Rosiee Thor On The Subjective Process of Submission

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 Rosiee Thor, author of Tarnished Are The Stars, releasing today from Scholastic!

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

Looking back, I was pretty woefully uninformed, but I definitely thought I knew what I was getting into. I had it in my head that going on sub would basically just be the same as querying, but with my agent in control of the inbox--and at first, that’s exactly what it was like, with my agent sending it out and fielding the rejections for me. But the similarities to the querying process pretty much stopped as soon as we started getting interest in the project. I had no idea that books had to get through an editorial team, and then acquisitions before editors could officially buy them--and while agents certainly sometimes have interns who have to love the book before the agent reads and loves it too, there aren’t nearly as many steps to the querying process as submission!

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

The biggest surprise to me was that it actually does take more than one “Yes” to get published. With querying, if an agent loves the book and wants to represent you, they can just call you and offer, but with submission, it doesn’t work that way. First, they have to take it to second reads and have other editors on their team read it--and if they don’t like it, that’s it. No deal. If they do like it, then the editor has to present it to acquisitions, which has to agree as well. There are so many layers to the process once someone’s interested, and it doesn’t matter how much an editor loves a book if their team doesn’t love it too.

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

I… made a whole tweetdeck column dedicated to the editors on my sub list at first, which I 200% do not recommend, and will never do again for any future rounds of sub. Sub is such a chaotic time emotionally, that the added stress isn’t worth it. Besides, most editors don’t tweet a lot anyway, and my best sub advice is to let your agent worry about it and to do something else instead.

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

On average, about 4 months. The quickest rejection was after about a month, and the longest was 6 months (which in the grand scheme of things is still pretty darn quick). 

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

Do. Something. Else.

Anything else. Literally a n y t h i n g. I had a hard time drafting while I was on sub, but obviously writing something new is the best option if you can do it. If you can’t draft, catch up on reading in your genre or find another project to do in the meantime that’ll keep your mind off of it. While I was on sub, I think I knitted about 12 hats… whatever gets you through it, honestly. 

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

One of the things that’s nice about sub vs. querying is when you’re on sub, rejections can be filtered through your agent. I’d asked my agent to only send me rejections if they were nice or included feedback. This meant that with every rejection, my agent sent along her own take on the feedback or reason for passing, and that really helped temper my reactions too. She also has this habit (which I kind of love) of emailing me with bad news--and she includes it in the subject line if it’s a rejection or not so as not to spook the nervous author--and DMing me on twitter with good news. This means I’m basically always prepared for whatever kind of update she’s giving me, and it stings less when it’s a rejection.

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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?

Again, my agent was great about helping me understand what was subjective about rejections and what was actually valuable feedback. We did get some feedback we considered revising for--and maybe we would have revised for it if we’d done another round of sub after that--but it wasn’t substantial enough for an R&R and neither of us felt strongly about how to go about addressing it, so we decided to sit on it.

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

I was actually home sick at the time--I’d been working from home answering calls all day and I had a kind of raspy voice and felt like I was dying. When the call came from my agent, I knew it was good news (since she always emails me with bad news) and I leapt out of my chair as if I’d never had a cold in my entire life and then jumped up and down in my living room with my dog who was so excited that I was excited! 

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 six months to announce and it was agony. The process of getting the deal in the first place had taken some time because of timing--my now editor wanted to do a revision on the first few chapters before taking it to acquisitions, and by the time it was ready for acquisitions, it was the holiday season and no one was in the office for about a month an a half. So we had to wait until January to even find out one way or the other. Then, we went back and forth for about six months on the title--which I never even dreamed would end up being that big of a deal. It’s a lot more complicated coming up with something to call a book when there are half a dozen people who have to all agree! Luckily we landed on something everyone likes and were finally able to announce exactly one year after I originally went out on submission.

So much of the debut experience, for lack of a better term, I think is about finding your people within your debut year. I was definitely worried that I would lose out on that and everyone would already have their people by the time I was able to tell anyone, but I was lucky and there were a few other stragglers like me who had to wait on their news too, as well as some really fantastic fellow debuts who were welcoming regardless of my wait.

500 Queries In 6 Years: Wendy Heard

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Today’s guest for the SAT is Wendy Heard who was born in San Francisco but has lived most of her life in Los Angeles, which is on fire more than she would honestly prefer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art, emphasizing painting, and a Master’s degree in Education. Her debut, Hunting Annabelle, is out now. Her next book, The Kill Club, releases December 17, 2019.

Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America, is a contributor at Crimereads.com, and co-hosts the Unlikeable Female Characters podcast.

Are you a Planner or Pantster? 

