Balancing Expectations While On Submission with RuthAnne Snow

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 Ruth-Anne Snow, author of When the Truth Unravels. RuthAnne Snow was born and raised in Kaysville, Utah. She has interned for the U.S. Senate, worked on policy papers for Congress and the State Department, and once spent a year sorting through emails looking for fraud. It wasn’t nearly as fun as writing fiction.

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

I knew a decent amount, based on friends’ experiences, but I still learned a lot when it was my turn to go on sub. Honestly, I think it’s important to be prepared for the fact that sub might be a little different every time you go out.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Not really, mostly because I kept my expectations really low and flexible. So stuff happened that I didn’t expect, but I was kind of expecting the unexpected.

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

I didn’t—first of all, I didn’t ask my agent for names of editors, just imprints. One thing I strongly recommend is being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress before you go out on submission. If knowing your editor names will help you deal with the unknown, awesome! Tell your agent you want to know everything. If having that information won’t help you, tell your agent that too.

I know that I can get a little obsessive and it’s not good for me, so I told my agent I wanted a medium amount of information delivered in batches. And I trusted her judgment in determining what editor feedback to pass along directly and what she should summarize for me. So instead of getting rejections as they rolled in, I’d get an update about once a month. My agent included direct quotes from editors when the feedback was more helpful or illuminating, and summarized the feedback otherwise.

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

Some we heard back from right away, some took months—I am not sure we had an average.

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

I know everyone says this, but work on the next project! Have something else you can give your CPs and your agent after a few months. Focusing on new writing and new revisions will give you a little emotional distance from the project that is on submission—it takes the sting out of rejections and helps you stop refreshing your email so much.

Beyond that, find other outlets in addition to writing that make you happy. In my lawyer-life, we talk a lot about the importance of “work-life balance” to keep you grounded and sane. It’s the exact same thing with writing. You need things in your life besides writing that make you satisfied and fulfilled. For me, it’s hanging out with my husband and friends and our dogs, baking, hiking, going to the gym—whatever. And even though I also love a good Netflix binge, just remember that the thing that keeps you healthy and sane can’t be a passive activity like vegging out to Grey’s Anatomy for the fifth time. Relaxing is important and necessary, but it’s not the same as having another activity to engage your brain and really refresh you mentally.

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

I definitely had some rejections, ha. It was mostly fine—again, I think if you keep your expectations low, it really helps. I think the rejection that stung the most was an R&R I did that didn’t make it through the acquisitions stage. Even then, though, it wasn’t too bad because my agent had warned me that most R&Rs don’t come to anything, and because I had decided at the outset that the main reason I was doing the R&R was not simply to please the editor who had requested it, but because I felt like her suggestions were spot on. So that experience was a mix of disappointing (because obviously I was still HOPING that my R&R would be the exception to the rule!) but also helpful because I was happy with the changes I made.

But I think I was in a unique place by the time I went on sub because rejections on queries and submission both felt sort of muted to me. Before I signed with my agent, I had actually had a manuscript accepted by a small publisher. I did the negotiations on that contract on my own and ultimately it all fell apart. So that experience where I was so close to being published but ultimately had to choose not to be to preserve my own future (very potential at that point) career, really taught me how dicey this business can be. You have to have confidence in yourself but at the same time keep your expectations realistic. Which can sound grim, but in a way was nice because 85% of my rejections really just felt like, “Oh well. That’s ok. I’m still a good writer, this just wasn’t my fit.”

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?

I think it’s important to remember that editor feedback is way different than beta or CP feedback. When I beta read for someone, I am doing it with very simple and open-ended questions in my mind—what do I like, what don’t I like, can I see where it can be improved, do I have suggestions for the author.

An editor has to be thinking, “Do I have the right vision for this? Do I have the passion to work on this for the next year or two? Is this right for our imprint? Can we market this? Can it stand out? Do I want to hang my professional opinion on this?” And I think remembering that helps you understand that it really is a business decision at the end of the day. You wrote a good book, your CPs and betas loved it, your agent loves it, and now the question is not just whether or not you can find an editor who loves it, but an editor who loves it AND can justify the investment in it.

And I know that’s easy to just say and hard to really feel, but it helped that I had worked at an independent publisher so I had real-world evidence that it’s true. A ton of decisions really do just come down to business, so once you’re on submission, try to refocus on that. It takes a lot of the emotion out of the rejections and helps you see what common themes are there in the rejections and decide whether or not some changes need to be made to your manuscript. In my case, a lot of the rejection feedback was a mixed bag, so I tried not to put too much weight on it unless something really resonated with me, like with the R&R I did.

