeks on sub!
Just because your submission doesn’t follow a certain timeline doesn’t mean it won’t sell is my point here—every sub experience is different, so don’t lose sleep over the timing!
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
A lot of other authors have answered this with, “Write the next book!”
But maybe you’re an anxious person like me, and that’s not possible. Maybe it’s really difficult for you to focus, like it was for me, when all your hopes and dreams are bundled into this thing that’s now out of your hands, and you’re nervous as hell about it.
My advice to beat the on-sub woes is: if you can channel your nerves/frustration/any negative emotions into creative energy, then by all means, write your next book! Then you’ll have another project to submit, just in case. And besides, you grow as a writer with every manuscript.
However, if you’re like me and you can’t channel your nerves into creative energy because submission is messing with your head—do something else! While I was on sub, I took up watercolor painting classes. It gave me a new creative outlet that had nothing to do with writing, and best of all, I wasn’t checking my email during the time I was in the classes! I also tried out a lot of new baking recipes and dinners, spent time with my animals, planned trips, called friends, listened to some cool podcasts I’d been wanting to check out—basically, keep yourself as busy as possible with life-stuff and fun-stuff so you aren’t dwelling on sub too much!
One other note here: I was bugging my poor agent so much that I asked for weekly check-ins on a designated day, even if there was no news. I think I got that idea from an author in this series, actually. The check-ins gave me a set time each week to worry about sub, and while it didn’t solve all my anxiety, it sure was helpful.
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
I was all over the place with how I handled rejections on Fear the Drowning Deep!
At first, it was exciting to hear from industry professionals on my work, even though they were passes; they were typically very complimentary, with a bit of critique.
After a while, though, the passes started to get wearing and make me feel down on myself. My solution to that was to take all the compliments from the passes I’d received and stick them all in a Word document I could look at when I was feeling low. That helped a little. So did my friends Snickers and Twix and Milky Way!
Overall, I found editor rejections worse than query rejections because I was that much closer to the top of the publishing mountain (an offer), only to be turned away right before the peak. That frustrated me, and was of course out of my control until we decided to revise the manuscript and submit to a fresh round of editors (my offer on Fear the Drowning Deep came from this second round of submissions).
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?
The first thing I did was take some time away from it, because if a pass had feedback, it usually stung a bit at first look. Then, with a clear head, I’d go back and try to see if the rejection had anything in common with those before it—looking for patterns in their feedback that might help me revise later if needed.
Of course, being the anxious creature I am, I sometimes had a hard time sorting out what was personal preference vs. constructive feedback, so I leaned on my agent a lot to help me highlight what to take into consideration for revisions.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
I found out via telephone, from my agent! I was actually at an event called FaerieCon (a gathering of fantasy authors, artists, and vendors and lots of folks in costume), heading into the ladies’ restroom, when I realized I had a voicemail from my agent asking me to call her. I gracefully (read: obnoxiously) shrieked, startling all the bathroom-going fairies, and ran to the hotel lobby where the event was taking place so I could call her back and hear the news in real time. Then I immediately called my husband and parents.
The whole night after hearing the news felt surreal. I remember it as a dazed, happy blur. Finally, someone appreciated my hard work. Finally, persisting in the face of so much rejection had paid off. I promptly took a picture of my happy-tired face so I could remember what it looks like when not giving up on your dreams pays off.
Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
I did have to wait a little while, during contract negotiations, before sharing the news. I think it was about a month. Since I’d told my husband, parents, and grandparents right away, I was actually okay (read: just slightly antsy) with the wait. Cliché as it may sound, my husband is my best friend, so I was happy to just celebrate with him! I felt validated, and I knew this was really happening, so the wait was no longer anxiety-inducing—but, it was pretty cool when I finally got to shout it to the writing world.