I have done it both ways. I started out as a pantser (no plot ensued), then over-plotted a book and lost all my interest in writing it. Now, I do an outline that thinks out all the major Save the Cat beats, but I only do detailed scene planning to the next plot point. Things change so much in the drafting process (something I thought would take 1 chapter takes 1 paragraph, something that I expected to take 1 paragraph takes a whole chapter, etc), so this leaves room for reflection without a bunch of re-planning. 

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

Before being published, I spent a year or two on each book. Now I do a first draft in 4-6 months because of this horrible thing called DEADLINES. So it’s 4-6 months of first draft, 4 months of developmental edits, and 4 months of copy and line edits and done! Usually. 

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

I have come to the point where I can work on projects one right after the other, but I really try to keep only one on my desk at a time. Edit one, turn it in, draft another, turn it in, etc. If I’m in the middle of a draft and I get edits back, I’ll set the draft aside, bust out the edits, then return to the draft.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

HAHAHAHA.

Yes.

I am one with all the fears.

So, first drafts suck. Characters don’t feel real = I will never get this character feeling real and I am a failure. Plot not working = I will never figure out how to fix this plot and I am a failure. Writer’s block = I will never be able to finish this book and I am a failure. Etc.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented? 

Six fully completed and edited books were trunked along the way. 

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Yes. I had a second book that just felt...wrong. I could tell this was the wrong book to follow up Hunting Annabelle. Based on that gut instinct, I shelved it halfway through and switched to what would ultimately be The Kill Club. It was a great decision. There’s nothing wrong with shelving a project that isn’t working, in my opinion.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

Lauren Spieller with Triada US is my agent, and I absolutely love working with her. I cold queried her with Hunting Annabelle the traditional way, and she found me in her slush!

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I queried four books over the course of my years in the trenches, totaling about 500 queries sent (way too many). I did a few R&Rs for agents (revise and resubmit). I am SO GLAD those projects didn’t sell. They were not ready. The whole process of querying was a start-and-stop one, but I believe it totaled about 6 years. 

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell? 

So many things I wish I could tell my former self, but the main one is: get comfortable throwing your words away. Write so much that it becomes less sacred. If a project doesn’t get picked up, be willing to move on. It’s not about THIS project, it’s about developing a strong portfolio of work and finding your voice and brand.

One more thing: Study back cover copy. Learn to write loglines and queries. Marketing copy is a huge part of the author gig. I did not know that.

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Surreal. Terrifying. It’s public now. When someone buys it, it’s theirs. It’s not mine anymore. Strangely, once my debut was out in the world, I felt separated from it. Hunting Annabelle doesn’t feel as much mine as it used to. 

How much input do you have on cover art? 

It’s hard to say because I haven’t had to push back on anything. My cover designer, Kathleen Oudit with Harlequin, knocked it out of the park on both covers, so I don’t know what would happen if I did want to make major changes. They’ve been receptive to small adjustments, but honestly, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve had a number of friends who pushed back quite a bit with their covers and gave detailed edits, and they were always listened to.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

When you’re querying, you’re an entrepreneur. It’s hard to go from that mindset to working with a publishing house. You have to adjust your entrepreneurism to function within the bureaucracy because there is still a lot to do on your own as an author, but you have to do it in the right way and apply that energy to the right things. You have to learn when to wait and when to act; when to push back and when to hold your tongue; when to ask your agent for help and when to give them space; when to hold off on asking a question because you’re waiting on something else and when to go ahead and ask. It’s fraught with opportunities to fumble an interaction, and publishing is a small world where reputation is king. There is a lot to learn on the business and etiquette side of publishing, and finding mentor authors who are willing to help you navigate is key. I have been lucky to find successful, experienced authors who have been willing to message with me and help me understand things, and I hope to provide that same support to authors who are newer to this than I.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I would say I am a mediocre marketer. I have social media (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). I do my own website and that has been really an important piece of the author thing. I study how other authors run their social media and sites and am always learning. Bookbub is something a lot of my friends are good at and I am not, but learning their ad platform seems quite smart and I plan to explore that this year. I make my own swag (I have an art degree) and I’m doing a preorder campaign for The Kill Club, which I didn’t do last time. I feel like I still have a lot to learn.

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When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

For me, social media has been for building community. So I started using Twitter long before working with my agent, just because I craved those relationships with other writers. I was lonely! But I also needed to learn about the business and culture of publishing, and Twitter in particular was great for that.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Maybe to an extent. But I’ve never tried to do this author thing without it, so I have no means of comparison. I think #Bookstagram on Instagram builds a lot of awareness with bloggers and reviewers,  but it’s important not to spam hashtags. But there’s no substitute for booksellers and Amazon algorithms, neither of which I can really control. For some people who have a large platform for other reasons (journalists, celebrities, athletes, etc), I’m sure their social media does help push sales. For normal Joes like me? Maybe a little.

