Emily Roberson on Enduring 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 Emily Roberson, author of Lifestyles of Gods & Monsters, releasing October 2019. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. Emily has been a bookseller in Little Rock, a newspaper reporter in Vicksburg, a marketing manager in Boston, and a writer in Chapel Hill and Dallas.  

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

I knew almost nothing about the submission process before it started, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I had read magazines, and blog posts, and books about submission, but they didn’t really say much.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Every single thing. Mostly I was very surprised at how much it was like querying. The pitch we sent even contained elements of my query letter. I don’t know what I thought would happen, but I didn’t expect that it would involve my agent making phone calls and sending emails and pinging people.

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

I didn’t do any research on the editors who had the ms. I had met and pitched a few of them at SCBWI conferences over the years, but it turned out that those were the quickest to say no. I had secretly hoped that they would send some kind of personalized rejection, but of course they didn’t, because they meet a million people at these things, and truth be told, they probably didn’t remember me. So knowing something about them actually made it worse.

I don’t recommend researching editors, because there is simply nothing you can do with the information. For example if someone is an editor that everyone loves, then they turn you down, you feel like you’ve lost something you never actually had. Then in the opposite situation, if an editor makes an offer and you find someone online who says they are horrible to work for, what do you do then, if that’s your only offer? You might want to research the editors if you are in an auction situation, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it. 

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

We heard back from everyone pretty quickly. A stream of rejections in the first few weeks, then a few revise and resubmit requests, and the first call with my editor about a month after we went out on submission. 

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

In my experience, it’s incredibly hard to concentrate on anything when you are on submission. I would say write the next thing, because I think it’s great advice, but somehow I can never manage to write the next thing when I’m worried about the first thing. We went out on submission right around Memorial Day, and I was very distracted by the sunscreening, errand-running, dropping-off-for-day-camp life of having small kids, so that was a blessing.

My big problem was looking at social media or book news and seeing other people’s announcements. So I would recommend staying off Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. My go-to strategy for coping with anxiety is watching The Great British Baking Show. There is something about watching people do something hard for the joy of it (and a glass cake stand) that reminds me about the joy of what we’re trying to do. So I’d recommend that. 

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

I asked my agent not to send me the rejections directly unless they had something useful or helpful to share. So I didn’t actually have to read the “not right for me” rejections. For me that was a good thing. I’m bad about rereading and revisiting rejections – like what if I’d done this differently, or that differently, would it have gone better? Having my agent stop them from getting into my inbox was very helpful. For me, it felt better than query rejections, because I at least had a supportive agent. I felt like even if everyone said no, I wouldn’t be back in the query trenches with no one but myself to help me figure out what to do next. It was still rough though. 


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?

We got several wonderful rejections, one was all about how much the editor loved the book, but at the tail end carried the message – “I’m not connecting with the main character” – which is the critique I find the hardest to manage, because it’s so individual, and there’s simply nothing to do about it. Then we had several where the editor loved the book, but couldn’t get other people on board, so that was hard.

Every single rejection at every phase of this has felt like getting dropped in cold water when you aren’t expecting it. Even the good ones are awful. I think the biggest difference between the editor’s feedback and a critique partner’s is that the editor is basically telling you why you didn’t get the job, and a critique partner (or at least a good one) is trying to help you get better. 

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

I knew for almost two weeks that the book was going to acquisitions, and I was a nervous wreck the whole time. So on the day of the acquisitions meeting, I was obsessively checking my email. Getting that email from my agent that FSG was going to make an offer was one of the best days of my life, like walking on air. I’ve been at this for so long, and I was starting to believe that I wouldn’t ever really get a book traditionally published.

In fact, before I got serious about finishing Lifestyles of Gods & Monsters, I told myself that this was my last try. I had that talk with myself that the girlfriend or mom of the rock-and-roll guy does in every movie with a sad-sack rock-and-roller who is still playing dive bars after fifteen years. I told myself that this was my one last shot, and that if I didn’t make it, I’d keep writing, but as a hobby, the way that I bake or knit or hike, and that I would stop trying to sell my writing, because it’s all so hard.

Now whether I would have followed my own advice, I don’t know. But I do know that when I got the email that my now-editor wanted to talk to me about my vision for the book, I was over the moon, but still wary. I’d read too many stories where a book got stalled at that phase. But once it went through acquisitions, and there were going to be contracts to be signed? I was as excited as I’ve ever been about anything in my life.

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

I had to wait a while before saying anything publicly, and I found it hard, but not as hard as I’d expected. It turned out that being able to tell my husband and my immediate family was as rewarding as telling the whole world. The people who are the closest to us see the daily ins and outs of trying to make it in this business, and in the best case, they are the ones who are the most excited. And I’m lucky that that’s what happened for me.