On Submission with Catherine Doyle

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 Catherine Doyle, author of VENDETTA, coming from Scholastic Inc, on February 24th, 2015. Catherine was born in the West of Ireland in 1990. As a child she was an annoying smarty-pants with an overactive imagination. She feels lucky to have now found a healthy outlet for her tendency to make up stories.

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

Absolutely nothing. I had spent so much time and energy worrying about getting an agent when it came time to submit to publishers I was kind of like “Whaaaaat? There’s more?” I couldn’t have been any less prepared, which I’m very happy about in hindsight.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I was surprised at how much conferring and discussing goes on when publishers are considering your book. I thought it would be similar to agent submissions – an editor gets a book (“oooh, interesting book. I’ll just cancel everything and read this immediately”), they like the book (“sweet book, I like it and that’s all that matters”), they offer for the book (“OK, I’ll just make up a number in my head”). THEN EVERYTHING IS GOLDEN. Nope. It was way more complicated than that. Even when an interested editor declared himself or herself, I had to wait to see whether this interest would be converted into an offer, or whether ultimately they would pass.

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

I didn’t research them. If I let myself think about it too much I probably would have ended up cyber-stalking their every move and driving myself insane before my inevitable implosion.

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

Because I live in Ireland and my agent, Claire, is based in London, and VENDETTA takes place in Chicago, we submitted the MS to publishing houses in both the UK and US at the same time. We started hearing back from editors within the first couple of weeks, though I think editors in the US were not as quick as those in the UK.

Within the first week or so, we received a pre-empt offer from Random House, Germany. I had no idea what this meant (so Germany wants to buy the whole book? Wait, how did Germany find out? What exactly are translation rights?) We weren’t out on foreign rights submission, but it appears someone in the North American side who was about to make an offer tipped off their German scout (it all sounded so clandestine to me, though in reality it was probably just someone sending someone else an email saying “hey, check this out”). The very first offer we received for VENDETTA was the pre-empt for German rights, which we accepted. Once we updated the editors who were considering the MS, things started to speed up.

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

Two words: Duvet fort. Or, OR, if you want to remain a productive member of society during this time, that’s fine too. I would say it’s important to take your mind off it. Start working on something else – keep writing, keep reading. Keep busy. Surround yourself with good friends and family, and remember that the submission process, while important and exciting, is just one part of your whole life. Concentrate on those other parts, and remember to look at the bigger picture, especially when the rejections roll in.

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

My agent didn’t dwell on the rejections, and I’m glad of that. I really don’t know how many there were. She forwarded me a couple of ones that were really nice and positive. I would say these rejections were easier to deal with compared to query rejections. By the submission stage, you know your book has real potential – after all, you secured an agent, so that’s a big deal! And now the two of you are in this together, so it’s less lonely and soul-destroying.

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?

VENDETTA does contain some violence, so the feedback from a couple of the more family-friendly publishers was very specific about this. I understand it’s not a book for everyone, but in this case, I knew it wasn’t something I was prepared to compromise on. Not that I’m a violence-loving sociopath (heh heh heh…), but my feeling has always been if I’m going to write about the criminal underworld, and the Mafia in particular, then I can’t shy away from the realities of this world. It just wasn’t a good fit, and I was OK with that. Other feedback about certain plot points and character names being a little too similar to certain parts of the Sopranos (which I hadn’t seen much of at the time) was very helpful, and I made sure to change all those things.

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

I love the idea of finding out by way of smoke signal. Imagine if it was carried out in the same way they pick the new Pope in the Vatican. Black smoke, black smoke, black smoke, white smoke – wait, WHITE SMOKE. WHITE SMOKE, PEOPLE. I’M GOING TO BE PUBLISHED. OK, I digress…

When I got the email from my agent with the offer from the publishers I ended up going with, I was in my bedroom. I couldn’t believe it! Barry Cunningham is the guy who discovered J.K. Rowling when he was at Bloomsbury and I had just written about him in my thesis at college. I ran downstairs squealing, looking for someone ANYONE to celebrate with.

Then my brother, who had been painting a neighbor’s house all day, pulled into the driveway at that exact moment, and I thought YES – HE’LL DO! When he came through the door I word vomited in his face about the offer and how I was going to keel over with excitement and how my dream had come true and how I didn’t know what to do, and I was just standing there, jumping up and down like maniac, flailing my arms, waiting for him to freak out with me.

He slow-blinked, took one long, bewildered look at me, released a heavy sigh, and informed me he was starving and so he absolutely had to make a sandwich STAT before he could process anything I had just said. I followed him into the kitchen and waited (still jumping up and down) while he made two giant sandwiches (“Oh, OK, I’m getting a celebratory sandwich? I can get on board with that.”). He then proceeded to eat the two sandwiches all by himself. When he was finished, and the light had returned to his eyes, he stood up and said “THAT’S AMAZING NEWS”, and we hugged and whooped and danced around the kitchen.

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

I didn’t have to wait before sharing. In the end when everything was being finalized I was on a flight to America and by the time I arrived, it was all done and dusted. So I met my friends at the baggage claim and told them and we just jumped around screaming and hugging in the middle of the airport for a while. It was nice, if a little noise disruptive.