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.

Thor.png

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.

J. Kasper Kramer on Blending Folklore With Real World History

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today’s guest for the WHAT is J. Kasper Kramer, author of The Story That Cannot Be Told. She is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I can pinpoint the exact night The Story That Cannot Be Told took root! So for about five years, I lived in Japan, where I taught at an international school. Some of my coworkers (and very best friends) were Romanian women, and since I was working on another novel with influences from Romania, one of them came over to help with research. The plan was that she would tell me some fairytales and folklore, but after we’d been talking for a while, she started telling me other stories, too—stories about growing up under Ceausescu and Communist reign. Sitting there listening, taking notes as fast as I could, I realized I had a very different book to write. 

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

Well, I knew from the start I wanted to write this strange little book with retold folklore and fairytales somehow mixed into a serious, real-world story about a girl growing up in Communist Romania. In the end, I did what all academics do—I dove headfirst into research. It wasn’t long before I realized that the book had to be set during the year of the Romanian Revolution, and that it had to have something to do with the danger of telling stories in a country where speaking the wrong words could literally get you killed. Historical events, along with true family histories told to me by my friends, really helped pull the plot together. 

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Most of the time, I expect this to happen! I often spend a good year or so “thinking” about a book before I even start research, much less any drafting. This means that usually, when I finally sit down to write, I have a pretty solid mental outline of events. However, those events rarely all make it to the page. One scene leads to another, and then suddenly I’m traveling in a different direction. And that’s ok! I earnestly believe that nothing good can come from forcing a story to follow a script. If characters or obstacles seem to be leading the plot elsewhere, I always let the story evolve. I just like to make myself feel better by pretending I know where I’m headed.

Kramer.png

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I guess I’m pretty lucky, because I always have more stories in my head than I have time to write. Besides my current work-in-progress—another folklore-inspired novel, this time set in 1800s Poland—I’m in the “thinking” stage for two other books and the research stage for a third. Most of my free time—time spent not writing, editing, or teaching—is spent consuming art. My husband is a producer and film collector, so we watch tons of movies. I’m always reading a dozen or more books at once. And I play lots of video games and tabletop RPGs—all of which are, unquestionably, art. With so many stories coming in all the time, it’s no surprise to me that I have so many needing to come out.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

In the past, I always just worked on what seemed like the most fun. Now, though, I run ideas past my agent before really barreling into a project. At the moment, I’m actually working on some loose outlines just for that purpose—even though outlining on paper wasn’t part of my process in the past. 

I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I have three cats and a big dumb dog, and that is not nearly enough pets for me. The cats are lovely writing companions, meaning mostly they just leave me alone or sit nearby waiting for occasional chin scratches. But Indy—who’s technically still a puppy—is in a “demand barking” phase...so currently he’s not the best writing buddy. We’re working on it, though.