Okay, that was an exaggeration. I don't really know you. But I already like you very, very much, and fully anticipate loving you.
And so today, in honor of breaking 400 followers (clean in half! Each and every one of them BROKEN from reading my blog too much!), I am going to depress you out of your minds. If that isn't enough to keep you reading, I don't know what is!
(Except if you aren't a writer, this won't be even mildly depressing for you. So, non-writer-readers, your job is to lurk in the comments and offer kleenexes or, in very bad cases, Dr Pepper and chocolate. And if any of you are licensed doctors or psychiatrists, well, feel free to prescribe some mild virtual pick-me-ups. Heaven knows we'll need them.)
Ready? Okay. Most aspiring writers can't think much past getting an agent. That's the goal. That's the finish line. Once you have an agent, things are easier. And really, getting an agent is awesome. Freaking awesome. Like, wow, incredibly awesome. So awesome the word awesome will begin to lose its meaning it will be so awesomely awesome in your life. But here's where things get tricky.
I'm going to let you in on a secret, one that agented writers can't admit publicly for fear of shooting themselves in the foot, and one that writers with book deals don't talk about because we've completely blocked it out of our minds due to severe psychological trauma. It's this:
Being on submission sucks.
Sucks, sucks, sucks sucks sucks sucks SUCKS.
It bears repeating one more time, I think.
(Being on submission, or going out on sub, for the uninitiated, is when your very talented and incredibly brilliant agent takes your manuscript from your trembling hands and sends it on its merry, hopeful way to editors. All agents go about this differently, but the end goal is for one or more editors to offer to buy it.)
I'm uniquely qualified to talk about this because I went on submission not once, but twice. And one of those times was a spectacular failure. But that's wrong, really, because it makes it sound exciting. No, one of those times was a soul-sucking, grind-you-down-until-you-can't-remember-why-you-ever-thought-you-were-a-decent-writer-in-the-first-place, oh-please-for-the-love-of-any-remaining-sanity-let's-just-forget-the-whole-thing failure.
But that's not the whole picture. That first day, when you know your precious book baby is going out to editors at houses you've only dreamed of, you get this giddy, fluttery, oh my goodness this could actually happen feeling. You're high on it. It's real. An editor could be reading it RIGHT NOW. And it's going to sell! And you'll be an author! Finally, finally, validation for all of that time you spent acting like a crazy person!
That feelings lasts approximately 1.4 days.
So it's a good thing that writers as a whole are very calm, rational people. It's not like writers are emotional, introverted people, who channel their thoughts and feelings into creative outlets which are then read and judged by other people. It's not like we're already perhaps a bit odd, living in our own heads as much or more than we live outside of them, spinning out fantasies and stories and becoming so attached to them we make ourselves cry when we read the last lines. (Not that I, uh, did that today or anything.)
No, it's a good thing writers are sane.
Otherwise after that first day you'd start panicking. Checking your email obsessively. Google stalking any editors you know have your stuff. Wondering how long, exactly, it would take to read, assuming an editor started reading right away. But that's okay. It hasn't been long yet.
And then a week goes by. You've heard of book deals happening in a week. And rationally you understand the process, that even if an editor likes it he or she can't usually make an instant offer, but rather has to pass it off to others to read, present it at an editorial meeting, get more people on the "buy the book!" bandwagon.
But let's face it. Rationality went out the door the minute you decided to pursue publication. If you were rational you'd have a sane hobby, like knitting. Or an aspiration that wasn't entirely dependent on other people, like getting a Master's Degree, or becoming the world's best Arnold Schwarzenegger Impressionist. Or even just learning how to spell Schwarzenegger. But you chose writing, so rationality is not a factor here.
And when, like in my case, you get rejections, it hurts. It physically hurts to have an editor vaguely point out flaws, or pass based on something unalterable about the book, or like it but just not love it. And what hurts even more is the terror that every other editor will feel the same--mediocre, meh, fine but not for them. And what hurts even more is the hope that maybe one will still love it.
After four months of this, you are so worn down you question why you started writing in the first place. You question why you want to be published so badly. You worry that your agent will feel the same way--disappointed and questioning your talent. And if, at the end of those four months, you and your agent decide to pull the submission, you wonder why it didn't happen.
Because it should have. Right?
Now, this submission story was unique to me. And, granted, the soul-sucking aspects were compounded by infertility issues. It was like the Universe was kicking me every. single. month. And the Universe wears big, nasty, steel-toed boots with "REJECTED" stamped across the sole.
So here's my advice. And this is where it gets happier, I promise! Expect submissions to be hard. Expect to be something of an emotional wreck. But expect to succeed. And work toward this success by being smart about things. What should you do while you're on submission?
Write another book. Work on something you already had written. Get better. Have a backup plan. Because if your submission goes great and you do sell, YAY! Yay, yay, yay! Now you have an option book already in the works, which will save you stress down the line.
And if your submission fizzles for whatever reason (in my case the protags were just a little too old for YA), you have another project ready to polish and send to your agent. Because if your agent is anything like mine, and I sincerely hope she or he is, then you are still in good shape. Whatever they saw in your writing will still be there, and, regardless of how many editors passed, you still have an industry professional on your side, a partner. You aren't starting from scratch.
Going on submission that second time was terrifying. I had nightmares of repeating the same process all over again. I felt sick just thinking about it. But guess what? Within two weeks we were hearing good things--exciting things--holy crap stuff is actually happening and wait a second, submissions can be thrilling-if-still-kinda-stressful! things. And within three weeks I'd sold in a pre-empt to an incredible editor at my dream house.
So, submissions? SUCK. But what submissions get you? Beyond amazing. I don't want to discourage anyone. I just want to be honest, and let you know that submissions are hard. Even if you sell quickly without a single rejection, it's still stressful. Please find supportive writer friends who are crazy, too, and will understand what you are going through. (Carrie Harris will always be my submissions sister.) Write the best possible book you can, and then let it go. In the end, your book will sell or it won't, and there's nothing you can do about it. Which is both the hardest and the most comforting thing of all.
I hope that you find your dream agent, that you never experience a failed submission, that you and your dream editor match up painlessly and immediately. But, just in case, I'll leave you with this sage advice: If at first you don't succeed, do everything you can not to have a nervous breakdown, polish another book, send that one out, and get a dream-come-true three-book-deal.
In fact, I think I'm going to have that embroidered on a pillow.