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

I had a feeling it was coming when an editor followed me on Twitter, and then my agent emailed me to set up a call a few hours later. I tried to keep my expectations low (maybe another R&R?) but I had a gut feeling that this time, it really was the time. Even still, it was almost surreal to hear that there was a real offer on the table. I must have read the offer letter three or four times before it really started to sink in.

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 a really long time to wait! There were a few contractual details to work out, and publishing is a strange business. Summers are really slow, winter holidays are really slow, and as luck would have it, we were waiting for our final contract in the fall of 2016 … which also was really slow, to say the least. It was difficult for sure, but I knew I was finally in the final stretch, so that helped a lot.

Author Mike Chen On The True Hell of Being On 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.

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Today's guest for the SHIT is Mike Chen, author of Here And Now And Then, releasing January 29th from Mira Books.

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

Absolutely nothing. I wound up Googling a lot. I found a few articles about it, but those tended to only provide a macro view of the process. It felt devoid of timeline specifics or process specifics, and that’s really how my mind operates. The best repository of info really was the SHIT archives. I actually bookmarked my favorite ones, and when I was feeling desperate, I would re-read them. So SHIT was kind of like my 12-step meeting when I was getting to anxious and needed to check SOMETHING. That’s why I wrote you a thank-you note in 2016 for them!

Did anything about the process surprise you?

How mysterious the whole thing is! It just seemed weird that there was no real step-by-step breakdown of what happens. You get so much of that with agents and queries, and then with submissions it becomes a black box. Also, I died at acquisitions four times, and I just didn’t think those odds were that bad. One of my agent siblings died five times before getting acquired, so I guess I wasn’t the worst of the bunch.

Also, I was surprised at how much the business side had sway. I had a lot of interest and support from the creative (editorial) side but it was always the business people who said that I was too literary for an SFF imprint or too SFF for a literary imprint. Much later, there was an episode of Printrun Podcast where Laura Zats talked about her speculative clients facing the same issue. I actually texted Eric (since he knows Laura) that I was relieved to hear it wasn’t just us.

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

I did do that, though my agent (Eric Smith) advised me against it. He’s right, by the way, and I would recommend staying away from that as much as possible, particularly Twitter. Because most editors don’t really tweet much about their submissions, but they may follow you purely for research purposes. HOWEVER, because we are writers and super neurotic and everything is awful, any sort of accidental Like could become an Omen From The Heavens when it really means nothing.

It’s really better just to trust your agent that they have a good sense of what’s going on, who to sub, and what people want. It is also nearly impossible to keep this distance.

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

I double-checked and my death-at-acquisitions were all spaced about four months apart. I’d say we’d get rejections in 6-8 week cycles. For second-read interest, that would usually be at the two-month mark. “You’re going to acquisitions” was usually at the three-month mark and then the final say was around four months.

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

It is so cliche, but write another project. My total time on sub was nearly two years, and in that time, I completed another manuscript. For MS #2, we actually created a sub plan and my agent did some preliminary tire-kicking towards the end of MS #1’s cycle. When MS #1 sold in a two-book deal, I really believed that MS #2 was the perfect companion book in tone and style to MS #1, so I felt really strongly that it would be accepted.

My editor (Michelle Meade) didn’t want to look at it until we were done with copyedits, but she approved it in proposal format shortly after that. The big difference with me and my writer pals who wrote book 2 on proposal was that I was way ahead of the game. This created significantly less stress and allowed me to start a few different WIPs, one of which my agent and I ultimately decided for MS #3 on general sub.

Also, get a good group of writer pals that have been through the sub ringer. They’ll be the only ones who can understand the bizarre stress of sub.

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

It sucked. It felt soul-crushing, particularly at acquisition. My first acquisition death, I had talked with the editor on the phone and we’d made rough editorial plans and it felt SO GOOD. Then she said she’d get back to us in about a week, and a week became a month and then it was an apology.

The second and third passes were especially crushing. I thought I had the numbers on my side. Then when the fourth one came, I was ready to call it quits. I was kind of numb to it at that point, and when my agent told me that they ultimately passed, I remember doing a bit of a maniacal laugh at my computer. My friend Kristen Lippert-Martin joked that in a way, the fact that the publishing gods chose to pick on me so harshly was kind of a compliment.

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?

I actually did three R&Rs of varying length. The first one was a massive 10-page edit letter, which I thought was super cool. I took it really seriously, and it was my first experience with that detail of feedback. The other ones weren’t as strenuous but they did add to it.

Funny enough, when we did sell to Mira Books, the team there had requested an R&R to add in world-building and address some pacing issues. When I saw the notes, I realized that it was basically a compilation of the previous R&Rs. I created a consolidated version, then added one new scene, and that was the version that sold. The editing process for the final really focused on streamlining that new version down to the core essentials, but Michelle was really happy that a lot of the heavy lifting was done for her.

