Debut Author Kristen Kittscher Shares Her Submission Experience

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 MG author Kristen Kittscher (yes, I lured in a nice, unassuming MG author and then titled the interview with a bad word). Kristen was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in 13 different cities. She derailed her education by getting thrown out of boarding school for publishing an underground newspaper, but — after dropping out and living in France — she eventually graduated from Brown University with a degree in Comparative Literature. After working as a story editor in Germany and Hollywood, Kristen taught middle and high school English for many years. She now runs an after-school tutoring business in Pasadena. Her MG novel, THE WIG IN THE WINDOW the comic misadventures of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous fugitive, will be coming from Harper Children's, Winter, 2013. Kristen is repped by Jennifer Laughran, of Andrea Brown.

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

I understood it well enough to know how much authors’ experiences can vary. Not only was my agent (the lovely Jenn Laughran) very clear about the process, but I also was lucky enough to have two local writing friends who had generously shared with me every step of their own submission stories. In a way, though, that made being on submission especially daunting. I knew how interminable the waiting felt to them, and how emotional it could be when hopes were raised or dashed.

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

I was surprised by how easy the first couple weeks of being on submission were. I had prepared myself for crippling anxiety, but instead I was relieved to have my manuscript out of my hands for a while. Ironically, it was once the first editor expressed interest that I had trouble distracting myself. Time crawled thereafter.

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

I did some cursory research after Jenn and I discussed the submission list. I suggested a few editors who’d read samples of my work and liked it, which she took into account. However, I trusted Jenn’s instincts and relationships. She had very specific reasons for each editor on her list. As far as research goes, I always do my own homework because it makes me feel better — and who can pass up the opportunity for seemingly meaningful procrastination? Still, I think it’s far more valuable to have a thorough discussion with your agent about why she thinks a certain editor would be a good fit. She or he presumably has much more perspective than Google.

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

I’m actually not sure. Because I had witnessed my others’ submission rollercoaster rides, I figured ignorance was bliss and asked Jenn to save the rejections until the end of our first round. The delusional approach does wonders for optimism — at least at first. I’m pretty sure that around the three month mark, I would have caved. I was lucky, though: after about two weeks on submission, I learned that an editor was interested and would be taking the manuscript to her editorial meeting. Four other editors had already passed, but several were still reading. It’s hard for me to know what’s typical, though. I’ve heard plenty of stories from people who have sold after many months — even years — on submission, some of them at auction.

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

I don’t know that there is one, other than remembering that it’s just a book — you can make more where that one came from! If it turned out the publishing world had no interest in my manuscript, I was very prepared to chalk it up as a learning experience and either revise for another round or put it aside for a while. I was still excited that Jenn liked the darn thing, so I focused on being proud of what I’d accomplished so far. After spending so much time tinkering with the manuscript, it also felt good to immerse myself in reading and turn my attention to dreaming up new ideas.

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

My strategy of having Jenn save up my rejections kept me nice and delusional throughout the process! If you can stand the radio silence, I highly recommend it. Jenn did pass along one rejection from an editor who was kind enough to provide lengthy feedback and invite me to revise and re-submit. While I was very grateful that she took the time to consider it so thoughtfully, I could tell from her notes that we didn’t share the same vision for my book. That made it easy to see that the fit wasn’t quite right, so it didn’t feel emotional. I do think editorial rejection is much harder to hear about than query rejections, though. There are only so many publishers, so you are much more aware of a narrowing window of opportunity.

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 looked to see what points really resonated with me. Had the editor touched upon something that had bothered me as well? While I certainly give a lot of weight to feedback from someone who has worked on hundreds of manuscripts, I wouldn’t say I processed the feedback drastically differently from a beta reader’s.

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

This is a complicated question for me. My “yes” came at a time of personal tragedy. Just as my manuscript was headed to acquisitions, my dad passed away very unexpectedly. The book was the last thing I was thinking about at that horrible and chaotic time, so when Jenn e-mailed me that Harper Children’s had made an offer, I was too numb to feel much at all. My father was a very pragmatic man – so in a way it was fitting that, at what would otherwise be a very emotional time, it was easy for me to be very practical and business-minded. It was helpful, too, as a “yes” from one house triggers negotiation and communication with others. I suppose my experience is also a good reminder that selling a book isn't the end all, be all.

For me, then, the moment I’ll always treasure is actually when I first found out Rosemary Brosnan at Harper Children’s was interested in taking it to her editorial meeting. I was more than a little star-struck and very flattered. She’d edited a number of my favorite books, including Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer. I tried hard not to get my hopes up the day Jenn told me she was interested, but I couldn’t help myself. Even if things hadn’t have gone any further, I’d still be proud of that moment.

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

We didn’t have to wait very long to shout it from the rooftops. It took a week or so to iron out details, and Rosemary didn’t mind us announcing. The longest wait was actually for Publisher’s Marketplace, as there was a bit of delay before they posted it. I was glad some time had passed because by then I could finally take it all in. I sent Jenn some champagne, had my own imaginary toast with my dad, and enjoyed a short virtual party. More spirited celebrations and proper jumping up and down followed much later, once I was feeling more myself!