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 Chelsea Pitcher. Chelsea is a karaoke-singing, ocean-worshipping Oregonian with a penchant for wicked faerie tales. She began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light. She is the author of THE S-WORD (Simon and Schuster), THE LAST CHANGELING (Flux), and THE LAST FAERIE QUEEN (Flux 2015).
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
Almost nothing! I knew publishing houses would be considering my work, but I was fairly clueless about imprints, second reads, acquisitions, etc. Luckily for me, I enjoy a good investigation, so I learned a lot while I was on sub. (And it never hurts to have author friends who’ve been through the process!)
Did anything about the process surprise you?
Oh, definitely. The timeframe can be hard to handle at first. Especially when some people get deals within three days, and others, three years! That’s why it’s so important to be doing other things while you’re on sub. If you put all your focus into one project, it will drive you up the walls.
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
I’ve peeked a little bit. I mean, what’s the harm in a simple Google search? A couple of minutes reading interviews? Checking a Twitter feed? Hopping over to Absolute Write . . . Yeah, it’s really easy to fall down that rabbit hole. And the farther you fall, chasing one particular editor, the more a rejection will feel like a piano falling on your head.
So search cautiously, my friends! I’m definitely a fan of being informed, but once you get that fluttery “OMG, WE WILL WORK PERFECTLY TOGETHER” feeling, run away. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if their Twitter feed is hilarious, you love the same band, and can both quote The Little Mermaid in its entirety. What matters is that they fall head-over-heels in love with your manuscript.
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
It really varies. The average would be maybe two months. But I’ve received responses within two weeks, or after six months. It all depends on the editor’s workload, their level of interest in your premise, and a myriad of other factors (is it conference season? Are they finishing a deadline of their own? Did they just request eight manuscripts?) Still, when you’re on sub, it’s hard not to check your email every few hours!
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
First and foremost: start working on your next book! Falling in love with a new project can so lessen the anxiety. But there are lots of ways to cope with the stress of submission (chocolate and margaritas are two suggestions I’ve heard, and I’ve certainly tried both!) But the truth is, what works for one person won’t always work for everyone.
For me, I’ve found that working out a lot helps lessen the stress of submission. I’m not exactly a person who works out regularly, but the first time I went on sub, it helped me a lot. So now it’s a part of my process (and that’s probably a good thing, considering how much time I spend sitting in a chair, typing away!)
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
Best advice for dealing with rejection? Don’t try to use logic to talk yourself out of an emotional reaction. Sure, you know it’s just one person’s opinion. Sure, you know reading is subjective. Still, rejection hurts. So allow yourself to grieve, cry if you want, feel angry if it helps you. And then, once you’ve let out all those negative emotions, you really will feel better. And all that logical “it’s just business” stuff will sink in.
As for querying vs. submission, it felt different at first. When you’re on sub, you feel so close to everything happening, and all you need is one yes. So each rejection felt like a door closing. Now, though, I’ve realized that “yes” is only about halfway up the mountain (because next you need good marketing, good reviews, good bookstore placement…) so agent and editor rejections feel much more similar. In both cases, it’s all about finding the person who can’t stop thinking about your work, who reads passages of your book out loud to their colleagues, who can’t stop taking about your writing. And if you found an agent who feels this way, that editor “yes” could be right around the corner!
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?
When a beta reader says something that really resonates, you can dive into edits right away. With an editor, it’s trickier, because you’re already out on sub, and what one editor dislikes, another might love. It’s really best to wait for three (or more) editors to say the same thing, and then think about revisions.
Another thing to consider is, while beta readers will tell you what isn’t working in a story, editors might reject a story that is working for personal reasons. Maybe the book just didn’t resonate with them, or maybe they just bought something with a similar premise. And because they’re so busy, they can’t necessarily list all the reasons they have for rejecting a project. That’s why it’s so important to give your projects to betas before you go on submission. They’ll help you hammer out all the plot issues, the pacing, the characterization, so once your book lands on an editor’s desk, they’re less likely to reject your book because there’s something wrong with it.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
It was surreal, shocking, startling, amazing! Both times, I got the news over the phone. And the first time, it just felt like a whirlwind, because we’d gone through second reads and acquisitions over the winter holiday, and I didn’t know about it. So when my agent called to give me the news, she didn’t just say they were passing the book up the chain; she said the book had reached the TOP!
Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
Yes! We had to wait about two months (between verbal offer and written contract). Most authors I know have experienced the same thing. Even though a verbal offer is taken very seriously, there’s so much more to consider (advances, world rights, film rights, option clauses) and publishers often want all of this hammered out before anything is announced. And yes, it can definitely be hard to wait, but most people tell their close family members before they tell the world. So really, you get to reveal your news two times: once to the people closest to you, and once to everyone in the book world. Which makes for two celebrations instead of one!