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.

Emily Roberson on Enduring the Submission Process

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 Emily Roberson, author of Lifestyles of Gods & Monsters, releasing October 2019. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. Emily has been a bookseller in Little Rock, a newspaper reporter in Vicksburg, a marketing manager in Boston, and a writer in Chapel Hill and Dallas.  

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

I knew almost nothing about the submission process before it started, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I had read magazines, and blog posts, and books about submission, but they didn’t really say much.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Every single thing. Mostly I was very surprised at how much it was like querying. The pitch we sent even contained elements of my query letter. I don’t know what I thought would happen, but I didn’t expect that it would involve my agent making phone calls and sending emails and pinging people.

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

I didn’t do any research on the editors who had the ms. I had met and pitched a few of them at SCBWI conferences over the years, but it turned out that those were the quickest to say no. I had secretly hoped that they would send some kind of personalized rejection, but of course they didn’t, because they meet a million people at these things, and truth be told, they probably didn’t remember me. So knowing something about them actually made it worse.

I don’t recommend researching editors, because there is simply nothing you can do with the information. For example if someone is an editor that everyone loves, then they turn you down, you feel like you’ve lost something you never actually had. Then in the opposite situation, if an editor makes an offer and you find someone online who says they are horrible to work for, what do you do then, if that’s your only offer? You might want to research the editors if you are in an auction situation, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it. 

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

We heard back from everyone pretty quickly. A stream of rejections in the first few weeks, then a few revise and resubmit requests, and the first call with my editor about a month after we went out on submission. 

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

In my experience, it’s incredibly hard to concentrate on anything when you are on submission. I would say write the next thing, because I think it’s great advice, but somehow I can never manage to write the next thing when I’m worried about the first thing. We went out on submission right around Memorial Day, and I was very distracted by the sunscreening, errand-running, dropping-off-for-day-camp life of having small kids, so that was a blessing.

My big problem was looking at social media or book news and seeing other people’s announcements. So I would recommend staying off Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. My go-to strategy for coping with anxiety is watching The Great British Baking Show. There is something about watching people do something hard for the joy of it (and a glass cake stand) that reminds me about the joy of what we’re trying to do. So I’d recommend that. 

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

I asked my agent not to send me the rejections directly unless they had something useful or helpful to share. So I didn’t actually have to read the “not right for me” rejections. For me that was a good thing. I’m bad about rereading and revisiting rejections – like what if I’d done this differently, or that differently, would it have gone better? Having my agent stop them from getting into my inbox was very helpful. For me, it felt better than query rejections, because I at least had a supportive agent. I felt like even if everyone said no, I wouldn’t be back in the query trenches with no one but myself to help me figure out what to do next. It was still rough though. 

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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?

We got several wonderful rejections, one was all about how much the editor loved the book, but at the tail end carried the message – “I’m not connecting with the main character” – which is the critique I find the hardest to manage, because it’s so individual, and there’s simply nothing to do about it. Then we had several where the editor loved the book, but couldn’t get other people on board, so that was hard.

Every single rejection at every phase of this has felt like getting dropped in cold water when you aren’t expecting it. Even the good ones are awful. I think the biggest difference between the editor’s feedback and a critique partner’s is that the editor is basically telling you why you didn’t get the job, and a critique partner (or at least a good one) is trying to help you get better. 

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

I knew for almost two weeks that the book was going to acquisitions, and I was a nervous wreck the whole time. So on the day of the acquisitions meeting, I was obsessively checking my email. Getting that email from my agent that FSG was going to make an offer was one of the best days of my life, like walking on air. I’ve been at this for so long, and I was starting to believe that I wouldn’t ever really get a book traditionally published.

In fact, before I got serious about finishing Lifestyles of Gods & Monsters, I told myself that this was my last try. I had that talk with myself that the girlfriend or mom of the rock-and-roll guy does in every movie with a sad-sack rock-and-roller who is still playing dive bars after fifteen years. I told myself that this was my one last shot, and that if I didn’t make it, I’d keep writing, but as a hobby, the way that I bake or knit or hike, and that I would stop trying to sell my writing, because it’s all so hard.

Now whether I would have followed my own advice, I don’t know. But I do know that when I got the email that my now-editor wanted to talk to me about my vision for the book, I was over the moon, but still wary. I’d read too many stories where a book got stalled at that phase. But once it went through acquisitions, and there were going to be contracts to be signed? I was as excited as I’ve ever been about anything in my life.

