What it Feels Like to Go On Submission
(As Told By Game of Thrones GIFs)
You wrote a book, hooray! You got an agent, hooray again! Your agent says your book is ready to go on submission to editors!
In a nutshell, being on submission is when your agent pitches your book to editors in an attempt to solicit an offer. It can be a very long, very stressful process. And like everything else in publishing, there’s no one way it goes down. Every single person’s publishing journey will be different. So even though I’m going to use the second person in this not-to-be-taken-super-seriously post, this is only my experience. For every “you” please read “Katie Henry, who has only been on submission one time and is therefore kidding herself in thinking her advice is valuable.”
But if you’re still interested, here’s what it’s like to go to submission:
First, your agent will give a list of the publishers (and imprints) your manuscript is going. They may or may not provide the individual names of editors. Your agent will kindly ask you not to stalk people, not to post on social media about the submission process, and to try not to freak out too much. You will agree, and then internally roll your eyes. You survived the querying process, right? This can’t possibly be worse, right?
Day 1 on submission:
Day 2 on submission:
Day 3 onwards:
You will freak out. Maybe it’ll take you weeks. Maybe it’ll take you a few days. Maybe you’re a particularly high strung individual and will begin to unravel within seriously like forty-five minutes, Katie.
You’re a rational, reasonable person, and you know that editors are human beings with a lot on their plates and could not possibly read your book in two days. You will know this and ignore this. Why haven’t you heard anything? Maybe they hated it and are so embarrassed for you they won’t contact your agent. Maybe they love it and are eagerly showing it to all their colleagues. Maybe (and most likely) it is still sitting on their desk under a bunch of other manuscripts fighting to the death for attention.
In the above gif, the warriors represent various children’s books about tolerance and true love or whatever.
And you will panic. And mope. And explain the submission process in great detail to people who definitely don’t care, such as your non-book friends and your super, who is really just trying to focus on fixing your shower.
Above all, you will obsessively check your email.
Ravens are the Westerosi equivalent of email. Stay with me.
In between email checking, you’ll read agent blogs and writer blogs about being on submission. Like this one, except with more experience and fewer pictures of Kit Harrington. Almost unanimously, they’ll suggest one primary method of coping with submission stress: writing your next book.
Maybe you’ll do this. Definitely do this! It’s obviously the best idea! But maybe you’ll completely blow off this sound advice and cope in…other ways.
And then, after a while—maybe days, maybe weeks, maybe months—the responses will start coming in.
The rejections come in first, and they seem to come in batches. Here are some the rejections you might receive:
“It wasn’t a good fit for me.”
“I love the concept, but not the main character.”
“I love the main character, but didn’t like the concept.”
“I really, really liked this, but I didn’t love it. So I’m going to pass.”
The last one is the most painful of all, of course. They liked it, but they didn’t love it. Isn’t liking it enough? If they like it, why won’t they buy it? But the more I see of the publishing world, the more it becomes clear that your editor absolutely loving a project is important. There are so many books—so many books even within a single imprint—that your editor has to be a champion for your book. They have to be evangelical for your book. Like, snake-handling, door-to-door preaching, washed-in-the-Blood-of-your-book evangelical.
This kind of evangelical. But with less, you know, torture and stuff.
It can take a while to find that editor, and sadly, it doesn’t happen for every agented book. It doesn’t mean your manuscript sucks, it doesn’t mean your agent’s going to drop you, it’s just an unfortunate reality that there are more great manuscripts than there are editors. But hopefully the stars align, and you find that editor. Or two. Or a whole host of editors who love you and love your book and want to shower you with riches.
Not this way.
I’m not going to go into the logistics of acquisitions meetings because I have never been to one, though I did briefly consider sneaking into the HarperCollins building to crash my own. But basically, an acquisitions meeting is where your potential editor, newly converted to the religion that is Your Book, tries to convince fellow editors and also Sales and Marketing (read: money people) that this book will change their life. If they succeed, you’re looking at an offer. If they don’t…well.
If you’re going to acquisitions, your agent will tell you. Your agent may even know the exact day it is happening, and that day may be months away. Especially if it’s summer, the winter holidays, or literally any other time because publishing is completely inscrutable.
You may be totally fine with this. Alternatively, you might be so on edge you block out the entirety of December 2016.
In the meantime, write something new! Or don’t. But definitely seek support from the people who love you. One of the hardest things about the process is feeling like you’re alone in it. You don’t have to be.
And then, the day of the acquisitions meeting, you might get a call. Or rather, you might miss a call from your agent despite the fact that your phone was glued to your hand and the volume was all the way up, and when you call her back, she tells you that there’s been an offer on the stupid book you love but thought you’d never sell, and you process none of the details beyond that point and respond to everything she’s saying with the word “awesome” as if you are suddenly Awesome Hodor.
If this happens—and I hope it does for you, repeatedly—you will feel overjoyed, of course, but also so, so lucky. There are a million ways a book can die on submission. But there are also a million ways it can survive despite the odds. Just like on Game of Thrones.
Arya is my girl but there is no realistic way she’s still alive. Come on. She’s not Beric Dondarrion.
Being on submission can feel especially isolating and hard because so much of it is out of your hands. You wrote the best book you could, and whether it sells involves more luck than should legally be allowed. You may or may not have control over how many cupcakes you consume during this process, but you definitely don’t have control over your luck. Your first book might sell. Or your sixth book might sell. I know people who have sold in their first week on submission for their first book, and I know people who sold their debuts after years and years and effort and perseverance. You don’t have control over your luck, but you do have control over what you do next. You can always keep going. You can always keep writing.
Because what do we say to the God of Giving Up?
Now go forth and write some books with magic and dragons and a feudal system that somehow lasts for thousands of years without any meaningful societal change. People eat that shit up.