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 Skylar Dorset. Skylar’s first story was a tale of romantic intrigue involving two feuding factions of squirrels. Think “Romeo & Juliet” but with bushy tails and added espionage. She was seven. Since that time, Skylar’s head has been filled with lots of characters and lots of drama. She is delighted to be able to share some of it with all of you now, because, honestly, it was getting pretty loud and crowded in there. Skylar is a born-and-bred New Englander, which is why Boston was a natural setting for her debut novel, THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS.
How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
Absolutely nothing. Less than nothing.
Did anything about the process surprise you?
I think two things surprised me: (1) How long it ended up taking just to hear back from people; and (2) How helpless I felt during it. Like, frequently the feedback would be very nebulous and subjective and it was so frustrating to think that I had no idea what to do in response, that it just was a “this isn’t for me” thing. It’s like when you just don’t click on a first date or something, you know?
Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
I didn’t research them, and I’m not sure I’d recommend that. Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much *I* could do, one way or the other, at that particular point. I’m not sure if knowing stuff about the editors would have helped or would have just fed an unhealthy obsession with stuff that was going on that I couldn’t control.
What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
Hmm. This is a good question. I think a few weeks?
What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
I kind of tried to ignore it. Like, it’s the kind of thing where the first day you’re like, “OMG! Maybe soon there’ll be a call that will change my life!” And then the second day you’re like, “Hmm, maybe soon there’ll be a call that will change my life.” And then by the third day I decided I had to stop thinking about it or I would go insane.
So I did other stuff. I know people say to write something new, and I did write new stuff, but I also just kind of enjoyed myself. I decided to try to learn to play the harp (still in process), I watched a lot of television, I taught myself how to use Tumblr. Really, anything that kept my head busy and not dwelling on the submission process. The querying process to get an agent is stressful in and of itself, so I feel like it’s possible my brain just really needed me to give it a break at that point.
If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
I found the rejections at this point harder to deal with that than query rejections, I must confess. When you’re querying, everyone talks to you a lot about how many rejections you’re going to get, and so you go in bracing yourself. And then, once I got an agent, I think I thought it would be all smooth sailing from there. When it wasn’t, it took me a while to kind of digest it. I felt like I wasn’t well-prepared for it, so I will do my part and try to prepare all of you: There’ll be more rejection. It’ll hurt.
But, just like looking for an agent (or a significant other, I guess), you really only need one to click, and eventually it came. And I guess the way I dealt with it was to try to distract myself (see above). I kept telling myself that at least one person in the universe really believed in my writing—my agent—so we would find another one, too.
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 always take all feedback seriously but I admit that sometimes I got editor’s feedback that I didn’t really know what to do with. With a beta reader, you’ve usually got a long-standing relationship with that person, so I think the feedback is easier for you to understand and digest and then incorporate. With feedback from editors, it’s often a one-time thing, so you just can’t get as good a feel for what it actually *means* for your book, you can’t probe into it.
That said, I eventually did edit my book pretty thoroughly in response to editor feedback, and I did have a better book afterward, so in the end I found the editor feedback really useful. Although I think I had to wait a little and synthesize the feedback together to get a clearer picture of it all.
When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
This is actually a good question, but I feel like it’s all a blur now! I think it was an e-mail telling me there’d be a telephone call. But I really wish there had been a smoke signal! Now I feel it was all anticlimactic!
I was super-excited to get the YES! But I’m a lawyer by training so I have a tendency to not trust anything until the contract is signed. So I took a long time to actually *celebrate.* Then I went out for champagne.
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 a bit, but it wasn’t so difficult because, well, I cheated and told my family and closest friends, and that was really who I wanted to tell in the first place!