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 for the SHIT is S. Gonzales, author of Only Mostly Devastated and The Law of Inertia. Gonzales writes Young Adult contemporary books with twisty plots and a generous dose of romance, featuring witty but vulnerable characters.
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
I’m one of those people who researches *everything* before I make any moves, so I would say I knew a fair bit. If a blog post covering the submission process exists I have read it, bookmarked it, and memorized it. Actually, one of my favorite things to do as I went on submission was read and re-read the S.H.I.T series!
Did anything about the process surprise you?
I was mostly surprised by how vague things could feel at times. Most sub stories I read followed the formula of “agent gets email that editor liked the book, agent gets email that book is going to acquisitions on x date, author waits anxiously on x date for news." But for me, even in three sub rounds, I never heard once that I was going to acquisitions. Sometimes there would be vague hints from editors that we’d have more news shortly, several times the first time we heard of acquisitions / second reads / editorial meetings occurring at all was in the rejection email.
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
My agent refuses to let me know which specific editors have my manuscript (Boo! Hiss!), probably because she’s worried I’ll end up perched in a tee outside one of their houses. Which I feel is unfair, because I’ve only ever been caught doing that once, but I digress. The few times I did figure out the identity of an editor who had my submission (writers on sub can be mighty resourceful), I have to admit that it wasn’t that helpful for me. Maybe my agent knows more about my tendency towards anxiety and obsessing than I give her credit for. . .
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
According to my trusty spreadsheet, most responses came in around the 4-7 week mark. The quickest response came back after a day, and the longest response took 29 weeks. Once, I went to acquisitions after 21 weeks of not hearing from the editor. It’s honestly so varied.
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
Find something else to obsess over. Set yourself a goal that doesn’t involve the book on submission, and work towards it! One useful goal might involve a WIP, which is advice I’m sure most writers have heard (because it’s great advice). For me, it helped to set an exercise goal, because it let me burn up a lot of nervous energy and helped me feel in control at a time where I had very little control. And it cancelled out multiple rejection pints of ice cream.
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
I have been on sub three times now—once with a book that didn’t sell, once with a book that sold after 8 months (The Law of Inertia, Amberjack Publishing), and once with a book that sold in a pre-empt super quickly (Only Mostly Devastated, Wednesday Books). So I’ve seen most of what sub has to offer! Honestly, I found sub rejections initially harder to deal with, because when querying I got over rejection by sending out a new query, and you don’t have that option on sub. But in saying that, after a while I stopped being so hyper-aware that I was on sub, and it got easier as time went on. Was I zen and accepting, or just numb to pain by then? I . . . am not sure.
Also, I think the hard truth is that once you have an agent, a part of you believes that you’ll sell. You hear the stories about agented authors who don’t sell, but for you, the main character in the story that is Your Life, that won’t be the case. You’ll be the exception. Then, when I wasn’t the exception, it was a real case of having to shift expectations and let go of a book that I loved, while also trying not to lose confidence in myself. Believing you’ll succeed but accepting that you might not is a tricky tightrope to cross.
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?
One of the great things about sub rejections is most editors took time out of their day to give some constructive feedback on why they passed, which I was so grateful for! The important thing was to differentiate between the more subjective feedback and story issues. Feedback related to pacing, technique, stakes etc. I take pretty seriously. On the other hand, lots of editors would pass because they didn’t love a certain character, and the next day another editor would pass saying they adored that character but didn’t like one of the other characters. And in those cases, it was more of a “not for me” than constructive feedback.
I wouldn’t say I treated editor feedback differently to a beta reader. For both sources, I’d apply the rules: “Did more than one person say this?” “Do you see where they’re coming from?” and “Is this something you’re willing to change?” There aren’t many hills I’ll die on when it comes to content if I’m getting feedback that something isn’t working. I’ve made some huge, hard changes, but in hindsight it was always for the better.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
For The Law of Inertia, there wasn’t a ‘yes’ moment, it was more of a series of moments that grew closer to a ‘yes’ until the ‘yes’ was established. But that’s so often the case in publishing - lots of small wins that snowball into something huge that you can only see in hindsight. I mostly just celebrated every few days through the whole process, floating around in an ecstatic bubble.
Only Mostly Devastated was more of a surprise! We were only newly on sub, so I was settling in for the long haul—I wasn’t even going to think about responses until we got closer to the four week mark when they’d usually start rolling in.
It was Valentine’s Day, and the night before, I’d read The Dangerous Art of Blending In in one sitting, so I was on the bus to work and messaging Angelo Surmelis, the author, telling him how much I loved his book. Then halfway through the conversation I got a call from Moe, my agent. She has never called without messaging me first, but I didn’t even have time to get my hopes up, because she opened the call with the fact that we had a pre-empt offer. Then I screamed on the bus for ages while the other passengers gave me alarmed looks out of the corners of their eyes. Once the call was finished I had to keep responding to Angelo—with shaking fingers—casually and with maximum chill, because I couldn’t say to him hey, hold that thought, I just got an offer on my latest book.
Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
For The Law of Inertia it was a 2.5 month wait before sharing. I told a couple of close friends and went out for some celebratory dinners, but I was hanging out for that moment when I could finally announce on social media. It didn’t disappoint, either!
And for Only Mostly Devastated, luckily I didn’t have to wait long before sharing at all—it was only about two weeks between the offer and the Publisher’s Weekly announcement. That was nice, because I was still riding my own personal wave of excitement when I got to share it with the world.
Having experienced both, I would have to say it was more difficult to have to wait, because you don’t really know when to celebrate. Do you celebrate when you go to acquisitions? When you have a verbal offer? When you get the formal offer? When you accept the offer? When you sign the contract? When you announce on social media? All of them? (I’m a keen supporter of ‘all of them’, because celebrating is lots of fun!). But I’ve learned that this is the nature of publishing. There is no moment when you’re done. It’s just an ongoing rollercoaster of highs and lows that, let’s be honest, lots of us wouldn’t get off for anything.