On Submission with Lee Kelly

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 on the blog is a fellow client of Adriann Ranta, debut author Lee Kelly. Lee is also a lawyer and a brand new mommy, so she kind of has a lot going on right now. Basically, she's smarter than me, and possibly even more stressed. Lee's debut, CITY OF SAVAGES, is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in 2015. Follow Lee on Twitter  @leeykelly

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

Nothing, essentially. At the time, I didn’t know too many writers who had gone through this process to ask, so most of what I knew was from Adriann. The rest I kind of gleaned by fumbling around on the web, and scouring authors’ websites who were kind enough to share their stories.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Absolutely! If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that there is no “typical” submission process. It can take days, months, years. And once I started reading sub stories on the web and connecting with other writers going through this process, I found that stories were all over the map. One writer sold her MS in a week. Another, two years. Another was shopping one book and was offered three books, and another was given one book when they’d pitched a trilogy. So I think going in with an open mind and a good attitude is key.

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

I think in today’s age, it’s almost impossible not to. I would be checking the editors’ twitter accounts near weekly (daily?). And I remember at one point, one of our pitched editors tweeted something like, “Writers: If I read one more manuscript where an MC’s heart is in their throat, I’m going to scream.”  I panicked – was that my story? How many hearts are in throats in my manuscript?! So I’d love to advise writers to relax and let the chips fall where they may, but information is so accessible these days, you actually have to WORK to stay in the dark. 

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

Again, all over the map. I think the quickest response was 36 hours (36 hours)! The crazy thing was, it was a fairly detailed response… I guess the editor got excited about Adriann’s pitch, read the first 50 pages and decided it wasn’t for her, then shot back a rejection all in the span of a weekend. The longest? Maybe months. The average response though I’d guess was 3-4 weeks.

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

 I was 8 ½ months pregnant when we went out on sub, had my son a few days after my first editor’s call, and was trying to sneak in a first draft on my new WIP here and there before my extended maternity leave ended.  So while this is an extreme example, I think staying busy with things you love and are excited about is really important.  If you’re not going to have a kid ;), have a new WIP baby.  I’ve heard a lot of writers say the same thing: a new story creates excitement, helps you fall in love with writing again (especially when a bumpy or frustrating submission process can suck some of the joy out of it) and helps assure you that you’re not a one-book pony.

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

Rejections, from an editor or agent, are always tough. But during my sub process, editors were by and large super-supportive, and there is something totally magical about hearing people that buy books talking about your characters like they’re real people. Sure, a Yes would be better than a No, but I tried to remember how lucky I was to be going through this at all.

That said, there was one rejection that absolutely crushed me. I’d spoken to this editor pretty early on in the process, who had big picture suggestions and wanted a revised draft before she could present it to her acquisitions team. I cranked on that draft like I’ve never cranked before, with a newborn at home, poured everything I had into that revision… and then Adriann and I waited. The editor came back with an extremely encouraging email a few months later saying she was so sorry and disappointed, but couldn’t sell her team. I mean, I was crushed. But we went out on another round, connected with the amazing Navah Wolfe and her incredible team at Simon & Schuster, and we got our happy ending. 

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 think I naturally put more stock in an editor’s feedback, especially at the beginning (the MS is broken!  We need to fix it!). But this is where your agent can play a huge role in keeping you grounded, and Adriann kept me sane. Editors are people too, with their own reading preferences, and not everyone’s going to be in love with everything. The further we got into the submission process, the more I truly started to internalize that. Now if a couple of them are saying the same thing… then you start paying close attention, and perhaps there is something to “fix”.

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

I knew we were going to auction the day I got “The Call”, but I didn’t hear from Adriann until that evening, after she’d gotten all the responses and offers. I was at my in-law’s house with my husband and son for a long weekend. I’d been fine at 10 a.m., nervous at noon, visibly sweating by 3 p.m…. and completely ignoring my mother-in-law by 4 p.m.! I flipped out when I saw Adriann’s number on my screen.

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

I only had to wait a week to shout the news from the hilltops, so it wasn’t too torturous. I honestly think it was tougher for my husband to stay quiet… I think he sent a 200-person announcement email after the news posted in PM.