What’s it like to have your manuscript on submission to publishers? How do you make it through the process?
This is the third time I’ve been “on sub.” No Small Thing is circulating to a select group of editors, thanks to the pitch work of Tara Gelsomino, my agent.
I’m sharing this because I believe it “pays” to be transparent–to tell the truth of your experience out of a spirit of abundance. There’s room enough for everyone. And yes, I say that even though the very experience I’m about to describe is indeed built on a scarcity model.
Often we only hear these stories after someone’s “made it.” They’re the Antarctica explorer assuring you that we can all make it out, now that they’re back stateside sitting warm before the fire. They’re the miner emerged into the light after months underground, and they’ve had a bath and a good meal. That’s very encouraging and inspiring, for sure.
I also think it’s important to tell you, right smack in the middle of things, that you will survive. It’s important to tell you that there are ways and means and attitudes to help you with staying the course.
Just a note: my video is different than this post below, which has a lot more ruminations. Either way, I hope one or both makes you feel better as you weather submissions!
Know this process is pretty much the lottery and the NBA draft, all rolled into one. So it’s going to take a long time, if it happens.
If. More on that below.
My average amount of time on sub is about a year. Before shelving, by the way, not before publication. For more on this twist and turn, see below.
Find a project NOW. You have to. If you’re like me, you probably have a million ideas you want to develop. Go find one and get going.
And I mean really get going. Commit to morning time. Generate pages. Once you see how much you can do in 20-minute writing sprints, with coffee and a non-judgmental mindset, you’ll love yourself and your writing again.
No one can take your creativity from you.
If writing is what you’re born to do, you’ll get distracted by the shiny new object of the gem you’re mining. I find so much joy in my new WIP.
You will be mystified by feedback you get, so don’t trip at the first rejection. Or the third or fourth. Wait till you have 10-12 rejections to look for patterns. And know this: there might not be any!
For one of my books while on sub a few years ago, I got equally “love the voice” and “don’t love the voice.” The standard phrase for the don’t love feedback was “I didn’t connect with the voice.”
You’ll also hear things like a marketing team not being sure how to sell your work in a crowded market. You may hear more of an “It’s me, not you,” and that might be true. You might hear several compliments, followed by that statement.
You also don’t know how much of your book got read by each editor. You don’t know whether your book got read on a day when, as Liz Gilbert and others remind us, someone’s dog died. Your book might be the tenth manuscript a poor editor has to rifle through in order to start her weekend. Know this: editors are drowning in pages and words, absolutely drowning. I have huge empathy for this as a former English teacher who once carried an albatross of papers, and as someone who in her day job goes through not only close to 100 emails but also edits and reads tons of text, and has to create tons of text on demand.
I get it. In this review process, your book has to literally leap at an editor and grab them in the sweet spot of their attention. So three things might be true at once:
In her great piece, “What It’s Really Like to Go on Submission to Publishers,” author Diana Urban shared these observations:
“An author discussed being on submission for 15 months and called this a ‘worst case scenario.’….I ended up going on submission four times with three different agents over 4.5 years before landing my first book deal. And that’s not even the worst case scenario. The worse case scenario is that it never happens. At all.”
Get the facts: most authors don’t get picked up after one week on submission. Most authors don’t go to auction. Most authors don’t, don’t, don’t have all the luck in the world. Most of us will strive every day of our lives to get our words out there.
And get the facts about your work: is it your most polished version you and your agent could produce?
I am happy that I can say yes when it comes to No Small Thing. I know further editing by a publisher would be key, but I also know that we’ve got a damn good version done. There’s been enough time for it to simmer, and enough eyes on it, both agent and beta reader, and experts in the fields of sports and journalism, and education, that it’s something to be proud of.
It’s possible your manuscript needs more spit and shine. Be open to that.
Look at your favorite Netflix or HBO or Amazon series suddenly cancelled and realize it can happen to the rich and famous, too. Nothing is for certain, forever.
(Greg and I are still mourning that The OA was cancelled. WHY. Or how about Deadwood getting killed off…but then resurrected in a movie, thank you. HELL YEAH.)
I’ve got a published friend who’s gotten the brass rings of agent + a two-book deal and he still gets his ideas rejected by editors. No one is golden forever, even if they glistered for a hot moment.
Embrace these truths and say to yourself a million times, “It is what it is. What will I do now?”
You may think that you are your rejections. Well, news flash: your book is not the no’s you get. Your book is your art. It could be a shitty first draft or a masterpiece in its most polished revision, but it has a reason to be. It has a RIGHT to be in this world. Do not doubt that.
In most cases when on sub, it’s your most polished revision yet. So you need to trust that and listen to the stories of all the nos that various authors you adore once got–yep, the JK Rowling’s and other fantabulous beauteous souls who heard no and no all over again.
