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 (Submission Hell, It's True) is Jennifer Brody, the award-winning author of the The 13th Continuum. Her book is a Gold Medal Winner from the Independent Publisher‘s Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. She is a graduate of Harvard University, a creative writing instructor at the Writing Pad, and a volunteer mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation. She’s also a board member for the non-profit writing competitions the Roswell Award and the Tomorrow Prize. She lives and writes in LA, where she’s hard at work on her next book.
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
Only a little. I knew the basics—that my agent would submit my manuscript to editors at publishing houses, hoping that they’d want to offer on my book and give me a publishing contract. I also knew that the best case scenario would be to sell at auction with more than one publisher wanting the MS, but I also knew that was rare and kind of like winning the lottery. My debut which sold—THE 13TH CONTINUUM—was the second book I wrote and the second book to go on submission to publishers.
Did anything about the process surprise you?
Yes—how long it took! My background is working in Hollywood, where I read submissions (scripts, books, comics, etc.) and then passed or optioned them. And I thought Hollywood was slow! Turns out, we’re much faster than the big publishing houses. We’re talking months and months and months dragging on without a response. Now I know that the editors at these houses are inundated with submissions. I also know that they often only read a small bit of the manuscripts they’re submitted (while in Hollywood, we utilize professional readers so everything gets read in its entirety by at least one person). It’s a very slow process and industry at times. Of course, some lucky authors sell their debuts quickly. There can be a lot of variation.
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
Actually, I didn’t research them. I was so green in the industry when my first book when on submission that I didn’t know anything about the editors or many of the publishing houses, plus my agent was very experienced. I trusted her to know who to approach with my book. I also knew my book would be a tough sell given the current market at the time, where nobody wanted YA science fiction.
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
Some editors responded quickly in the first few weeks, but others took upwards of six months or longer. Some we never heard back from, which was surprising. My first book didn’t sell after months and months on sub, then my next book THE 13TH CONTINUUM was out on sub for more than a year before we landed a book contract. It goes to show you that you have to keep trying and keep the faith in your book.
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
I always recommend that you start writing a brand new project. That helps take your mind off the MS on submission. It also helps not to feel like that MS is your only shot to ever publish a book. Many MS don’t sell, which was the case for me. My first book landed me a great agent, but didn’t get a publishing offer.
I’m glad I started writing THE 13TH CONTINUUM while that one was on submission because that one went on to sell and become my debut. Also, talking to other writers going through similar experiences helps. That way you don’t feel so alone in the process. I run a large author group called BookPod, and right now there’s a thread called THE WAIT about … waiting for agents and editors to get back to writers about their work.
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
The rejections were the toughest part. My agent would forward me the pass emails … and it hurt to read that editors didn’t love my book. In the beginning, I would take to my bed and just lay there feeling the worst emotions. Now, it still hurts, but I try to remember that it’s better not to publish with someone who doesn’t get what you’re doing or love your writing. That would be like being in a bad relationship. I also try to remember that I’m going to keep writing no matter what and find a way to get my books out into the world.
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?
A lot of the feedback wasn’t helpful for THE 13TH CONTINUUM because it had more to do with the market, which was saturated with YA science fiction after HUNGER GAMES, etc. That’s just bad luck and timing. With books you can’t write to market, since they take so long to draft and go on submission. Now SF is hot again, even though I’m still writing the same things. Also, sometimes the rejection was all over the place. One editor loved my protagonist, but had other issues. Another editor didn’t connect with my protagonist. So that’s not very helpful in the end. I listen to my agent and trusted beta readers more than editor responses. Most of them don’t even read the whole book anyway, so the feedback isn’t that helpful.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
The YES was amazing and felt so unreal. It had been such a long and demoralizing process in many ways, but I’m glad I kept the faith and kept trying different avenues. Turner Publishing has been amazing to work with on many levels. They’ve been champions for my books and committed to publishing the whole trilogy (that was something that had made the books a harder sell for many of the publishing houses). Everything from the cover design, to the editorial, to the marketing was fantastic. I got really lucky. Now my books are publishing in other territories, so it’s fun to work with foreign publishers. I love my Russian publisher.
Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
Actually, the announcement hit Publishers Weekly fairly quickly, so that was nice! My book and publisher also got featured on the cover of the magazine a few months later, so that was fun. Then everything becomes a whirlwind of deadlines, so you have to get back to work. Sharing the news felt validating after so many years of working and struggling in obscurity. Now readers around the world know my characters and books, so I’m really glad I stuck it out through the highs and lows of the submission process.