Amy Tipton, my agent, is subbing No Small Thing out to publishing houses.
Submitting to publishers means your agent, who’s formed relationships with various editors at different imprints and houses, shops out your completed manuscript in the hopes of making a deal. Your author query (that page that once got you through the portal to your agent) might be part of the pitch your agent uses.
As I wrote the query, she helped with the “formula” part of the hook, which some people know as “X meets Y” (movie meets book, book meets book) to give editors a sense of what the story is about, in a nutshell. Here’s my logline and my formula:
When a teen basketball super-fan and podcaster discovers her beloved team is rife with corruption, she becomes an investigative journalist to expose the scandal. NO SMALL THING, a contemporary YA novel, is a sports-themed ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN about those who seek and speak the truth even when the tribe demands allegiance and silence.
After a year of writing and rewriting this book, I was ready to say what it was really about.
Subbing is close kin to querying in terms of the wait and the nerves. Subbing can be short or long, depending on so many things that are truly out of your hands: time of year, the depth of the agent/editor relationship, the editor’s list and queue. For example:
- Timing: Time of year and editors’ time. August and most of December, for example, are considered dead zones: sub not, query not. What if you finish your novel on November 30 and your agent says, “Great! Let’s begin in January!” That means you’ll need to wait. Or what if an editor is launching a big book and very occupied when your manuscript hits her desk?
- Depth of relationship: Your agent may be pitching a book to an editor for a first time, or maybe yours is one of several successes the agent’s had with a particular editor, all of which influence the readiness with which an editor takes up your manuscript.
- List and queue:Your work could end up in a huge pile or a small pile. Know that editors and agents are reading round the clock, outside their day jobs. Take a number.
If an editor gives a personalized rejection, you learn about all the different tastes, priorities, and plans out there in the publishing world, just as you do with agents. You must submit on a different level: to the fact that you are not in control. Sometimes the no comes from reasons like these, What Ifs you have no say over.
- What if the editor already has something similar on her list?
- What if the editor thought she wanted a book like yours, but yours isn’t the manifestation she dreamed of? (Aspiring, querying, and subbing authors can find out what their editor wants here at MSWL (Manuscript Wish List.) Check out #mswl on Twitter, too.
- What if the editor’s just gotten a call that her dog died? That her partner is divorcing her? Or come back from a pub lunch where a bunch of editors declared paranormal/romance/contemporary fiction (whatever your specialty is) dead? Or picks your story up at midnight on a Friday, knowing she’s only got a few hours of sleep ahead? That could sour the read that’s about to happen…
- What if you’re not of the moment? That you chose to write about something that should reach readers, but the market is enthralled with something else this moment?
And you can’t control any of that. Kind of like fishing, where the lay of that pond, that lake, that river belongs to far greater powers than you: the goddesses of Luck, Timing, and Market. You need to sit there, patiently waiting, with a childlike trust a fish might poke its head up, and soon.
But what you can control is the quality of your book and the quality of your pitch. You can control your writing product, your writing schedule, and your writing attitude. You can control your skill level and keep seeking greater depth of talent by working it hard as you can.
What if you write about tough stuff? What if you can create another world but it’s not the escapism of video games, of fantasy, of other realms? What if you tell it like it is and that telling isn’t what some world-weary people feel like hearing right now? What if you can’t write anything else? People might argue I can control that but to that advice I say, Forget it. I know what I am designed to do.
You can control persistence. This is a small and seemingly unrelated example, but let’s say you’re married to a wonderful musician who decided to write a protest song at this very moment. He thought it would resonate with the political pulse he’s feeling so deeply, and the anger and fear he and his like-minded family and friends are feeling. He makes an amazing song, one that captures so eloquently and honestly the problems of a certain person and political party (check out the lyrics). He and his friends make him an amazing video. They put it out there, and a few people celebrate it. After three weeks, the video has close to 500 views, but that’s it. Then his wife decides one day, to try again sharing it on Twitter (after several weeks of doing so) and the number of views doubles in two days.
My husband hates the lies so much, he wrote a protest song called “King of Hate.” “Thought I’d seen it all before today/ Can’t believe a single word he has to say.” –@greghawksmusic https://t.co/8G4IROLZeS
— Lyn Fairchild Hawks (@FairchildHawks) May 26, 2018
All because she a) stumbled on a thread where two things had to be in play–lots of followers, and lots of people willing to click on a YouTube link and because she b) persisted.
When I get discouraged, I remember Tenacity is my middle name.
Trust that I’ve had to relinquish a lot of best-laid plans and expectations on this journey, and just believe. That my efforts and luck, timing, and market will all intersect one day.
In the meantime, one can write a whole other book, if not more, while one waits patiently for their moment. In fact, Amy and I are also talking about revisiting @NervesofSteel. While there wasn’t a consensus of editors’ feedback during the subbing process, one critique that did surface with a few editors was Minerva’s age. She’s a precocious 13 year-old starting high school, and that’s a hard age for publishers to sell. Since teens read up, Minerva needs to be older. I’ve stopped resisting this one (But she’s gifted! She should be 13 and 13 only!). Hard to give up something you’ve seen so clearly about a character, but now I’m at peace with it. I’m aging Minerva up to 15 while not losing her giftedness or the fact she skipped a grade. She’s still younger than her average peers who are juniors in high school.
The revision is going beautifully–truly gratifying after the journey I’ve been on with dear ol’ Minerva Mae.
I’m off to write and submit to the page. Because there’s plenty to wrangle there.