Submission Process Talk with Nancy Bilyeau

Today is a special day because I'm welcoming fellow Book Pregnant member Nancy Bilyeau to the blog! I may write YA and be covered in it up to my neck in the 40/wk, but I read everything. Historical fiction is one of my fallbacks when I need a good read, and I'm fortunate enough to have quite a few writers of that genre in the Preggers group.


Nancy Bilyeau is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, and Ladies’ Home Journal. Her debut novel, The Crown, is set in Tudor England. It took her five years to research and write her historical thriller before selling it in an auction to Touchstone/Simon&Schuster. She was born in Chicago and grew up in Michigan. Now she lives in New York City with her husband and two children and heads to The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art whenever humanly possible. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her web site.

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

I’ve worked as a magazine editor for years, and at two of them—InStyle and Ladies’ Home Journal—I was the books editor, buying excerpts and selecting books for coverage. So I knew something of the business, but I did not know essential facts about it. I didn’t know that a book could not be bought without the approval of an entire editorial board, for example. I was under the impression it was up to the editor. Nope.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

A lot of things surprised me. I think what startled me the most was when I read some of the “passes” that my agent filtered to me. Even at that phase, it's still very much whether or not the reader is connecting with your material.

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

I did a little Googling but book editors don’t give many interviews so it’s hard to get a feel for them through research. I think it’s fine to give it a shot but the agents are the ones who know the editors and if you don’t trust your agent’s ideas of who to send the book to, then you are not in a good writer/editor partnership.

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

About three weeks. My agent had early interest so he called people back and gave them a deadline. There was an auction for The Crown.

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

Gosh, I wish I knew. I find any kind of waiting difficult. But I tried to remember a phrase a screenwriting teacher had for us—“Stay frosty.” That was my motto.

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

I felt hurt and defensive but tried not to dwell on it. One editor said, “I want to like this more than I am liking it.” Ugh. The people who did respond well to the book said very nice things so I focused on the positive. I found a rejection from an editor more painful than when trying to get an agent.

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?

My agent said if we see the same criticism a lot then it is something that must be paid attention to. But we didn’t. Some loved the opening and disliked the middle. Others weren’t crazy about the opening but liked it when the thriller plot kicked in more.

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

I had three “yes’es” so there was an auction. When my agent emailed me that Trish Todd got the book, I was ecstatic. I jumped up and down; I called my husband and friends. I walked the street that day in a daze.

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

I had to wait maybe a week. That is when the news went out of Publishers Marketplace and everybody was in the know.