Submission Thoughts from Polly Holyoke

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, Polly Holyoke, is a fellow Lucky13 and also a member of the Class of 2k13. Polly's debut, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT will be available from Disney Hyperion in 2013.

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

I knew a fair amount about how the process went when a manuscript was submitted to a few houses at a time. I knew very little about how auctions actually worked, and to my great surprise, my agent decided to take that route for NEPTUNE.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

I was surprised by how quickly the process went. I keep hearing how slammed the editors are (and I know that’s true) but somehow my agent was able to get editors at twelve different houses to read my manuscript within a period of two weeks.

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

I think my agent heard back from a few publishers within a few days indicating they did not intend to bid on NEPTUNE. The rest we didn’t hear from until close to the end.

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

Eat chocolate, go for long walks, and then eat more chocolate??? Actually, I just tried to stay busy and worked on another book. I think it’s really important to always have that next project in the works, just in case you do meet with a discouraging rejection. I always love the planning and early stages of a novel. The daydreaming part is my favorite, so I managed to lose myself there. And then I ate more chocolate…

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

We tried for a pre-empt, and we were turned down within twenty-four hours. That was definitely an ouch because I loved the house that we contacted first. I was amazed and encouraged, though, that my agent had the clout to get a book read by an editor-in-chief so quickly. I had to feel optimistic about my story’s chances in the long haul. My agent was also very kind about making me feel like the failure of his pre-empt attempt was all his fault for sending the book to the wrong house.

The stakes were so much higher in an auction than for your regular ole garden variety query rejection. I’ve been in this game long of enough to have experienced dozens (okay, honestly, probably hundreds!) of query rejections. I think because my agent was so excited about the project, he almost had me convinced that everyone was going to bid on it -- which did not happen. So, the first few rejections definitely hurt more than query rejections, I’d developed a pretty thick skin about them. Hearing that a couple of the big houses were definitely dropping out of the hunt early on was a surprise, but my agent was so positive, he made me think we’d definitely have a sale, and he was right, bless his heart.

If you received 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 try to appreciate the feedback I receive from editors and put it to good use. If I hear from two editors in a row that my story has a serious flaw, I’ll definitely try to change it. But our rejections in this case had more to do with the fact NEPTUNE wasn’t really the right kind of story for several of the more literary houses we contacted. I always take all my beta readers’ feedback seriously, but I have to put an editor’s feedback within the context of their market and niche. At the same time, editors do have such an incredible perspective on books. Sometimes I think good editors look at novels the way mechanics look at automobiles. Editors can see the body, engine, and interior workings of a manuscript so clearly. BTW, because editors’ input can be extremely valuable, I encourage writers to sign up for editors’ critique at conferences.   

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

Let’s see, I heard the big yes by telephone, and by then I was a little wrung out from the two week wait (and very full of… you guessed it – chocolate!) It did come down to the final day at the final hour my agent set for the end of the auction. I remember standing looking out my office window and listening to him tell me the details of the deal, and they pretty much just washed over me. I was incredibly happy, and incredibly relieved that the long two weeks were over, and we did have a good deal in hand. It definitely took a while to sink in. But then I believe I did start whooping and dancing and making my sundry dogs and cats very worried – but that whole ecstatic afternoon is a blur to me now.

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

I didn’t have to wait at all before telling folks, which was a very good thing! I think I probably told my mailman, the UPS man, and the checker at the grocery store. I did call my husband first, and I even texted my daughters at school. Then literally the next day I was talking to a media agent in LA and hearing about all the studios that were going to be receiving copies of my manuscript. I believe someone’s still trying to make a treatment of it now. I do notice no one’s actually paid us option money yet, but it was surreal and very fun realizing my sea story was actually floating around Hollywood, so to speak!

Looking back on all the excitement, I realize I was so very lucky to sign with a good agent who had the “clout” to get my story read and taken seriously. I’ve had three agents now in the course of my colorful career, and this submission process brought home to me once again that having a great agent in your corner can make all the difference.