On Submission with Liz Coley

Today's guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell – It’s True) is fellow Lucky 13'er Liz Coley. To make things even cooler, Liz is an Ohioan AND an imprint sister. So really it's like we're the same person. Since she's from Ohio, technically this is a SHIT - Wow! (We're Ohio Writers). Yeah, you like that little acronym, don't you?


Liz has been writing seriously for more than ten years, and is finally feeling the luck! Her novel Pretty Girl-13 is scheduled for release in early 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books of HarperCollins.

When thirteen-year-old Angela Gracie Chapman looks in the mirror, someone else looks back--a thin, pale stranger, a sixteen-year-old with haunted eyes. Angie has no memory of the past three years, years in which she was lost to the authorities, lost to her family and friends, lost even to herself. Where has she been, who has been living her life, and what is she hiding behind the terrible blankness? There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.

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

I had learned a lot about submitting short stories--format and etiquette--before I moved on to novels. Since I had attended a writing conference prior to subbing my first novel in 2005, I knew the formalities. However, when I look back at my early query letters I truly cringe. I’ve learned a lot about improving my pitch in the intervening years.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

The snail’s pace of responses surprised me in the early days. Two of my submissions did not receive replies for a full year, and one of them was a publisher who insists on exclusive submission of a full manuscript. That practice just eats your life away. Two years later, the speed of responses surprised me when we were starting to see queries allowed via internet. Going by the timestamp on the e mails, one of my queries to an agent in California was rejected BEFORE I sent it from Ohio. Explain that one, Einstein!

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

After my first two manuscripts had been roundly rejected by editors and all the major houses had closed to unagented manuscripts for children’s literature, I dedicated myself to finding an agent for my third manuscript. I put myself entirely in her hands for submissions. The only editors I researched were those guest editors at my annual writing conference, and I do recommend that since they will invite submissions at the end of the conference.

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

The only way to deal with the anxiety is to get on with the next writing project and forget the current one exists.

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

Well, the one that broke my heart was a husband-wife agency team who disagreed about whether to represent my first book. But the next manuscript I wrote received a hand-addressed, personal rejection letter from an editor who praised the story, found no faults, but couldn’t use it. I taped that one on the wall for a year as an encouraging “good rejection.” In a way, it is easier to get a manuscript rejection than a query rejection because the reader has the opportunity to see your real work. With a query rejection, you can drive yourself nuts second guessing the way you presented your credentials or your pitch.

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

I got my yes for representation on the phone a week after I’d sent my full manuscript (#3), and I felt like crying and drinking champagne. Such a huge wall had been knocked down and, for the moment, I thought I’d found the end of the rainbow. Actually, I’d found the leprechaun who still had to lead me to the end of the rainbow. It took another four and a half year to sell a manuscript (#7)--the big YES. And that was another cry in your champagne moment.

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

I did have to wait for the contract to be negotiated and the offer announced in PM. The hardest thing was keeping my husband quiet about it. I was so terrified of screwing things up, I didn’t breathe a word, even to my sons at college, until the deal was done. And then we all jumped up and down about it. The funny thing is, a friend of mine saw it in PM before my agency notified me that it was officially out, so lots of people knew before my own kids.