Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Author Sara Crawford On Subjective Feedback

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 Sara Crawford, who graduated in 2008 from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in English and in 2012 from the University of New Orleans with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (emphasis in Playwriting). In addition to working as a freelance writer and internet marketer, she is also a creative writing professor in the graduate program at Southern New Hampshire University, teaching online classes. She also loves to talk about books, music, and writing on her YouTube channel. Sara is the author of the young adult titles, WE OWN THE SKY and HURRY UP, WE'RE DREAMING.

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

Pretty much nothing. I knew a lot about querying agents and the process of trying to get a literary agent, but I didn’t really learn anything about the next step in the process. I was too focused on that first step.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Yes. I had heard that the publishing process was slow, but I don’t think I realized how slow. I didn’t realize that when we first went on submission, it would be a month or two before we heard back from anyone. 

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

I’ve definitely been known to stalk editors I knew had my ms on Twitter. I would not recommend doing that because there’s a tendency to read into everything they tweet. “Oh, they’re enjoying a latte at a new coffee shop in their neighborhood? Clearly, that means they haven’t read my book yet!”

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

It varied A LOT, but most editors seemed to respond within two months or so.

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

Work on the next book. If I could do it over again, I would spend much more time writing and less time obsessing over being on submission. I found that when I engrossed myself in the actual act of writing, it was a lot easier to focus on everything I loved about storytelling and not have so much anxiety about publishing. Even when I wasn’t actively writing, reading other books in my genre or craft books was a much better way to spend my time than refreshing my inbox or reading editors’ tweets. 

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

A lot of the rejections I got were with comments like “I like this, but I just don’t love it enough” or “I really enjoy this, but I don’t know how to sell it”. Those hurt a lot more than the rejections with actual criticism of the novel because at least I could understand those. But what can you do about someone just not loving your book enough? Publishing a book traditionally is a difficult process for everyone involved, and so much of landing a book deal depends on finding an editor who loves it enough to go through that process. My agent felt that way about my book from day one so I thought it would be relatively easy to find an editor that would feel the same way. Every time I got one of those rejections, though, it just reminded me that I hadn’t found that person yet. 

I can’t say I was always the best at dealing with it emotionally. There was a lot of chocolate ice cream and listening to The Smiths. These rejections hurt a lot more than query rejections because when I was querying, I knew I was at the beginning of the process. With these rejections, there was a sense of knowing that I was so close but didn’t quite have what they were looking for.

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?

If there’s one I’ve learned about feedback from all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from agents, editors, beta readers, critique partners, professors, and fellow students, it’s that all feedback is subjective. It’s easy to tell right away if feedback is going to be helpful or not. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you’re an editor or a beta reader. I’ve gotten extremely helpful feedback from beta readers before, and I’ve gotten really confusing feedback that didn’t help me at all from editors. I process all feedback the same way. I try to figure out the main issue that the person was having, and then I try to fix it. If the comment is a subjective opinion, I usually try to look beyond what they didn’t like to the underlying issue that needs to be fixed.

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

I actually never got a yes. After being on sub off and on for about three years, I finally decided to stop pursuing traditional publishing with that book and self-publish it. I’m having a great experience being an indie author, but I’d still like to be a hybrid because I think some things I write work better for indie publishing, and some things would work better being traditionally published. My agent and I are about to go on sub again with another novel so I get to do it all over again! This time, I’ll hopefully be too busy writing my next book and marketing my indie books to obsessively check my inbox or stalk editors on Twitter.

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