On Submission with Tara Dairman

Today's guest for the SHIT is Tara Dairman. Her debut novel, All Four Stars, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin; it’s about the youngest restaurant critic in the history of The New York Times (she’s 11). Tara claims to be slightly older than 11. In 2009, Tara and her husband quit their jobs to take a very long, “around-the-world” honeymoon. Over the next two years, they visited 74 countries on 5 continents and ate more fabulous street food than they ever imagined possible. You can read their blog and see lots of pictures from the whole crazy, wonderful experience at AndyandTara.com


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

I knew the basics: about how many editors you usually subbed to in one round, and not to expect to start hearing back from them for weeks (if not months). I feel like there’s a lot of information out there about querying agents, but fewer people are willing to talk publicly about their submission experience—which is one of the reasons I found the previous SHIT interviews on this blog so helpful! =) But those interviews also showed me that people’s subbing timelines and experiences can vary wildly.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I guess that the big thing that surprised me was that I ended up getting an “R&R” from the house that ultimately bought my book. I had heard of people getting revision requests before being taken on by agents, but I didn’t really know that that was an option at the submissions stage—I kind of thought that publishers either bought the project and then worked on revisions with you, or flat-out rejected it. In my case, there were a few elements of the story that the publisher wanted me to beef up. Luckily, I connected very much with their suggestions, and they liked the changes I made with their guidance, so they ended up making an offer.

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

When I got the submission list from my agent, I did a quick Googling out of curiosity, but that was about it. I didn’t feel the need to do the kind of in-depth research I had done on agents I was querying because I trusted my agent’s choices. And really, isn’t that one of the reasons you hire an agent—to worry about that stuff for you?  =)

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

We found out that we had interest from one house the day after we went on submission (which is very fast!), and my agent let the other editors know about the early interest, so I think that sped up the reading process for some of them. We ended up hearing back from about half the editors in the first week, one more editor about three weeks into the process, and the last few about six weeks into the process, after my agent had notified them that we had an offer. So I guess that’s about three weeks on average, though it varied quite a bit.

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

For me, working on a new project was key. That was something I hadn’t been able to do while querying agents, but I guess that something about actually having an agent—a partner in crime!—let me relax enough to get back to writing. I also recommend planning a vacation for part of the time that you’re on sub—anything that gets you away from constantly checking your e-mail/phone and reminds you that a whole, interesting world exists outside of your will-I-or-won’t-I-get-published bubble.

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

The big difference between editor rejections and query rejections is that editors usually give some sort of concrete reason about why they’re turning your project down. Most of my rejections from editors said nice things about my writing, even as they explained why the book wouldn’t work on their list. Those reasons varied, although a couple of editors already had food-themed MG or YA projects and didn’t think they’d be able to acquire another one.

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?

The feedback I got on rejections wasn’t very consistent—each editor seemed to have her own reason for turning down the book, and it often didn’t seem to have much to do with the concept or the writing. When I shared earlier versions of the manuscript with beta readers, I tried to watch out for commonly-cited problems. If multiple readers pointed out that something was bothering them, then I probably needed to fix it. But I didn’t really get that from the editors (this time).

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

I found out by phone, but smoke signal might have been faster! It was the first day of our let’s-distract-Tara-from-being-on-submission road trip, and we were driving through the South Dakota badlands—which, as it turns out, have pretty spotty cell service. We emerged from a dead zone and my phone beeped with a voicemail from my agent, saying she had some news and asking me to call her back. My heart pounded as I called her, and she was barely able to tell me that we had an offer before I lost service again. I called her back again, lost service again, called again, lost again, and finally got the bright idea to ask my husband to pull over. I finally got the rest of the news as we sat on the shoulder of the road.

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

After we got the offer, we still had to hear back from a few other editors, which took a few days, then my agent had to do some negotiating. I accepted the revised offer a week after the first call, and then the day after that the news was up on Publisher’s Marketplace! I was actually expecting to have to sit on the news much longer than that, so I was kind of surprised by the speed.

I was still on vacation at this point and had limited Internet access, but had told my mom on the phone that it was now OK to share the news. I thought that she would just call a few relatives or something, but instead she went and posted about it on Facebook. When I found out about this, I had to scramble to get online and share the news myself so my mom wouldn’t totally be scooping me!