Submission Success with Leigh Bardugo

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 Leigh Bardugo author of SHADOW & BONE, coming from Macmillan / Holt, June 5 2012. Inspired by Tsarist Russia, SHADOW & BONE brings to life a fantasy world of superstition and science, saints and samovars, in which a lonely refugee must leave behind her best friend– and first love– to save her country from the growing darkness of the Unsea. But first she must contend with the dangerous and decadent world of the kingdom’s magical elite and their powerful leader, a creature of dark charm and deadly ambition.

Leigh's blogs over at Last Leigh (how clever is that?), and she's also on Twitter.

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

Nothing. I wasn't yet active in writers' groups or online forums so I was woefully under-informed.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I hadn't expected that I would have opportunities to chat with editors interested in my book. It makes perfect sense, but I think I'd just assumed that the manuscript would get to do all of the talking. The calls varied widely. Some editors asked questions about the book-- the inspiration, plans for the series. Others discussed how they responded to the story or their approach to launching a new title. Basically, sometimes you feel like you're auditioning, and sometimes you feel like you're being courted. Either way, it's exciting.

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

Yes, particularly if I had calls scheduled with them. It's important to know what projects an editor has worked on. And it can't hurt to find out what kind of success a house has had with titles like yours. (Many editors now tweet and blog so you can get a feeling for their tastes and sensibilities that way, too.) Personally, I find research comforting. When you're working on the ms, you're all-powerful. You're the author and that story belongs wholly to you. But as soon as you click send on the first query or mail out that first envelope, the power dynamic changes completely. It's easy to feel helpless or freaked out, so arming yourself with information can help take the edge off.

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

If I remember correctly, we started getting calls and requests for synopses of the second and third books in the trilogy just a few days after we went out. We had our first offer by the next week. That was right before Thanksgiving. The next offers came pretty quickly after the holiday and soon we were on our way to auction. I'd prepared myself to hunker down for a long wait so the speed with which it all happened was really thrilling.
(This may go without saying, but I just want to point out that the process doesn't always go this smoothly. I had the help of a phenomenal agent, and I also got very lucky. I don't want people who are in the trenches to get discouraged if things don't happen right away.)

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

Consider a medically induced coma. If that isn't a possibility, stay busy. I did a lot of baking and cooking. I'm not particularly good at either, so they tend to keep my brain occupied. If you have a new project to work on, dive in. Also, if you have friends or relatives keeping the watch with you, then you may want to institute a "When I have news, I'll tell you" policy and ask them not to inquire.

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

Because we went to auction so quickly, I think I was spared the worst of it. When editors passed or chose to drop out of the auction, the news came through my agent who served as both a buffer and a comrade in arms. (Notice how military metaphors keep coming up?) Querying is a lot lonelier.
But I will say that the terror before the first offer was really profound. Keep in mind that, because of the way querying works, a few rejections from agents were still straggling in after I'd signed with Jo. Every single one of them stung. They became a kind of Greek chorus in my head, "We're right. She's wrong. You suck."

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

I was in the produce section of Whole Foods when my agent called with the first offer. I made a sound that was somewhere between a shriek and a yelp. Let's be honest, I may have squawked. Then I left my cart by the apples and went outside to hyperventilate. The knowledge that I was actually going to be a published author absolutely rocked me.

From there, things just got crazier and better with every passing moment. But even after the final offers were in, even after the deal was made, some part of me still thought that everyone at Macmillan/Holt would wake up the next morning with an acquisitions hangover and say, "What the hell did we just do?" I had a similar fear when I turned in Book 2 of the trilogy to my editor. I suspect I'll feel the same way when my book ships to stores. I don't think that insecurity ever goes away.

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 until the announcement was made in Publisher's Marketplace to talk about it publicly, but I was able to tell the people closest to me before then and that was what really mattered.
The night we finalized the deal, my friends threw a little dinner party for me. We drank champagne and danced like crazy around the living room and made weepy toasts. It was all just beautiful because these were the people who knew how much this book meant. They'd been on the journey with me-- not just from draft to agent to deal, but long before.

I put a picture up on my blog a little while ago. It's a fairly hilarious drawing that my best friend made for me when we were 14 years old. It's me at a book signing. Excluding a brief period in the fourth grade when I was sure I would become an astronaut/fashion designer, it's not exaggerating to say that this is what I've always wanted. Waiting a few days to tell Facebook that all my dreams were coming true didn't make much difference.