A.G. Howard's Submission Journey

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 is A.G. Howard, who writes YA and adult literary fantasies with a romantic slant. She is represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. A.G.’s debut YA fantasy, SPLINTERED, is an urbanized gothic spinoff of ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, in which a sixteen-year-old descendant of Alice Liddell (real life inspiration for the Lewis Carroll novel), realizes the fairy tale was true when the darker side of Wonderland lures her through the rabbit hole to fix the things her great-great-great grandmother Alice put wrong. SPLINTERED slated to be published by Amulet in Spring 2013. For a more in-depth peek, visit A.G.’s online haunts: website, twitter, and blog.

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

I’d already been through the sub process before with a prior book and a prior agent, so I had a good idea how it worked. The big difference was the way my new agent (aka Agent Goddess Jenny Bent) handled the passes / news. She got back to me immediately upon hearing something w/out me having to nudge her. My first agent would let the passes build up then when I nudged, she’d send my way. I definitely prefer Jenny’s way of doing things. I never felt in the dark.

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

I think what surprised me most this time around was how fast we were hearing back on the fulls. My book is a twisted version of a classic which gives it a large demographic, and that had them reading it very quickly. With my first book, it took a LONG time to hear back from editors. In fact, when I left Agent One, we still had the MS out with an editor who had been holding onto it almost a year and a half after we sent it. Agent One gracefully withdrew the MS from them and handed the rights back to me. Now I can try to sell it again w/Jenny and a whole different set of publishers.

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

Heck yeah, I researched them. I looked for online interviews so I’d know what their likes/dislikes were. Do I recommend it? Not exactly. You can drive yourself crazy trying to surmise if the book they’re describing in their interview, the one they’re dying to find, is yours or not. In the end, knowing a lot about them isn’t going to change how they feel about your MS. I suggest waiting until you get real interest from a publisher, then research that one (or if you go into auction, research each publisher involved). Because you’ll be ending up with one of them, and that way, when the intro phone call comes, you’ll already feel like you “know” things about them, and it makes the conversation flow easier.

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

The longest we had to wait was eight weeks. If I had to average it out, I would say probably three-four weeks.

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

Stay busy. Write up a few short blurbs for upcoming book ideas. When considering taking on a new author, one of the things an editor looks for is the broad scope. They'd like to know (especially if it's a standalone novel) what else that author might be working on, in case they’re considering offering a two book deal. The first editor who offered actually asked what else I had in mind for future books before she made her offer. So it sure paid off having those worked up and on hand. Also, work on your next book, if you can. That’s what I did my first time on submission. I wrote two more books during that year. But this time around, I was too nervous and couldn’t make myself write. So instead, I concentrated on my platform. I started blogging and tweeting regularly, made a book trailer, created a website (still under construction but looking better by the minute thanks to my webmaster hubbie). Just keep yourself busy with something productive that ties into your writing career and will reap instant gratification, because you have enough waiting going on w/the subs. ;)

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

First of all, getting passes from editors when you have an agent in your corner is completely different. You might think I’m going to say it hurts less. It doesn’t. The rejections you got while querying agents is boot camp compared to this. But there’s comfort in the fact that this time around you’ve already earned your stripes and have a true blue publishing pro on your side. That goes a long way in easing the bite, especially if said agent is supportive and optimistic and encouraging like Jenny is. Still, for me, since this was my second time through the sub process, every time I got a pass, I felt like I was letting Jenny down. That was my own personal hang up. I’m sure it’s different for each writer.

How I got through it emotionally? I crashed and burned a few times. LOL. But I have the most AMAZING support group: wonderful friends/critters/agent (and my super encouraging family) who held my hand and kept me from becoming a lemming. Yes, leaping off of cliffs to a watery grave did cross the mind a time or two. My fabulous support group kept me afloat through it all.

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?

I wanted to have any comments on hand in case we needed to refer to them later. I had a document where I pasted all of the feedback, positive and negative. But to suppress any bad vibes, I colored the negative stuff with uber light font, and bolded the positive as the focal point, so when I opened the doc to paste a new comment in, I would only see the positive. For me, these comments were very similar to comments from beta readers, because you have to weigh everything against your gut. It’s still mostly subjectivity, as proven by how often one editor’s likes/dislikes would contradict another’s.

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

HAHA! I may be a writer, but words just can’t do it justice. I did my best to express my emotions in the announcement posted on my blog. As for how I found out about the first offer, an email from Jenny sent by way of her cell (because as luck would have it she was on vacation when it all started to play out—LOL) and then she called me later that day so we could SQUEE in person. Hee.

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

Yes, I did have to wait about two weeks, because we had the MSS out with more than one editor and once the first offer was made, Jenny had to contact everyone else who had it and give them time to read it. We ended up going to auction, which stretched it out a little longer. It was SO HARD to wait!! Fortunately, the friends and family in my inner circle were my sounding board. Lots of giddy screams and joyful laughter traversing through the phone line and email during those two weeks. ;)

Thanks again so much for having me, Mindy. This was a blast! J