Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 1: Submissions

In terms of writing goals, 2017 has been a rewarding, exciting, and sometimes intimidating year for me – my first book was published and that milestone brought with it a whole bunch of other new experiences, like the terror/joy (joie-de-terreur? Can I coin a new phrase?) of actually reading in front of people for the first time. One of the things I’ve been most grateful for this year is the camaraderie and support I’ve found with a group of fellow 2017 debut authors, called ’17 Scribes. Without all these wonderful authors with whom to share advice and experiences, I think the roller-coaster of becoming a published author would have been a lot more intense.

With that in mind, I’ve got a three part series of shared advice from many of them. Aspiring writer? Maybe we’ll have some helpful advice for you here. Seasoned author? Perhaps you’ll smile and reminisce about having similar experiences when your first book came out.

For a writer seeking traditional publication, being on submission is one of the toughest parts. You’ve likely already gone through the minefield of patience, rejection, and partial requests that comes with searching for an agent, and then it pretty much starts again when it comes to sending your beloved manuscript out to publishing houses. The waiting period can be very long. Sometimes a rejection comes with constructive feedback, maybe with an invitation to revise and resubmit, but other times it might be a formulaic, vague response.

Finding a balance between patience and positivity is key for getting through submission

So what’s the best way to cope with the stress of being on submission? Most authors recommend focusing on a new project. I think this is good advice, and it gets you invested in your next book, making it a little easier to keep the other one at arm’s length. I also tend to find a new TV series to obsess over when I’m in that nail-biting stage of waiting to hear back from editors – while The Wardrobe Mistress was on submission, I discovered and fell in love with Justified. Of course, since my book was on submission for a year altogether, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you definitely should move onto another project. It might even get finished before you make that sale!

Several debut authors from ’17 Scribes kindly agreed to share their experiences of being on submission, as well as their tips for getting through.

I’m not a patient person. Just ask my husband. But I have learned patience with writing and becoming an author since not a single step moves fast–unless it is THEM wanting something from YOU!

Stress busters for me are: running, iced mochas, chocolate, and spending time with friends. Seriously, the running and chocolate helped keep me from completely freaking out. For me it is the whole lack of control I have over so much of the process!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club

I was so nervous while I was on submission! I jumped every time I got an email notification; I could hardly sleep. I did a lot of yoga, and I watched a lot of Netflix. (I think I watched like two seasons of House of Cards in a week; it really took my mind off the stress of being on submission.)

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Editor’s note: I can’t help loving the irony that the author of a (fantastic) book called Are You Sleeping couldn’t sleep while on submission. 

Tips for submissions: Do it and move on. Whenever I subbed to a publisher, I would note it in a book but then not look back. If I got a pass, I’d jot that down too but I tried not to dwell too much on if they’d want the book. If I hadn’t heard, I could pretend it was still a possibility.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

When querying agents, don’t give up too early. I have heard of authors giving up after a handful of no-thank-you’s. I would encourage those writers to persist, and keep trying. You might contact dozens of agents before the right person reads your query and sees the potential in your book. Tweak your query as you go along, if needed. Patience is necessary, because the process can take a long time.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

At the beginning, being on submission was very exciting for me. When my agent shared the names of the publishing houses or editors who were reading my novel, I would look them up and try to find out as much as possible about them and the kinds of books they had acquired in the past. After a while, I realized this was unproductive because some of them said no or didn’t get back to us. I stopped researching and started focusing on other projects. The only way I felt good about my writing during the submission process—with its ups and downs—was to get excited about my other novels.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

Everybody says that you need to work on something else when you’re on submission! I think this is generally helpful, though I’d suggest, if you are trying to sell a series, not necessarily working on a sequel or even something in the same genre. Most people also develop a Pavlovian response to checking their email (which probably starts when we’re querying agents and then carries over effortlessly to editors), so I’d suggest using an app like Freedom to force yourself to take breaks from the breathless anticipation. This is also a good time to write by hand, if that’s something you enjoy. And meditate. Practice gratitude. Exercise. Whatever means you have to get away from staring at your email—use it!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

Community provided a safe place to share the publishing journey, in all it’s glory and sometimes staggering lows. Without community, human society fades. My advice to any writer is three-fold:

  1. Read widely
  2. Write as often as you can
  3. Find your community

Renee Dahlia, author of To Charm A Bluestocking

Community can definitely get a writer through anything, from an unkind review to writer’s block! Got any other advice or experiences? Share in the comments! Next week I’ll have Part 2 of this series, all about what was most surprising about the publication process and the shift of moving from aspiring to published author.

And if you’re in the finding an agent phase of being on submission, check out this super detailed infographic with query letter tips!

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