Elle Cosimano On Subjectivity & The Submission Process

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 Elle Cosimano. Elle sometimes writes in a tree house on the edge of the jungle on the Caribbean Sea. The rest of the time she finds inspiration in her very normal life in smalltown, Virginia. She writes stories about creepy, dark (and sometimes sexy) things that go bump in the night. Her debut, NEARLY GONE is available now, and the sequel NEARLY FOUND will release June 1.

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

I had a pretty solid understanding of the process and what to expect. My agent, Sarah Davies, is a consummate professional. Once she was confident my manuscript was in top shape, we discussed the upcoming steps, reviewed her recommended submission list together, and discussed the likely timing of any potential replies. She was up front with me about what she perceived to be the benefits and challenges of the manuscript, taking into account the strength of our pitch as well as market conditions. Sarah was careful to ask about my comfort level with transparency during the process. Did I want to know the details of every bite and rejection as they came in, or would I be more comfortable with weekly updates with feedback boiled down to its most important points? When the manuscript was ushered off into submission land, I felt 100% comfortable that both my story and I were in the very best possible hands.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

YES! Something did surprise me, though in hindsight, I’m not really sure why. Reading a book, and connecting with it (or not connecting with it) is a very subjective experience. We see this all the time in reviews. Look up your very favorite books on Goodreads and check out the wide range of reactions. No two readers experience a book exactly the same way. And yet, I always manage to find myself surprised by the same broad range of reactions from editors when I’m on submission. One editor connects with the voice. Another may not connect with it strongly enough. One loves the pacing, another might feel it’s too slow. One likes the grittiness of the setting. Another might feel it’s too dark for his tastes. One loves the manuscript with reckless abandon and absolutely must have it for reasons she can’t quite articulate, where another likes it for many good points, but can’t find a compelling enough reason to bite. With every round of feedback, I am reminded that at their heart, editors are readers too, and not every book is a fit for every one.

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

I did. And I do. I tend to be very analytical (I come from a long career in business, sales and marketing) and I felt more comfortable knowing the names on my submission list up front. I trusted my agent to put the list together based on her many years of experience and her established relationships within the industry, but I wanted to familiarize myself with the people who would be reading my book, so that I could be prepared in the event of a phone call. If an editor is keen on a project, it’s not unusual for them to request a phone call with the author. Often, this is a “feeling out” call to determine if the editor and author share similar thoughts with regard to potential revisions, the direction of the marketing, and how compatible they might be working together toward those goals. I wanted to have a grasp on each editor’s list, the kinds of books they put into the world, and how those books are presented into the market. I wanted a chance to formulate my questions in advance.

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

My debut, NEARLY GONE, went on submission the week before Thanksgiving in 2011. Sarah warned me that this was a challenging time. With the holidays upon us, we might not expect prompt replies. She’d prepared me for the possibility that editors might be done reading new submissions, in order to wrap up existing deals and clear projects off their desks in time for winter vacations, and that even if they did read, many key decision makers might be unavailable. I knew we might not begin hearing back from editors until after the New Year. And in fact, the holiday period was quite slow. But as soon as offices opened in January, we received several enthusiastic replies, and a subsequent preempt from Kathy Dawson at Penguin.

With my next contract (HOLDING SMOKE, 2016), we went on submission with a full manuscript in mid-May 2014, and had our first of several offers by early June. By the end of June, I had accepted an offer with Emily Meehan at Disney*Hyperion. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful to my agent, that both of my submission experiences were quick and painless. I credit this entirely to my agent’s hands-on editorial guidance, the strength of her marketing and relationship skills, and the respect she has earned within the industry.

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

Write something else. I know this is hard to do. I know how hard it is not to spend hours in front of the computer, clicking the refresh key. I’m guilty too. And if you’re like me, and it’s too hard to resist that temptation, then get up out of that chair and go do something else! I hit the beach with a good book, or go somewhere fun with my kids, or marathon Netflix shows I’m behind on.

I also lean heavily on my trusted critique partners, who are my most trusted friends. We can’t really talk openly while we’re on submission, (if you’re tweeting or blogging about the woes of your submission process, stop it right now! You’re shooting yourself in the foot, and probably making your agent wring his/her hands) but I think it’s important to have one or two close friends to bolster you through the waiting period.

Also, eat ice cream. Ice cream is okay, and I endorse it as a safe and trusted coping mechanism for the submission blues.

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

I was actually okay with the manuscript rejections I received early on in the process. It’s understandable to me that not every editor would connect with the pitch (or even with my book). After all, they all have different preferences. I think the hardest rejections were the ones that happened during the acquisitions stage, when an editor loved the book, but wasn’t able to get the support of their publishing team. This happens for all kinds of reasons – often these are budget or market-driven – and nothing I or my agent could have controlled or done differently. It can be hard to be so close to the finishing line and have the hope ripped out from under you. But in the end, you need more than an editor as your champion. You also need the entire publishing house to be fully behind your book, to give it its best possible chance at success.

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 try to process all feedback the same way… take away the useful bits, and the pieces that will help me write a better book. Leave the things that feel like they come from a place of personal preference. Again, we all have different tastes, but I look for patterns in the feedback. If one person doesn’t like something, it doesn’t mean I should change the way I’m writing, or revise the book based on one person’s feedback. But if I start to see a pattern – if two or three editors or betas seem to be identifying similar issues – then I know it’s time to take a step back and look at my work more objectively.

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

I feel like any YES in this business is reason for celebration. But an offer to buy your book is a YES of a whole different magnitude. It’s the culmination of so many dreams, and sleepless nights, and tears, and sacrifices. It’s overcoming a million possible NOs. It is the greatest feeling imaginable. My agent calls when we have the official YES, and I am not ashamed to say I’ve cried every time.

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 a bit, but not terribly long. We managed to have details ironed within a few days of accepting an offer. I was able to share my news with the world within a few weeks after, once the announcement was listed in PW.

And YES! The waiting is so hard! But that’s pretty much the answer to any question about publishing, isn’t it?