On Submission with Christine Kohler

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 Christine Kohler, whose title NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is available from Merit Press (Adams Media/ F+W Media), now!


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

Though NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is my debut YA novel, I have been writing professionally for 30 years, with 16 children’s books in different genres and ages prior to this novel. I was very fortunate in high school to have had a mentor, Norma Atkins, who had been a journalist and a radio advertising writer and executive.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

My first question in submitting my first book in the early 1980s was what to do about illustrations. I had asked a magazine editor and he offered me a job. I took the job and called someone else who said not to worry about illustrations, just sell the text. So I sold that picture story book to the second publisher I sent it to, then sold them a series.  

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

Absolutely I recommend researching editors. In the case of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, even though I had an agent at Curtis Brown Ltd., I still kept an eye out for new YA imprints. When I read the announcement that Adams Media/F+W Media was starting Merit Press and had hired the Jacquelyn Mitchard as executive editor, I e-mailed my agent in Spring 2012 and suggested she submit my contemporary YA novel GRIDIRON GIRLS. What I didn’t know was that my agent was not only leaving Curtis Brown, but agenting. By Fall 2012 I had forgotten about the e-mail, but hadn’t forgotten about Jackie at Merit Press. I e-mailed and asked if I could submit without an agent. She said, “Yes,” and I submitted NO SURRENDER SOLDIER.    

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

When I’ve sold a book, I’ve heard back from the editor quickly.

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

It is easy to say to put it out of your mind and get to work on something else, but as one who tends to obsess, I’d be a hypocrite to say it’s easy.  

How did you deal rejections emotionally? How did ms. rejections compare to query rejections?

Query rejections just roll off me; they are to be expected in this business. I receive a high percentage of personalize rejection letters, and most of the time it’s a matter of “not what I’m looking for at this time.”

The most difficult rejections are ones where there has been a “maybe,” especially if I do pre-contract revisions, then a rejection. The several times this has happened I’ve spent one to two years in pre-contract revisions, I felt a huge let-down to point of depression, and I’m not one who normally gets depressed.

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?

It depends on the feedback and not on who gives it. If I get feedback that seems off, as if the person didn’t get my work, then the first day I rant until I peel myself off the ceiling and sort out what is useful and what is way off base. But if I get a really good, hard critique then I love it, embrace it, and break it down into specific points.

NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is a good example. I had submitted NO SURRENDER SOLDIER to Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt years ago. She sent me a one-page revision letter and said she was interested in acquiring NO SURRENDER SOLDIER if I would revise it pre-contract. I still have that letter, even though at the end of the year when I re-submitted Christy had to turn it down because she was going home to have another baby and cut back on her list. (She now has her own imprint.)

When my Curtis Brown agent read NO SURRENDER SOLDIER she loved it and gave me a 14-page revision letter. It was great! I will always be grateful to her for that critique. I revised NO SURRENDER SOLDIER once more then submitted it to Jackie, who offered me a contract. My ms. was so well polished by that point that I only had a light 10-point easy revision letter from Ashley, an editor at Merit Press, before it was printed.      

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

Although Jackie Mitchard and I had talked a couple of times on the phone before NO SURRENDER SOLDIER went to the committee, when they accepted it Jackie e-mailed me right away, “We got a yes!” Without a doubt I was excited, but my husband constantly tells me I’m not allowed to celebrate until I cash the check. (Then we still don’t celebrate.) I have actually signed contracts and then editors have been laid off and I’ve been paid a kill fee, so that’s why he feels this way. But still, yeah, I was excited, yet anxious to negotiate and sign the contract.

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

No one asked me to stay mum, but I did on my own for the reasons I just explained. Yes, it is always hard for me to sit on a secret.