On Submission with Justina Ireland

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 fellow Lucky13er Justina Ireland, author of VENGEANCE BOUND.

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

VENGEANCE BOUND was my second book to go on submission…my first one didn’t sell *cue sad trumpet.* So for the second book I was kind of an old pro at the process.

For my first book I researched the submission process by reading author blogs and just about everything Google had to offer. And then I tried to estimate where I was at each point. It honestly just made me a little crazy. Okay, it made me more than a little crazy. It made me the Mayor of Crazytown.

Since that one didn’t sell (and my husband threaten to ship me off to a cabin in the woods for the next time), I decided to just close my eyes and pretend I wasn’t on submission for the second book. Instead, I read all of the books I’d been putting off for the past few months (after I opened my eyes, of course), and just enjoyed a self declared writing hiatus. I was only on submission for a month before I got an offer, and the time seemed to go quickly because I was focused on something else.

Okay, that’s a total lie. I was still obsessively checking my email and the days went by so s-l-o-w-l-y. But I did get a lot of reading done and I didn’t obsess like I did the first go round.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

How hard it is to wait, and how little feedback I got on rejections. For the most part, my agent prefers to keep the rejections to herself unless I ask for them. Beyond a “Yeah, so-and-so passed,” I never got anything back.

And after asking for and reading the three pages of rejections from the first book, I can tell you I much prefer it that way. For me, rejections didn’t do anything but make me question my writing. Not all readers are going to love your book. But it’s hard to remember that someone liking a book is a matter of taste when the someone in question is an editor.

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

I did for the first book. I didn’t for the second. Now, I trust my agent to be able to figure out where my book would be a good fit. It’s part of her job.

Plus, it was a little weird Googling people the first go round. It made me feel a little like a stalker. And agent/editor stalking may be the unhealthiest form of addiction, ever.

So I don’t really recommend researching editors. It will just make you crazy when they acquire a manuscript that’s just like yours except with fairies and a prep school and set in Pennsylvania instead of Antarctica.

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

On the first book I didn’t hear anything back for about two months (even though my agent may have gotten passes before that). With my second I heard back pretty quickly, about a month after everyone got everything. And I think everyone came back at about the same time.

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

Psychotropic drugs.


Sort of.

Stay busy. I always try to work on my next idea, or catch up on reading, or even just watch that season of TV I missed. Since I miss a lot of TV and my TBR pile is huge (I work full time so writing time is also everything else time), those are usually my default.

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

My editor rejections were about the same as my query rejections. Bland, polite and vague, with one or two sometimes offering some helpful advice. But usually not helpful at all. I wouldn’t look for much help in editor suggestions.

But even though they were vague, they were still a little demoralizing. I didn’t really think I’d internalized the rejections from the first book until I was revising my second book. I started to doubt my writing, doubt the stories I had to tell.

But finally I had to put all of that aside and just try to be zen about it. My stories might still suck, but they’re my sucky stories. And I don’t really think they suck. I think they’re awesome. But it’s taken me a long time to silence that inner editor and learn to write again.

So editor rejections? Yeah, generally a bad idea to read them.

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?

In the first submission go round I tried to synthesize editor rejection into some kind of a rewrite. Unlike a beta reader’s suggestions, which are pointed and specific, most of the rejecting editor’s suggestions weren’t so much rejections as “this is why I didn’t really care for it.” Looking back, rewriting the manuscript just made it worse. After all, it was like taking an entire critique groups input and applying it wily nily. Not a good idea, and not something I will do again.

I guess I should clarify that there are exceptions to the above rules. If it’s a revise and resubmit or done after a long discussion with your agent, then go for using some editorial feedback. But for everything else I would just move on to the next manuscript. No sense in banging your head against the wall.

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

Carrier pigeon ☺ It felt pretty cool, but mostly surreal. I had a call from my agent that an editor was interested, and that turned into three editors being interested. The feeling was unreal after NOBODY wanted my first book (yes, I still have some residual grief over my unsold darling). We ended up going to auction, and when I found out that Simon and Schuster were the best bid, I was a little giddy. I never really thought my debut would be with a big house.

I think I’m still getting used to the idea that I’m going to have a real book. With pages! And typeface! And an ISBN!

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

Nope, we shared the news almost as soon as we sold, and it was probably for the best. I have a huge mouth, and I always tell people not to tell me their secrets, because I will inevitably blab it to the wrong person. The internet is probably the worst thing to ever happen to someone like me.

Thank goodness it was on Publisher’s Marketplace a few days after it sold. I never would’ve been able to keep such exciting news a secret.