I recently tried to explain to someone what it was like to be out on submission. I found it hard to describe accurately, because the truth is, the process can eat you up from the inside out. It’s like being oh-so-close to the pinnacle of the mountain, only to have your feet swallowed by the earth, unable to take another step. You can only stare up at the top of the mountain and imagine what it looks like. “But I am so close,” you whisper, your feet planted in ground beneath you. Stuck.
Then I had an email conversation with another writer who was also out on submission. She was actually going through it, and her insides were being devoured—like many writers—by the hair-pulling, nail-biting, and ulcer-inducing waiting game. I didn’t need to explain anything to her. She understood completely.
But the thing is, there are ways to help get through it without destroying yourself. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
1) USE YOUR AGENT TO BOLSTER YOUR CONFIDENCE.
When your book is out with editors, keep reminding yourself how passionately your agent responded to the book when she first read it. This will keep your confidence high. And, if you happened to have multiple agents who had been vying to rep you, use their passion to help bolster your confidence, too. Because let’s face it: this business is S…L…O…W! Each day that goes by without any word can push you one way or the other, so you need to remember that your agent (who knows what she is doing) loved your book. This is one of the many reasons you need an agent who champions your work.
2) REMEMBER THE SLOW NATURE OF THE PUBLISHING BUSINESS.
I mentioned it before. This business works at glacial speed. At best. Here’s the way many submissions go for debut authors: The editor needs to read and love your book, then share it with others who need to read and love it, after which they need to discuss the book, weigh and evaluate the book with a team, and then put a deal together to share with your agent. All that takes time, and remember that the first step—the editor actually reading the book—can take a while to begin with, especially given the fact that there are other projects on her plate. True, there are some authors who hear back quickly, but don’t assume that’ll be you. And don’t be discouraged if it isn’t. Just remind yourself that things usually happen slowly in this business.
3) KEEP IN MIND THE LONG, TOUGH ROAD OTHER AUTHORS HAVE TAKEN. YOU ARE FOLLOWING THEM.
Some writers have a quick and easy path to publication. Don’t hate on them, tough as it is not to be jealous. The key is to realize their quick road was most likely a combination of a few things: talent, a killer concept that's hot, great timing, and a bit of luck. Yes, luck. I’m not saying luck is the key factor, but it does play a role. Tim Green, an accomplished NYT bestselling author, once paid an author visit to my school district and talked about what it takes to be a success in any entertainment industry, like writing. He mentioned that you needed a good deal of talent, along with a “maniacal” work habit. “And finally,” he said, “let me tell you something people often leave out, but something that you NEED. And that’s luck.” Tim Green is right. Because his point was that you need those first two (talent and hard work) but you also need a bit of luck, whether it’s that your type of manuscript is selling like crazy at that time, or that the editor who just received your manuscript somehow found herself trapped in an elevator for hours with only your manuscript to keep her company. Point is that most authors have a potholed, bumpy ride before they find a smooth stretch of interstate. One author who I think best epitomizes how long and difficult the journey can be is James Dashner. I urge you to visit his website and scroll down to “HOW I GOT PUBLISHED” and read all 9 parts of his story. Seriously. Do. It. Now. And while you’re at it, agent Jill Corcoran (not my agent, but a darn good one) has a list of successful authors who had a tough road HERE.
* And please feel free to mention and link any other well-known author who has had a long journey as well.
4) WRITE SOMETHING NEW (NOT A SEQUEL) NOW! NO EXCUSES! DO IT!
Most importantly, once your book is out with editors, start something new. Even if your book is the first of a series, start something unrelated to the book that just went out. I’m not saying you NEVER write that second book, but I am saying you need to get something else going immediately because you need to let the other project play itself out. And guess what? That might mean it never sells. If that happens, you would have wasted a lot of time writing the second book of a series that never sells. It’s better to give yourself over to a new, exciting project. Why? Well, first off, it gets you in that writing mode again, and you’re a darn writer, not a waiter. Right? So stop waiting around and write. The second thing this does is it gives you new hope just in case, unfortunately, that first book doesn’t sell. And that’s important because you can’t give up. You can’t ever give up. I see too many writers who sink all hopes in one manuscript. I understand the bond you have with that project, with that baby, but you need to cut the cord and give birth to another. The third reason you need to start something new and unrelated to the project out on submission is because it takes your mind off the other project. And I’ve learned from experience that you can’t dwell on a project that’s out there. You really need to move on and let your energy focus on something fresh.
In the end, this is just my opinion, which is based on my experience. How about you? Let me know what you think about this crazy process.