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

Utter disbelief. I was so convinced that it was going to fail again that when my editor specified a date and time for a response (because my agent was on paternity leave at the time), I was totally skeptical. Then he texted me with “It’s time” while I was chatting with writer pal Diana Urban. My response is documented in photos here.

I work in a big office and literally no one knows about my writing life, so I had to dash outside to take the call a minute later. As I did after I got an agent, I did a lot of sitting or standing alone and pumping my fist to myself over the next few days.

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

We waited about 6 weeks until the deal memo was hashed out. I had a few short conversations with Michelle leading up to that but she didn’t deep dive until months later. By then, most of my writer pals knew, but when it went up on Publishers Marketplace, there was the awkward part about telling people in real life. Outside of my wife, no one knew, and I have this weird hang-up about integrating real life and writer life. So it made for a very awkward Facebook post to friends and family.

But I won’t complain. I’ve seen friends sit on it for 6+ months because of contracts, and I’m just thankful that the Mira team was cool with just having a deal memo.

Emily Layne On The Waiting Game 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 Emily Layne, author of These Wicked Waters, coming in the fall of 2019 from Owl Hollow Press.

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

Not much. I thought book deals happened overnight. Or at least within a month. Because those are the deals you hear about. The ones that went to auction and the author had a contract in a matter of days. Boy, did I learn…

Did anything about the process surprise you?

How long it takes! I went into the submission process with some pretty false expectations. I assumed my book would sell and sell fast. But months went by. And months. And months. Being on submission is almost exactly like querying except you’re usually guaranteed to get a full request and you’re not alone in rejection disappointment—your agent is right there with you.

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

I did a little bit. I would check out their Twitter occasionally, hoping for a teaser about what they were reading or about what kinds of books they were interested in. But as time went on, I stopped checking.

If you’re the kind of writer who can obsess over checking editors’ social media, I don’t recommend researching them. But if you have a gentle curiosity and just want to see what they’re about… go for it!

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

It varies so much! But average… I’d probably say at the 3-6 month mark. I had one editor who responded after only a few days with a rejection. Others took a year. Some we didn’t hear back from at all, despite my agent’s gentle nudges.

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

I don’t think there’s a way to totally forget that you’re on submission and the anxiety that goes with it. A lot of people say “start a new project!” Which is absolutely good advice. You want to have something to sell next!

But sometimes the last thing you want to do is write. And that’s okay for a little while! One thing that really helped me handle the anxiety was time. The more time passed, the less excited and nervous I became. Once the three month mark hit, I was ready to start a new story. My advice is to understand the process, realize it will take a while (usually) to hear back, and take a well-deserved break before starting a new project—you got an agent and have editors reading your book! You’ve earned a writerly vacation!

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

Rejections are never fun. The first few I got on These Wicked Waters were a big disappointment, but I quickly accepted the fact an editor didn’t think it was a right fit and moved on. After all, I had other subs out.

When I got to the end of my subs… That’s when I got nervous. Because unlike querying, there is a smaller pool of publishers. If they weren’t interested, then I had nowhere else to go (except self-publishing. And while that’s a great opportunity for writers, I wanted to be traditionally published).

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?

I never got much detailed feedback on any of my rejections. Like agents, editors get a bunch of subs and look for reasons to say no. Many rejections were generic. A popular line I read over and over was, “I just didn’t fall in love with it.”

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

I never expected to get a “yes.” I’d been on submission for two years (yep, TWO YEARS. You read that right.). My agent and I had officially shelved my book back in March 2018, but she met an author at a conference who raved about her publisher. So my agent asked if I’d like her to send These Wicked Waters their way. I O.K.’ed it, feeling very pessimistic. I was done with TWW. We’d even started going out on submission with another book of mine!

Then in June 2018 I got a call from my agent. I didn’t recognize the number so (like the introvert I am) didn’t answer it. She left a message. I started listening to it, got a few seconds in and heard “Hi, this is Becky. Owl Hollow is interested…” And then I squealed, closed my voicemail, and ran in circles around my room. Eventually I calmed down long enough to listen to the rest of the voicemail and call my agent back.

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

Between when the publisher expressed interest in publishing These Wicked Waters and I accepted, I had to wait about a month and a half before sharing the news. We had to go through contract negotiations which took about four to five weeks. The wait time would’ve been much harder if I hadn’t been getting married three days after Owl Hollow offered publication. The whirlwind of a husband, new apartment, new state, and new job kept me from being too antsy. But I still couldn’t wait to share the news! I had a newsletter written, ready to send as soon as I got the OK. I’m pretty sure it sat around for about a week before it went out!