On Submission with Phillip Siegel

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 Philip Siegel, author of THE BREAK-UP ARTIST coming May 2014 from  Harlequin Teen. You can keep up with Phil for book reviews and cat pictures (so really it's kind of like a male version of me) on Facebook and Twitter.

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

I had read about other authors’ submissions journeys around the web. (including here!) But most of them were positive; usually the people who write about sub are the ones who get book deals. The kidlit blogosphere in general likes to focus exclusively on the positive. Authors tend to stay quiet if their book doesn’t sell, and that leads to a one-sided discussion about submission. Luckily, I managed to read two honest, open, non happy-smiley posts about sub from Mandy Hubbard and Natalie Whipple. Those posts were the most valuable articles I read because they made me mentally prepare for the worst.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Yes. I had no idea what acquisitions was before sub. I thought you submitted, and the editor bought it. I didn’t know there was an acquisitions committee that also had to be dazzled by your manuscript and that they could veto the editor. Later, I learned about writers who’ve been rejected at acquisitions.

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

No way! I knew only what publishers we were submitting to. My agent was willing to share, but for me, ignorance was bliss. I know myself. I’m usually a rational person, but I was a writer on submission for the first time. Let’s be real. I would’ve resorted to internet stalking editors and making myself crazy. I was already a nervous wreck. No good can come from stalking anyone on Twitter. My agent agreed to email me updates twice a month. If there was good news, she would share immediately, but I didn’t need to get bad news in real time.    

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

We heard from most people in a few weeks, probably no more than two months.

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

If you can muster the willpower, stay off the internet. (And if you actually manage that, tell me your secret.) I would hide my phone in the bottom of my backpack and only let myself check it once an hour. I would’ve only checked it once a day if I had better willpower. Look, it’s incredibly nerve-wracking, and there’s no two ways around it. I wasn’t one of those authors who got an offer within 24 hours. It took a few weeks. Most writers will tell you to write another book. My best advice, though, is to be social – in person. Hang out with friends. Give someone a call. Step away from the computer/smartphone. When I was social with people, I forgot about sub for a while.

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

I was fortunate in that I received a few nice rejections, and that boosted my confidence. “I loved the voice, but it’s not for us.” If I received any nasty rejections, my agent didn’t show me. I’ve heard of writers who want to be forwarded rejections emails from editors. Why do that to yourself? I managed to stay positive during sub. (Although, I’ll admit, nice rejections are still rejections.)

One of my favorite expressions is “You’re not a hundred dollar bill. Not everyone’s going to like you.” Rejection is a big part of this business, but just remember: all it takes is one yes. I’m always hearing about authors whose books sell in pre-empts and auctions and multiple offers. That did not happen with my book. But it doesn’t matter how much rejection you receive. All it takes is one yes. That’s it. Literary careers have been built on that one yes.

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 tried to view the editor feedback as constructive criticism. If they were nice enough to say what they didn’t like, then I took note. I was fortunate in that all of the rejections were hitting on the same 1-2 issues. Unlike with beta readers, I couldn’t ask for clarification. The key is to find the silver lining. Don’t just huff and puff over an editor rejecting you; find the positive, how this can help you.

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

It took me a full day to process. When my agent called and told me, I was like “Yeah, that’s cool.” Then the next day, I woke up and was like “Holy crap! I sold my book!” I wasn’t in total shock, to be honest. My editor was super positive throughout the acquisitions process, so that gave me a good feeling.

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

Compared to other writers I’ve spoken to, my wait was short. Less than a month. I had actually told a writer friend that my book was going to acquisitions. Then she asked if anything happened yet, and I was like “um…no…not really…” Right before the announcement went up in Publisher’s Marketplace, I emailed her and apologized for keeping it a secret. But she totally understood!