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 a while before saying anything publicly, and I found it hard, but not as hard as I’d expected. It turned out that being able to tell my husband and my immediate family was as rewarding as telling the whole world. The people who are the closest to us see the daily ins and outs of trying to make it in this business, and in the best case, they are the ones who are the most excited. And I’m lucky that that’s what happened for me.

Liz Coley On Some Hard Truths About Publishing

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, it’s actually called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Liz Coley, fellow Ohioan who has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter's Regret, and You Are Not Alone.

In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career? 

Last time around this blog, oh back in 2012 or so, I wrote, “Relax and trust the people who’ve done this hundreds of times.” I don’t feel that way anymore. There’s a saying in author circles, that if you stick around long enough, eventually anything that can happen will happen to you or someone you know. Publishers have folded, contracts have been cancelled, the ever-revolving door of junior editors has broken up author-editor teams, and agents have betrayed their clients. I’ve kind of lost faith that anyone can predict anything in this crazy biz. And yet they keep trying.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I had a revelation about my brand: apparently, I write library books. Books that are empathetic and well-written, about interesting issues and interesting humans. They are readable and the kind of book a teacher or librarian or mom would want to hand to the kid in need. I also know this isn’t what the publishers are looking for. Not high concept or sensational. Not a multibook YA fantasy romance. I’ve seen my rejection feedback; the editors may praise the writing, but say, sorry this isn’t a breakout story for the market today. Yeah. Duh. I knew that.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to earn a cent. In fact, I pledged away all my first-sale income to a worthy cause. So I write stories I think are important, and that’s why it breaks my heart a little that no one wants to publish them. There are gatekeepers, and I don’t consciously write to please them, to my detriment, I guess.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

The year I sold Pretty Girl-13, a lot of things changed. I believed that my ten years of writing and attending workshops and reading books on craft and submitting short stories were finally paying off. This was the cusp. The threshold from Liz’s life part I to Liz’s life part 2. I was also on the cusp of a significant round number birthday. I said to my husband, “I’m really excited for this next decade.” I made a lot of valued writing friends, I spoke to marvelous kids at a few schools and a lot of festivals, I won a few awards, and I received letters from people who said my book had changed their path in life.

The energy of that launch period carried me through the unforeseen disappointments—my editor rejected two manuscripts for my option and released me; although I wrote three additional manuscripts after those, my agent failed to sell anything; there were betrayals of trust and financial shenanigans. And now, it wasn’t . . .

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a huge windstorm in Columbus that brought down a maple tree in our yard. My oldest son, about twelve at the time, very excitedly asked if he would be allowed to use an ax to cut up the tree. About ten minutes later, he came into the house and reported sadly, “That wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”

So, yeah. Publication was awesome. But the writing life? I’ve been hacking at that tree for almost twenty years. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.

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Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

In my dark night of the soul, with twelve and two half manuscripts under my belt, one sale, and five self-pubs that net me about $25 a year, I decided to try something different to fight the despair. I enrolled in a week-long immersive playwriting masterclass at the university. Changed my life.

Playwriting plays to my strengths—brevity, dialogue, character. The ten-minute plays that rolled off my laptop that week were deep, playful, engaging, and most of all, appreciated by the actors who voiced them, the instructors, and my first audiences. The immediate gratification of this art was an overwhelming experience, and I began developing another whole network of supportive friends in theatre. After three years of masterclasses, I became a TA, I’ve accumulated a small inventory of works to submit and/or self-produce, I founded Next Stage Cincinnati Playwrights, and my work has been performed in San Diego and Cincinnati.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published means that one of my tales swims in the eternal sea of story-telling, like an imperishable plastic straw among the millions. Even though to date, I haven’t replicated that success, I remind myself to be content with what I have achieved: the ongoing reviews from people who stayed up all night reading; the letters I continue to receive from people with Dissociative Identity Disorder in their own lives or those of someone close to them; the recognition of librarians and teenagers who call it a favorite book; and the simple fact that my kids have a copy of their mom’s book on their own bookshelves. The fans have been the greatest gift, and on top of that, there’s a beer waiting for me in Prague as thanks for mailing an autographed Czech edition to a man to give his girlfriend. 

In terms of changing my life, because I haven’t gotten back on the all-absorbing post-release merry-go-round, I have had the time to sing at church, watch Netflix while I exercise, write plays, volunteer in literacy, captain a tennis team, and work on political campaigns. I suppose, in that sense, it is better that my publishing experience didn’t end up consuming all of me.