Beth Ellyn Summer On Surviving The Submission Process... For Two Years

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 (Submission Hell, It's True) is Beth Ellyn Summer. Beth writes contemporary young adult fiction that always includes the following elements: fame, makeup, and television. She graduated from Long Island University with a degree in print and electronic journalism, but the real highlight of her college years was interning for Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. Her debut novel, At First Blush, is available now.

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

I’d say I knew a decent amount of what I was in for. I did a lot of Googling and though there’s not much info out there on sub, I was thrilled to find your blog. I read every SHIT interview, and knew that I was in for a long process. I was also fairly well prepared for how many people need to like your manuscript before it’s accepted.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

The sheer agony of it all. I knew it would be slow but didn’t realize just how slow. Mine was not a quick sub story. It took nearly two years of sub, edits, sub, edits, lather, rinse, repeat till I got my deal with Bloomsbury.

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

I did. I was extremely curious to know who would be reading my manuscript, and I thought if I read enough interviews with the editors we’d subbed to, I’d be able to “find the match” in their answers. For example, if an editor liked makeup, I firmly believed it was a sign. But of course, sadly, it’s not quite so simple as mutual interests or a shared love of cats. A million things have to fall into place.

I do recommend doing it though, because I think it’s always cool to learn as much as we can about this business, and maybe you’d discover that one particular editor could be a good fit for a future project.

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

I’d say about a month or two.


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

Everything I didn’t do. Ha. Honestly, writing that next book. I know it’s said time and again, but that’s really the only way to take your mind off the waiting. Just try to get absorbed in anything you can to distract from refreshing email because all that will do is drive you insane. I also watched a lot of TV.

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

It sucked. Plain and simple. But I gave it ten minutes or so (ok more like a day) to sting, I’d complain to family and friends, and then I’d move on. It was both better and worse than query rejections. Better because when you’re on sub, you’re past that first difficult hurdle. Worse because the pool of editors is narrower than agents, and because I lacked the control to fire off more queries.

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?

My agent would forward me the helpful rejections and we’d determine if the ideas fit with my vision. Editor feedback is definitely more detailed than beta readers’ feedback. They’re coming at it with a whole new, fresh perspective and angle, and so typically their notes involved full rewrites (which, at the end of the day, is what you’ll be doing with your editor anyway so learning new ways to visualize the story is important.)

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

It was THE BEST. I’d known I was going to acquisitions but of course there are no guarantees with that. To say I’d been on edge for over a month is an understatement. I found out on a random Wednesday when my phone rang and it was my agent. She instantly said Bloomsbury offered, and there was lots of screaming and celebrating.

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

Thankfully not at all! I think just a few days till I was able to announce it!