On Submission with Jennifer McGowan

Todays guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell - It's True) is fellow Class of 2k13 member - and Ohioan! - Jennifer McGowan. Yep, that makes this a SHIT WoW! (We're Ohio Writers). Jennifer is the author of MAID OF SECRETS, a tale of murder and intrigue in young Queen Elizabeth's court. MAID OF SECRETS is available today from Simon & Schuster.


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

I had submitted once before to a house on my own, and had gotten fairly far in the process before my manuscript was passed on, so I thought I knew a great deal. In fact, however, I knew next to nothing. I had to weigh my own insatiable need to know EVERYTHING with the desire to not irritate my agent within an inch of her life. I had no idea how long it could take, or how many steps a book had to go through prior to that sincerely awesome call to the author of “yes! We want your book.”

Did anything about the process surprise you?

How long three minutes can seem, since I seemed to be double checking my email about every 180 seconds for updates. I was ever so slightly neurotic throughout the process.

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

Honestly, I did not really do that research. I knew the houses, of course, and I did a cursory Google search whenever I had a name to work with, but in some cases I didn’t really know who was reading my manuscript. I had a basic list of the houses/editors that we were targeting, but despite my obsessive email checking, I tried not to get completely OCD about tracking the manuscript through every stage.

But I completely recommend DOING said research, and will the next time around.

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

I got my first rejections seemingly within moments ☺, but it took a little over a week before the good news started coming in. The entire process went, I’m told, fairly quickly: I went out on sub officially on February 8, received my first offer before the end of February, went into an auction scenario shortly after that, and had decided on an editor by March 2. I’m pretty sure those were the dates… it’s funny how much that sticks with you. ☺

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

Well, I tried to keep myself busy with my day job and freelance as much as possible, especially during the hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m.. My weeks went like this: Mondays were high anxiety but low expectation; Tuesday, the anxiety lessened but expectation increased; Wednesday, the anxiety dipped again but expectation leveled off; Thursday, expectation and anxiety were lower but depression set in; Friday, expectation was low, anxiety was low, and depression was moderate. So the busier I could keep myself early in each week, the better. I was patently convinced that I would never hear anything on Mondays or Fridays, but I did finally get my first actual offer on a Friday.

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

My agent (Alexandra Machinist—who is amazing) and I worked out a system where I asked her to only pass along the bad stuff when she had something good to share as well, unless I hadn’t heard anything for awhile (at which point I’d ask). I was able to manage the passes pretty well because there was always the hope of something else positive – someone had taken it to second reads, someone had commented that he/she was enjoying the book, etc.

For me, query rejections were harder. At the querying agents point, nobody has said “yes, your book is awesome. We heart it.” Whereas with editorial review, you know the book doesn’t completely suck, because your agent actually SIGNED you based on the book… so it’s just a matter of whether or not it’s a fit with a given house. It’s still not a walk in the park, but it’s not as hard.

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?

I got hysterical feedback, so for me it was more the case of thinking “um… okay!” My favorite comment: “We don’t print pulp.” I’d never thought of MAID OF SECRETS as being pulpy, but I was rather pleased. ☺ I thought “you GO, you little pulpy manuscript!” Other editors thought it was slow (while still others praised its pacing), or not dark enough (okay, no one thought of this book as dark). Interestingly, while some of the agents who offered representation were nervous about there being five girl spies instead of four, none of the actual editors felt that way. (Thank goodness).

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

The moment we got our first offer, I felt intense relief—I heard through my agent, who immediately contacted the other still-interested houses to set up an auction, which made for a fraught few days. I knew that it would come down to two houses in the end, and I’d spoken to both editors and they were both amazing. When we finally accepted an offer, it was exhilarating and exhausting. I connected with my new editor via email after the dust cleared, then collapsed.

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

Well, amusingly enough, I never had a Publishers Marketplace announcement on the book, which was extremely sad to me, since I’d been waiting for that happy moment for so long. But the circumstances were a little strange with my sale since my agent was changing houses in the midst of the process (note, I do not recommend this for your first sales experience!), so the announcement never happened. As a result, I didn’t feel like it was “real” for several weeks, and then I slowly began telling other people. Word eventually got out, and it all became increasingly real over the next several months!

NOTE: I’m now on submission with a new book, and let me tell you… that Monday-Friday schedule I mention above? It still completely holds. I wonder if it will ever get easier!