Taking A SHIT With Jay Kristoff

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 SHIT guest is Jay Kristoff, who is 6'7, has approximately 13,870 days to live, and is frequently mistaken for Dave Grohl in smoky, stinky clubs with poor lighting. He does not believe in happy endings. His book, STORMDANCER is a dystopian fantasy set in steampunk feudal Japan. In a steampunk shogunate decimated by clockwork mechanization, sixteen-year-old Yukiko befriends the last griffin left alive, pitting herself against the authorities in the hope of seeing her homeland saved, her family freed and the crippled griffin fly again. STORMDANCER will be coming Spring 2012 from St Martin's Press & Tor UK. Jay is represented by Matt Bialer of Sanford J. Greenburg & Associates.

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

Next to nothing. I knew there was something called ‘the big six’ and that’s where we were headed first. I knew Thanksgiving is traditionally a very quiet time in publishing, and I shouldn’t expect anything until the New Year. I knew my expectations were being managed early by my agent, because, despite what anyone will tell you, luck is a huge factor at this end of the equation. But at that stage, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had an agent at all, or that people were returning my emails with something other than boilerplate kicks to the baby-maker.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Yeah, how quickly it all started cascading. We got one offer within three weeks. A week later we had another, and a couple of weeks after that we had a third. And call the president, I was suddenly at auction! 0.o
I always imagined book auctions would be these swanky affairs. Like, an actual physical event, where publishers would stand around in eveningwear and snark at each other and occasionally glass each other in the face with dry martinis. Turns out it’s just a bunch of emails flying back and forth, with me in the middle trying not to lose my tiny little mind.

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

Not until we started getting offers, nope. I don’t recommend it up until that point – you’re just torturing yourself. You should be writing your next book instead of hoping to win the lottery.
If you’re lucky enough to get multiple offers, yes, you should research them just to feel comfortable and informed. But hopefully your agent is going to be weighing in heavily with advice at this point. All the research in the world won’t help you beyond a certain point. Read all the Cosmo you like, you’re still going to be terrible the first time you sleep with someone. Your agent does this stuff for a living. You need to place a degree of trust in your advocate.

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

About a month? But I was on sub over the Thanksgiving break as I said, which is dead as Dillinger a notoriously slow time.

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

Write your next book. Drink bourbon. Read lots of Cosmo.

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

We had rejections, but only after the news of the first offer came through. So they were all blunted by the knowledge that someone already wanted it. It’s pretty hard to get disappointed in that situation. Every House was just another potential yes. The ‘no’s’ kinda ceased to matter. I think I was very lucky in that regard.
Hell, let’s be honest – I completely lucked out during this whole process.

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 no feedback that I’m aware of. Just offers and “no thank you’s”.

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

Completely surreal. It still feels surreal, sitting here thinking about it. You work at this thing for so long, give up so much pursuing it, that when you finally catch it, it’s difficult to process. I felt like a dog who actually caught the car he was chasing.

“Now what the hell do I do?”

I found out via email – in the late stages of the auction, the bids and counter-bids were coming in sometimes two or three per day. So being kept abreast of that via phone would’ve been crazy. When the 2nd last house said they couldn’t go any higher, I had a chat to my agent on the phone, we talked over the possibilities and then decided where we’d go. Even after the bidding was done, the decision wasn’t just about money.

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

Being the pessimistic jerk that I am, I intended to wait until I’d signed the contract before I told anyone (I had no idea at this stage that contract usually get drawn up and signed months later). I could just imagine myself running about shouting I’d landed a deal, only to have it all collapse when the Publishers found out about that time I shoplifted a Mars Bar when I was twelve.

So I dropped some hints on my blog about it, but said nothing concrete. And then a friend of mine told me the details of my deal had already gone up at Publishers Marketplace, so I should start yelling about it.
So yeah, I started yelling ☺