All we can do is write the best books we can, be appreciative of those who help us (what goes around comes around and let us never forget it), and have professional, collaborative relationships with our editors, publicists, reviewers, friends, colleagues, readers… All we can do is our best, and the rest is just the rest.

 

5 Tips for Querying Writers From Ingrid Palmer

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

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Today's guest for the SAT is Ingrid Palmer, author of All Out of Pretty. She has always had a touch of the pioneer spirit, having once crewed a sailboat through the Georgian Bay, drove sled dogs in Quebec, and went river rafting in Germany.  She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I am definitely a Pantser, though I dream of someday mastering the art of outlining a book before I write it. I think it would save a lot of time in revisions.

The way it usually works for me is, I become fascinated by a character or group of characters, have a vague idea of some plot points, and then we all go on an adventure together. When I sit down to write each day, I'm never sure where we're going to end up!

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

Three years for the first manuscript I wrote, nine months for the second (this was my debut--All Out of Pretty), and about a year and a half for the third. That's how long it took me to finish the first complete draft of each one. After that, I put in many months to years revising.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

It depends. All Out of Pretty is an intense, gritty book, and there were times when I needed a break from all the heavy emotions. On those days, I'd work on a different manuscript, so I ended up writing a good portion of my third book while I drafted All Out of Pretty. In general, though, I try not to stray from my main WIP too much.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I had a career as a journalist and I've been writing stories since childhood, so I didn't have a fear of the writing process, per se. But when it came time to let others read my words, the fear factor went through the roof!

Joining my first critique group was terrifying--until I realized I'd found some of my favorite people in the world. I think putting your work out for public consumption/review can be scary, and I don't know if that vulnerable feeling ever fully goes away.

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How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

I had one trunked book that I put aside before writing All Out of Pretty and finding my agent. But it's only temporarily trunked...it needs work, but I plan to revisit it. I have a deep kinship with those characters and haven't let them go for good.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I had to stop revising the first book, the one that's temporarily trunked, because I'd been working on it for too long to be able to see how to successfully reshape it. I knew it was time to move on after I'd queried, gotten some requests and feedback, and still felt kind of stuck. I learned a lot writing that book, though, and all those lessons carried over into subsequent projects.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?

My agent is Shannon Hassan at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and she's amazing! I found her the old-fashioned way--through the query process. She requested 50 pages, then the full and a description of other projects I was working on, and a few months later she sent an email with the three words that changed my life: "I love it!"

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I did two rounds of queries with All Out of Pretty. The first time around I had about a 30 percent request rate (which was great!) but I wasn't getting offers of representation. After I'd gotten feedback from enough agents to see a pattern, I stopped querying and spent two years revising. When I queried the second time around, I got the request/offer from my agent after a few months.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

1. Never give up.

2. If you're getting requests but no offers, ask for feedback on what isn't working. I had some great email conversations with agents willing to share their thoughts/advice. I even had one agent (who loved the book but had another that was too similar) contact other agents on my behalf!

3. If you're not getting requests, take another look at your query, synopsis, pitch, and first pages. Have people with fresh eyes read it. Attend a writer's conference and pitch it in person.

4. Don't just send queries and wait. Start a new project. Immediately.

5. Did I mention not giving up?

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Seeing the book up for preorder felt wonderful but surreal. Seeing the book on the shelf of an actual bookstore was one of the highlights of my life! But the first time I saw my ISBN number, I cried with joy. That was a surprisingly emotional moment.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My publisher and designer came up with the concept, designed it, and then sent it over for feedback. My agent and I proposed trying out a few small changes, and they did. Happily, we all agreed on the final version!

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

This wasn't something I ever thought about before getting published, but one of my favorite parts of the process was working on the Discussion/Curriculum Guide. It was so satisfying to collaborate with my publisher and create questions that analyzed the book's themes as well as my characters and their choices. Amazing!

How much of your own marketing do you do? 

My publicist arranges most events and signings, and she created a marketing plan for the pre-launch initiatives. I handle my own social media sites.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I think it's a personal choice. Before I was agented, I started a blog with my critique partners - We Heart YA - that I posted to a handful of times a year and had a Twitter account that I barely used. After I signed the book deal, I became more active on Twitter, created an author Facebook page, added Instagram, and hired the talented Stephanie Mooney to design my author website. It's a challenge to balance the marketing/promoting side of things with the actual writing, but I think it's important to make writing the priority.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I'm not sure if social media directly affects readership numbers or not (I hope it does!) but either way, it's a supportive community and a great way to build relationships with other writers, readers and book-loving people. That in itself is worth the time and energy.