Whenever I feel the tremors of doubt, they’re usually thanks to a very American #winning culture that emphasizes being in the One Percent of Success. That’s the Scarcity Model Folks talking, the ones who want you to believe there’s only one way to succeed, and that they’re the Chosen Few.
Another news flash: I survived my beloved Minerva book being on sub 14 months and getting shelved. I’m still here. And guess what? Lately I’m also chatting with my agent about my new synopsis for the book. So we shall see. It’s possible Minerva may be that phoenix ready to burst forth, or she might just settle into a pile of ashes. I keep my mind flexible on this point. I put so much love into that manuscript since 2013, but it is what it is right now. It’s original form might not have been as world ready as I thought. Or maybe it was boot camp for this book, No Small Thing.
Check out Sarah Enni’s story on this episode of 88 Cups of Tea and particularly how her debut novel, Tell Me Everything, was a true labor of love across many twists and turns she could have never imagined.
When last year I told a wise author of 15 books how my agent had left the business, and then said that I figured a writer’s journey was one-third talent, one-third persistence, and one-third luck and timing, she said,
“Oh, honey, it’s more than 50% luck and timing!”
You can’t control luck and timing. Sure, your persistence can put you in front of more people more times. But when you see the get-rich-quick stories of publication, the love-at-first-sight by 20 editors all vying for a book, know a few things:
I write about feisty girls who want to be investigative journalists and sports reporters. Yep, it’s a unique thing because I bet you can’t say you’ve read a young-adult book just like that, can you?
I like being a unicorn. They bring good luck.
If this is all true, the luck and timing and the reality of a no, then Jackie be nimble, Jackie be quick: you might have to self-pub right over that candlestick! It’s what I might do with all my discarded gems someday. I don’t know. I’ve proven I can do it and I might just do it again.
Your agent should give you updates on the submission process (I get a weekly one), and your agent should tell you who they’re pitching to, and when.
Your agent should also be there for you should you need a pep rally. Tara Gelsomino is the best: she reminds me that she loves the story she’s hustling so hard to sell. She reminds me that even if we end up getting a few rejections, know we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.
I talk more about what a great agent does in my post, Houston, We Have an Agent!
You will hear some agents tell you (and I did hear this when I was seeking a new one) that they can’t sub out a book that’s already been on sub to 10-11 editors. They will say they don’t have the vision, or the contacts, or maybe it’s the time, to try for other editors. That’s important information when vetting an agent: when do you consider submission over? How many tries does it take for you to walk away?
Since my luck in the draw fell out the way it it did–starting to go on sub right as my agent leaves the business–I lucked out getting an agent who’s not concerned about that.
And here’s the thing: IT’S OKAY IF WE DON’T SELL. You know why? I mean, yes, I’m full of ambition and desire to see these words in the world, but I also know No one can stop me from writing and making magic with my words.
It will happen. My next set of words will be seen. I just can’t tell you when and how.
It’s possible you as author won’t have tolerance for more than 10 rejections, either, so you better take your own pulse on that. Maybe your best agent pairing is with someone who can make the process like ripping off a bandaid for you. Maybe submission literally rips you up. I know artists in all fields who suffer hard at every no, and they can’t rewire themselves. They can build up scar tissue, sure, but it’s just their nature to change. They stop creating if they get too many more doors, walls, and nos.
Me, I can go for miles. We can get into why that is, but maybe that’s also my unicorn nature.
I’m blessed by my teaching background and current other projects in the world to know every day that I’m more than my book.
I’ve got so much to give!
Could that be your mantra, too?
It’s all going to be okay. Because there’s Big Magic, everywhere.
If you need some music to help you meditate on this truth, listen to Greg’s song that’s basically a lullaby. Wait for the soothing surprise at the end!
Yes, I do have a long-term relationship with fear…when I’m writing, I am not thinking about my readers at all. I am thinking about my characters–projecting myself into them as fully as I can. And I am also thinking about the dark places in myself and in my life.
|When in doubt, Sonny says, “Hide your face.”|
When in doubt about your future in the publishing industry, thou shalt do one of five things:
As I send off a new synopsis to my agent, I will dig deep and take my cues from other authors who keep showing up to the desk. I’m still here, still writing, and this book ain’t dead yet.
Think of a writer as being like a carpenter. The writer’s toolbox should grow over the years; her skills should increase. At first she can only build a rough toolshed; by the end of her career, if all goes well, she can build a castle–or a perfectly balanced Shaker cabinet.”
“The point of those stories isn’t that writers should always close themselves off to editorial suggestions, but you do need to know what your core values are as a writer, and commit yourself to expressing those values through your writing to the best of your ability at any given moment.”
