The Submission Process.... Worse Than Querying? Laura Heffernan Says Yes.

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 (Submission Hell, It’s True) is Laura Heffernan, the author of the Reality Star series (available now) and the upcoming Gamer Girls series (2019). The best place to find her is usually on Twitter, where she spends far too much time tweeting about writing, Canadian chocolate, board games and reality TV. She lives in the northeast with her husband and two furry little beasts.

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

Almost nothing. I knew that everyone said it sucks a lot, and I didn’t quite believe it could be worse than querying. (Spoiler alert: it’s worse than querying.)

Did anything about the process surprise you?

The main thing that surprised me about the process is how bad I felt. Like, it was very exciting in the beginning, because of course I assumed that everyone would love my book and read it right away and we’d go to auction within a couple of weeks. (Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.) But as things dragged on and we didn’t get replies, it got demoralizing if I let myself think about it too much. Especially when I saw other people announce offers, and especially the ones who went out on sub after me. 

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

Not at first. I knew enough about myself to realize that I didn’t want to know the names of the editors who had my book, because I’d spend all my time on Twitter. I trusted my agent to tell me what was going on.

With later books, as we got to the point where editors stopped replying as much, I liked to know who had my book. I don’t recommend this. I looked up one editor on Twitter and saw her make a comment about reading a book with a horse in it (she also edits historical romance, so it’s not like horses are super uncommon) and because I had a horse in the book that was out, I became obsessed with the idea that she was reading my book at that very moment. (Spoiler alert: She wasn’t. Or, I don’t think she was. She never responded to my sub, and that was about 3 years ago.)

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

Forever? It all feels like forever. We were getting about one response a month. Most editors took about 1-6 months to reply. Later, some editors stopped replying at all. When we got the offer, it was after about 4 months.

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

Find something else to do. Everyone says “write another book.” Well, I write fast and my book was on sub for 18 months. Meaning, by the time I got an offer, I had 4 or 5 other books written. Every time someone told me to write another book, I wanted to scream.

What actually helped me is that we happened to be buying a house around the same time, but applying for mortgages, packing and moving is also not a long-term solution. The most important thing really is to have friends you can vent about the process with. Privately.

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

The first rejection we got was SO NICE that it really dulled the sting. The editor had nothing but positive things to say about me and my work. Even though she didn’t buy the book, I took the time to thank her at RWA a couple of years later, because it really stuck with me. That’s very different from all of the form “I didn’t connect with the voice” query rejections you get.

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 any useful feedback. I had editors say things like “We don’t think we could launch it big enough.” I still don’t know what that means. In some ways, that’s really frustrating because you don’t know what changes to make. At least beta readers give you some direction.

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

By the time we got the yes, AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR had been on sub for approximately 18 months, with two different agents. (My first agent changed positions after we went out.) My agent had nudged the remaining editors reading with no response, and we were actually preparing to go out on sub with a completely different book. I got the news while out for a walk sans phone (a very important daily ritual for me, especially during sub.) So when I saw that I had a Facebook message and email from her, I didn’t really think it was unusual. But as soon as I sat down to read everything, I started crying and messaged her back right away. Since I’d completely given up on that book, it felt AMAZING to know that we finally had an offer.

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

 We had to wait 3-4 months. In some ways, it was really tough. At the same time, I’d been on submission for 18 months at that point, so most people didn’t even ask how it went (Ouch, right? I know). I wound up telling a lot of my friends privately because I was just too excited.