Kelly Coon On Being Rejected 106 Times... Followed By A "Yes."

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 Kelly Coon, author of GRAVEMAIDENS, which  recounts the tale of a 16-year-old healer's apprentice who must save a dying Sumerian king or her little sister will be buried alive to serve him in the Netherworld.

Kelly Coon is the mom to three little boys and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich. She always knew she loved writing. She crafted retellings of Old Testament stories she heard as a kid in church, putting them in modern settings with female protagonists, much to the annoyance of her Sunday school teachers. She is now a young adult author represented by Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary. Her debut YA fantasy, GRAVEMAIDENS, is being published in the fall of 2019 by Delacorte/Penguin Random House, with the sequel forthcoming in 2020. She loves editing for Blue Ocean Brain, reading books in carline to pick up her kids, cooking stuff her kids won't eat, and rabble-rousing.

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

My agent, Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary, was incredibly thorough with me. She explained what the process would be and what we'd do at each stage of being on sub. Before her info, though, I had almost NO idea what going out on submission would be like. I didn't even know what "on submission" meant a few months before! Another author friend of mine added me to an "On Submission" Facebook group and I was like, "Why? What's this about?" 

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

I was shocked by how quickly we got feedback. We officially went on submission mid-October of 2017 and within a couple days, we had some interest from a couple agents. But, my agent had soft-pitched a few editors in NYC after the Writer's Digest Conference, so a few who received them had already had some time to kind of think about the premise. But, I was absolutely floored when Kari emailed me to tell me a couple were already expressing their excitement about it.  

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

I absolutely researched every single editor who had my ms, but not before Kari sent it out. She made the choices as to whom to send the ms, but after she sent me the list, I looked each of them up on Publisher's Marketplace to view purchases and comp titles. I also, (of course), semi-stalked them on Twitter.  I highly recommend doing that (the researching, not necessarily the stalking.) ;-) If you get into a situation like mine, where there are several editors interested, knowing their tastes is helpful if you are as blessed as I was to be able to choose. 

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

I was in the very small minority of authors who get almost immediate feedback. I think the fact that Kari had soft-pitched some editors prior to sending it over meant they were already interested! We went on sub in early October and I had a two-book, six-figure deal in my hand on November 2 in a preempt*. 

I received a phone call from my agent on Halloween morning. She told me that Delacorte had emailed her to tell her they were sending over an offer. The next day, we had an offer in hand and I very nearly lost my marbles. However, Kari knew that three other editors were interested, so we didn't simply accept the deal. In fact, Harper Teen was taking the book to acquisitions the next week, and had asked us to wait for them so they could put together an offer. So, Kari pushed back on the Delacorte offer, saying that in order to take it off the table, they'd need to up the advance and make it a two-book deal. Had Delacorte not agreed to those terms, we would have gone to auction, where the editors would bid for the rights to the ms and a sequel. 

*For those of you who don't know what a preempt means—and no shame, I had no idea either until my agent was screaming about it in my ear—it means that an editor gives you an incredible offer and a ticking clock so they can sweep the deal off the table before other editors get the chance to make offers. That way, they don't end up bidding over it in an auction. 

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

I didn't have a long time to wait, but I HAVE been neck-deep in the emotional turmoil of waiting for agents to return my emails and that is excruciating. (For the record, I've been rejected 106 times by agents over ten years through four different books. I know what waiting is like!) 

But during the sub process for this ms, Kari updated me frequently via email regarding which editors were reading it and who had expressed early interest. That information helped stem the nerves a lot. Another thing that helped was getting busy on another project. I started brainstorming a new series and a short story related to the ms on submission. 

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

I did get a couple rejections on this ms within a few days of letting them know we had an offer, and I asked Kari not to share any negative feedback unless it was helpful. To date, I have no idea why the ones who weren't interested didn't want the ms, and for me, emotionally, that was the best way to go. 

I refused to let the rejections get to me because I've learned through the long, horrible process of agent querying that some books aren't some people's cups of tea. Every book I love has at least half a dozen 1-star reviews on Goodreads. Sometimes, "It isn't you; it's me," is true. 

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?

See above. I didn't accept any rejection feedback unless it was helpful, and since Kari hasn't sent any of it to me, I assume none of it was helpful. =) 

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

Oh gosh. I wrote a whole story about getting that call and posted it on my website. I'd gotten the initial offer on Wednesday afternoon, November 1, and was waiting to see if Delacorte would accept our counter offer the next day. Kari called me around 2:00 PM on Thursday, November 2, and told me that they'd accepted the counter and I very nearly burst out of my skin. It's the closest to hysteria I think I've ever been. I laughed and cried and screamed so loud my four-year-old, who was in the office with me, covered his ears and told me to be quiet. 

Kari hung up so I could "process," which I think is code word for "calm the hell down," and we emailed and texted "AHHHHHHH" and "SQUEEEEEE" back and forth for about ten minutes while I sobbed and tried to wrap my head around the fact that I'd finally—FINALLY—caught up to my dream. 

I highly recommend this moment. 

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

Yes! I wasn't allowed to say anything before the announcement went out on PW Children's and Publisher's Marketplace, but luckily, I didn't have to wait for the contract to be signed. Some authors have to wait months to tell anyone. Keeping my mouth shut was ridiculously difficult, even though I had a short wait time, because everyone knew I was on submission. I told my closest family members who were sworn to secrecy, but I had to wait to tell everyone else. =)

But on November 15, Kari emailed me to say the announcement was going out that night, and while I was at my middle son's basketball game, I was INUNDATED with emails and texts because the announcement had gone live. It was crazy watching my son's game and trying to keep up with the notifications, so I shut off my phone, focused on my son, and then made my own social media announcement later that night.