— Ron Hogan
|Image found here|
While at the NCAGT conference in Winston-Salem, I went searching for a restaurant I’d enjoyed the year prior. I recalled an outdoor restaurant that offered the cool air and nice bustle of Fourth Street while enjoying savory Cuban food. I found the restaurant, but with an American bistro menu. There were a few items of perhaps Mexican or Latin-American fare but not what I remembered. I said to the owner, “Was this once a Cuban restaurant?”
“Yes,” he said, “but we found there really wasn’t a market for it. So we changed our menu.”
Not a market for Cuban food.
I ordered what turned out to be a fairly bland set of fish tacos with cheddar cheese–the shredded, cellulose kind–and unremarkable salsa. The fish tasted too fishy.
But the appetizer–the fried artichokes with bok choy — now that was something to remember. Those got gobbled and made the meal.
The host and owner was gracious. He worked as hard as his servers. He was fully committed to the enterprise. You could tell he valued every customer.
Even though I didn’t love those fish tacos–the ones I’ll call “dumbed down for the market”–I’m going back. The appetizer rocked, the ambiance was great, the staff was kind, and I was surrounded by happy customers who either knew the host or who were Winston-Salem arts students with eclectic tastes. Maybe there’s something else on the menu worth a try. I’m open.
If I sound like a prissy artist who’s about to segue into a diatribe against The Evil Market while elevating artistic integrity, you’re half-right. It’s ridiculous that the Cuban-specific menu is no more. Winston-Salem denizens and Winston-Salem tourists, shame on you! I said to myself while walking off my meal. Shame on you and your bland palates. I daresay if you ate a greater range of savory foods, you’d find both your lives and waistlines happier and healthier!
Or is it that Winston-Salem doesn’t draw enough diverse tourists to merit Cuban food? Is the restaurant located near too many other diverse ethnic choices or bland American crack fare (Doritos and gummy worms kind of satisfaction, the stuff-your-face kind of glee, that I’m certainly not immune to)? Publishers and agents are dealing with all these variables when they tell you, “I’m sorry, but your work you think is literary beauty, your baby that you think is the best thing ever, not enough people will buy it.”
I am not critiquing the restaurant’s choice. Note this restaurant is still alive, kicking and serving. As I rewrite my novel and think up a more market-worthy synopsis, one that average 16 year-old teen girls can hang with, I face the fact that what I had before while interesting, complex, and rich in characterization, it lacked enough to sustain the average reader’s interest for the long haul. This average reader is me, too–addled by TMI and overwhelmed with too many electronic places with unclosed loops of communication. We have tight schedules committed to productivity, and to be honest, reading doesn’t feel all that productive somedays. So when we sit down, that page better turn itself.
“Average” 16 year-old teen girls are kept dumbed down by our society: we prefer them highly distracted by boys and drama, hair and drama, make-up and drama, babies come too early with drama, and with grades and college as afterthoughts. These girls do have deep thoughts and read deep books on occasion, but only under duress. Their brains aren’t fully developed and societal pressures say, Look good first before you open your mouth. I remember the smartest ones in the classroom being girls who affected “dumb blonde” accents and slang instead of holding forth in intellectual ways. But, these “average” girls do buy books. And I know that despite the dumbing down features of our society that elevates the Kardashians, I know these girls are smarter than they appear, have the potential for deeper thoughts, and can soar to greater heights than they’re being challenged.
The trick is writing a book that hooks them, gets them thinking hard and fast about issues they care about…while sneaking in literary elements–flights of figurative language fancy, deep emotional digging, and unified plot, setting, and character with rich, specific elements. These girls can find their inner Cuban and like it. And let’s just say I picked up a current YA bestseller and it took me 15 pages to see that while the plot sings with promise, the people were as interchangeable as blank paper dolls, perhaps with red or black hair plopped on top. That will not be my book. Not at all. Wendy Redbird Dancing and her crew are for real–so I must make every action taken “for real” and irresistible.
And those, my friends, are my core values.
This week Hope Clark tweeted, “There’s nothing so captivating as smart simplicity–remember that in your writing.”
As I dig deep for my core, I’ll keep her wisdom in mind.
Oh, and by the way: the restaurant’s new name is Encore.
“He was so much master of the good-will and hearty service of his soldiers that those who in other expeditions were but ordinary men displayed a courage past defeating or withstanding when they went upon any danger where Caesar’s glory was concerned.”
O glorious day! My latest book, Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach, is now available to high school and middle school English teachers.
I wrote this book because of teachers and what they give each day in a tremendously challenging profession. Not many understand the extremely hard work that is teaching; or, if they do, they may be surprised to learn there’s an actual art to it. There is the constant, minute-by-minute process of lesson design, not just prior to the bell but while you’re on your feet in the classroom. There’s also the many lone hours logged trying to create the right mix of activities, meeting the right goals, and driving the right outcomes and work, surrounded by research, state standards, student feedback and products, materials and supplies, and countless other pieces to juggle. And somedays, when all you hear are the critiques, what a lonely, unsupported, and massive task this is.
