On Submission with Lisa Maxwell

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 debut Lisa Maxwell, whose title SWEET UNREST will be available from Flux in the Fall of 2014.


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

Honestly, not much. My agent gave me a list of editors and publishers, and kept me updated with replies, but otherwise, I didn’t know much else. That’s kind of the way I wanted it, though. That’s one of the biggest reasons I went through the process of getting an agent—I wanted someone else to worry about the business side of things, so I could write.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

One surprise was how lovely most of the replies were. After querying and experiences the “no response means no” or the typical “not right for me” responses that agents often rely on, it was a nice surprise to get kind words for rejections.

The biggest surprise, though, was how long the submissions process took. I went on submission for SWEET UNREST in July of 2011. It sold in May of 2013. I’d written two more manuscript drafts and had really, emotionally moved on from that story when I found out it actually sold, because I figured that if it hadn’t sold in a year, it wasn’t going to. People always say that publishing is a slow process, but I had no idea.

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

I didn’t research them. I felt like it was out of my hands at the time. I’m not sure what researching an editor would have done for me other than increase my anxiety.

That being said, I think that there are a lot of small, independent e-presses that some agents are starting to send things to more now. If we’d gotten that far, I think I would have researched the editors (and the publishers) and would have been more active in my opinion about where the book should be submitted.

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

In the first round, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month or so.

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

The only way I dealt with it was to forget about it, which is so much easier said than done. But really, once a book is on submission, it’s out of the author’s hands. It’s either going to sell or it’s not. You really have to start writing the next book. If you’re working on something new, whether a book sells or not matters slightly less, because you have a new Bright and Shiny thing to play with, new characters to fall in love with, and—maybe most importantly—you know that the book on submission is not The One And Only book that you’ll ever write.

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

Quick confession: I am not a sunshine and lollipops optimist when it comes to this business. I think I went through this whole process not *quite* believing that it would work. I’m a researcher at heart, so when I decided to try writing fiction and getting it published, I researched like crazy. I read all sorts of best-selling authors talk about piles of trunked manuscripts or about how their first submission(s) didn’t sell, so part of me saw this whole experience putting in my time on the rejection train.

That’s not to say that the rejections didn’t sting, but most of them were lovely and complimentary, and many of them had more to do with market and timing than anything about the work itself. In that way, these were somewhat easier to deal with than query rejections. Not easy, but easier.

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?

Most of my feedback wasn’t all that specific in terms of problems with the story. I got a handful of “it just didn’t click for me” rejections and a handful of “we just bought a book too much like this” rejections. Mostly, I took them at face value, filed them away in my email archive, and tried to make the new story I was writing better.

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

I actually found out by email. I was sitting on my bed (because, apparently, I’m incapable of using a desk for anything writing related) and my husband was sitting there too, and the email came from my agent that I had an offer. It was just completely bizarre. Here, this book that I’d written ages ago, that I’d really not been thinking about as a possibility, and it was the thing that was going to go out in the world and make me an author. I kind of slapped at my husband’s leg and pointed at the screen…and then I called my mom. Telling my mom made it feel slightly more real, and I think that’s when I really started to get excited.

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

I, luckily, didn’t have to wait all that long. It was only a few weeks after I got the news that the announcement was up on Publishers Marketplace and I could tell people. But, yeah, even a few weeks and it was difficult not to tell everyone or hire one of those banner planes at the beach or something.