Success On Submission Without An Agent

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.


Cory Putman Oakes was born in Basel, Switzerland, but grew up in Novato, California. She graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 2001 with a B.A. in Psychology.  In 2004, Cory graduated from Cornell Law School with a Juris Doctorate Degree and her husband, Mark (the first was the intended consequence of attending the school, the second was a bonus).  Since then, she has been an associate at a big law firm, taught business law to undergraduates at Texas State University and written several books for young people.

Her book, THE VEIL is about seventeen-year-old Addison Russell who is in for a shock when she discovers that she can see the invisible world of the Annorasi. And when this strange new world forces Addy to answer for a crime that was committed long ago, by parents she has never known, she has no choice but to trust Luc, the mysterious Annorasi who has been sent to protect her.  Or so he says . .

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

I came to publishing from an entirely different world (I was a lawyer before I became a writer), so I knew nothing at all! I had a copy of Publisher’s Marketplace and that’s where I learned what a query letter was, how to submit to agents, etc. I learned as I went, like a lot of people do, I suspect.

You were agented at one time, but you ended up selling your manuscript directly to a publishing house yourself. What’s the story there?

I had the good fortune to work with a wonderful agent for about two years on a Middle Grade project, which unfortunately never ended up with a publisher. I didn’t have an agent for THE VEIL. I took a break from submission process around the time my daughter was born and once I was ready to re-enter the publishing world, I was determined to self-publish. I asked Lee Klancher, the owner of Octane Press, for advice on how to go about this. Octane had never published a YA title, so I never thought about them as being a potential publisher for THE VEIL. Lee was an absolute fountain of knowledge about publishing. At some point he actually read THE VEIL, and not long after that he surprised me with the news that Octane wanted to make it their first YA title! So that’s the story – it was a rather unusual way of ending up with a publisher, but I am so grateful it happened the way it did, because my book could not have found a better home!

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

You know those cupcakes they sell at Randalls/Safeway? The ones that have about twice as much frosting as cake? Every time I got a rejection (and I got many of them) I’d buy a large container of those cupcakes and eat them while I wallowed. I actually think it’s very important to let yourself feel sad for a while when something you hope for doesn’t pan out. Eventually I would start to feel better and/or guilty about all of the calories I had just eaten, and I would go on a long, sugar-fueled run while I planned my next move (the running also helped to off-set the cupcake weight-gain!). That was seriously my process – if you don’t believe me, ask one of my many, many friends who I have forced to wallow in rejection-letter-cupcake-misery with me! And whether you use cupcakes or running or whatever, the important thing is to always focus on planning your next move. There is no giving up – there is only where you will go from here.

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?

If someone takes the time to give me feedback, even if it’s in the context of a rejection, I pay very close attention to it. Particularly when I hear the same thing more than once. My beta readers were all friends, so I knew I had to take their feedback with a grain of salt (in that, I was pretty sure none of them were going to tell me they hated it). Editors are more inclined to be honest. But friends who know you, and who know your weaknesses, may also catch things editors don’t. My best friend, for example, caught a mistake in THE VEIL where I had the characters driving in the wrong direction on the freeway (south instead of north). An editor who knew I was writing about my hometown might have just assumed I had the direction right. But my best friend, who is well aware of how directionally-challenged I am, knew to check it on a map (thank you, Tara!). So I think a good combination of feedback from friends and editors is probably the best way to go.

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

My YES came via email, but I don’t think I actually processed it until I realized that this meant we could actually open the bottle of champagne that had been sitting in our fridge for the last 5 years! That night, my husband and I had champagne and a box of the aforementioned cupcakes which, for the first time, were being eaten in celebration instead of misery!

How much input do you have on cover art?

THE VEIL cover art was actually finished before I signed with Octane – luckily, Octane loved it as much as I did so I got to keep it! It was done by my friend David Brady, who is a graphic designer. I knew there was a certain scene in the book that I wanted to base the cover art on, so I sent it to David along with a very rambling explanation of the vision I had in my head. He was able to sort out my ramblings and incorporate the passage from the book in order to create an absolutely perfect cover (in my humble opinion!). The lettering is actually photographs of woodcuts – isn’t that cool? The book’s designer, Tom Heffron, was able to incorporate that same look throughout the chapter headings on the inside, which I think really pulled the book together nicely.

When do you thing writers should start building their platform? Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I don’t think it’s ever too early to start building a platform. I started seriously delving into the social media thing about 3 months ago, and I wish I’d done it sooner! The more people you can connect with and talk to, the more you learn. Social media has been a huge help for me in getting THE VEIL off the ground! Twitter especially has been great – I was very intimidated by it at first, but I’ve found that if you take the time to actually get to know your Twitter followers (as people, as opposed to just “what-can-you-do-for-me-bookwise,”) you end up with a network of people who you actually care about and who actually care about you. At least that’s been my experience! I’ve learned a ton just by talking to people and seeing what they’re doing on Twitter.