There are so many dedicated teachers who come to work each day with hours of preparation already behind them, hours certainly not available between 3:00-5:00 PM. I’m thinking of my friends Laura and Karen, Angela and Robin, Roma and Joanne Galen and Gordon, Caroline and MyLinh, Erin and Patrick, Allison and David, and Cindi who just published Finding Mrs. Warnecke. Hours spent grading, making calls to parents, coaching teams and running activities, reporting and solving disciplinary issues, and serving on committees. Let’s not forget classroom cleaning, troubleshooting tech maintenance, and doing supply reconnaissance. Note I haven’t even mentioned “planning” in this list.
So yes, back to the lesson plans. A decent lesson plan takes me hours, and that’s just the first time through. I always revise and revise, and sometimes, throw many out and start fresh. And how about this: if you work on a team, there is the very special art of getting educators to collaborate.
Differentiated instruction is about juggling many complex elements–the readiness levels of your kids, their interests, and their learning styles–and trying to get the whole group engaged while satisfying individual needs. No more “blast to the masses” from the “sage on the stage.” Somedays, sage mode is good, but differentiated instruction calls for ringmaster, coach, and “guide on the side.” So, take this best practice and current demand on teachers, and place it on top of the list I just made.
This is why I write.
There are so many amazing teachers who work tirelessly and who are a joy to students. Like Plutarch’s assessment of Caesar, they are “so much master of the good-will” of their kids that those frisky souls behave when an administrator walks in; hang around after school with nothing better to do than tease their teacher; friend their former teachers on Facebook because of all the great memories; and remember this educator as a key person in their “raising.”
I’m thinking of Beverly and Julie, amazing teachers who now are administrators. Thank you to all my friends who stay in schools and serve.
There’s little glory in educational writing, simply because we teachers don’t pack a ton of cash to buy up bookstores. And that’s okay. Royalties help pay bills, but it’s the last reason I sit down to write these books. I write to walk alongside my colleagues who get up every day and teach.
“But indeed, sir, we make holiday to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.”
–Cobbler, Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 1, 32-33
Us nerds, us voracious readers, us dreamers of purple prose…we get psyched when a book is about to drop. We start counting days and talking about running by the bookstore, if not waiting in line, or being one of the first to click that “Buy” button.
And we get especially excited when it’s our own.
My very own book of lessons, Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach, will release on April 5 with the National Council of Teachers of English. In time for the Bard’s birthday: how nice is that?
Back in 2004, I brought together some colleagues and said, I have an idea for a book. Within three years, Teaching Romeo and Juliet: A Differentiated Approach was born. Now, off on my own, I’ve created the next book in the series.
Look for signs of my excitement soon: the Facebook fan page, the web site updates, where buyers can access even more content in a members-only section of the site, and invitations to spread the word among teachers who would like support for all the great work they do. And guaranteed will be much blogging.
I wonder how I should “make holiday” and “rejoice.” A toast! To Julius Caesar, from an author who speaks to us for over 400 years!
Shakespeare, you’re amazing.
Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.
© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.
— What book would you stand in line to get? Why?
— Imagine you have a chance to write the first paragraph of The Best Book Ever or The Most Boring Book Ever. Write it!
— What is the perfect way to read a book? Snuggled up in a corner? With a favorite snack? With a friend, out loud? With your cat in your lap? Describe all the best things to have near you, around you, and with you when you have a great reading experience.
— Ask three people whose opinion you admire for the name of their “favorite book of all time.” Then ask three questions about the books. Do you want to read any of these books? Why?
— You can only take one book with you for the rest of life. Which one do you take?
— Who do you know is very good at reading out loud? What do they do to make a story come alive?
— Finish this sentence: The next most famous book of this year will be about…
— Watch this video of students celebrating reading. Write how you feel after watching this. (Thanks to Carol Henderson for posting this on her blog.)
Secondary and Adult Prompts
— What’s the book that has shaped you or changed you? What book do you see in your head like a movie? Why?
— What’s the perfect way to read a book? Draw a verbal picture of you reading, with your ideal set-up (sounds, sights, scents, textures, everything.
— Do you like e-books? Does reading need to be tactile, or can it be digital? Which experience suits you better?
— Where do you go for book recommendations? Why? What do you listen for in a book recommendation?
— Finish this sentence: The next most famous book of this decade will be about…
— You can only live on one book for the rest of your life — your “survival” book of literature or nonfiction to feed your soul. Which book is it?
— Watch this video of students celebrating reading. Write your reaction after watching this. Do you think music video helps get people excited about reading? Do you think publicity and knowing you’ll be seen on youtube makes reading more palatable? Do you think that in this age of online words, words, words, more people are reading than ever, so the tide is changing where reading is becoming “cool”? (Thanks to Carol Henderson for posting this on her blog.)