Saturday, July 28, 2018

Submission fretting fuels the rodent wheel

Through a combination of good fortune and by diligently following your guidelines I'm happy to say I am now represented by a fantastic agent, with my manuscript currently on submission.
By any standard I should be incredibly proud of that achievement, and I AM, though some two years into the publisher submissions process and more than a couple dozen rejections in, I'm finding it hard to know where things exactly stand.

I recently read Alexander Chee's How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, in which he mentions that the submission process for his first novel, Edinburgh, went for a similar length of time and for a similar amount of rejections.

This was tremendously helpful to me.

At the same time, I know there are writers who have been out there for far longer, and with many more rejections, either ultimately successful in publication or not. So: I don't think my place on this spectrum is remarkable in any way, but I AM finding it hard to find resources that shed much light on what to expect when it comes to expectations for writers on submission, and who have been on submission for some time.

In that vein, I hope you could answer a couple of questions that I am too embarrassed to ask my own agent.

1. In the hopes of getting a better sense of what to expect re: chances, is there a generally accepted ballpark number of how many US literary fiction imprints - independent, big 5 or otherwise - are out there?

2. Is there any even remote publishing industry equivalent to Hollywood's Black List? Or, to re-phrase, do editors ever talk across publishing houses, imprints? Or to re-phrase yet again, does a manuscript's slowly accruing history of rejection contribute in any way to any sort of stink for current and future consideration by completely different editors at different publishing houses?

3. Are there any nightmare submissions scenarios you and your authors have experienced that you might share to entertain and terrify us poor woodland creatures?

(1) You could probably tally them up, but the number of imprints isn't the info you need. It's how many editors there are, and does your agent know them. 

(2) No

(3) You don't have to look too far this week to see the one that scare us all.
Or how about the one that happened to me some years back: sold the book, got the money, the author had completed the copyedits only to learn the entire division was being shuttered. No book. We got to keep the money of course, but oh man, that just plain hurt.

Or how about being told after 19 books that you're not getting a contract for #20 cause the publisher is cutting the list in half.  Been there, done that.

There are lots of ways for things to go south, but if you focus on that you might as well go home now. It's not whether something untoward is going to happen; it will. The test is how you (and your agent) deal with it and move forward. 

Here's what you need to remember: Phil Spitzer, an agent I admire and respect a great deal, kept a novel on submission for 18 years before it sold. The author? James Lee Burke. JLB is one of the finest writers alive. And it took 18 years.

I've sold novels that were on submission for nine years.
I've got novels NOW that have been on sub for two+ years.

There is no real comfort in this, I know.

Start doing what you love: writing.

15 comments:

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have a question. So a writer has been on submission for a year or more. During that time, writer writes another book or two.

1. Does writer send new book to agent?

2. If #1 is yes, can agent have more than one book per writer on submission at same time?

AJ Blythe said...

Good questions EM.

18 years terrifies me. I'd like to see my book without the words "posthumous" attached.

Donnaeve said...

The OP's focus on when will their work will sell is understandable and normal. I can offer my own personal experience.

It took three years for my debut to sell after a big submission to some of the top names in publishing rejected it. Like Janet's answer to #2, evidently no one at my future publishing house got the memo that those twenty-three others had said "no, thank you."

During the three years from the initial agent contract and submission, to the actual sale, I used my hamster wheel energy to write two other books.

Always be prepared. It could work out like my situation, when one of those newer books went out on sub and was rejected, the editor asked to see something else - and that turned out to be the debut manuscript that had been sitting quietly on my agent's desktop for all those years, waiting for the right editor.

Bottom line, I think you can't find anything on how long it takes after you become agented for a book to sell because it differs so widely, and there is no definitive answer. It can literally anywhere from one day to eighteen years evidently.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As the Queen said, "Start doing what you love: writing."
As she told me years ago,"...if it brings you joy, do it."

I say, life is about the journey, not just the outcome.

Luanne G. Smith said...

Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing. It's the only part of the process we can control.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: I'm wondering why you felt embarrassed to ask your agent these questions. Are you afraid s/he'll drop you for being honest about how you feel and reaching out for some consolation and support? I'm not asking to get an answer. This is clearly between you and your agent, and none of us need to know. But from all that I've heard from the best agents in the business, part of their job is to be there for their clients, to be their cheerleader and voice of reason. To wave the pom-poms when the acceptances come, and pour the whiskey when publishers say "no." You shouldn't be afraid to ask them anything, especially as it pertains to your career.

Just my 2c. All the best to you! I hope your book sells soon. :)

C.M. Monson said...

I never realized a book could be on submission for so long. 18 years...wow!

John Davis Frain said...

Well, OP, I hope you dumped your Facebook stock LAST week instead of waiting till now. (I'm searching hard and unsuccessfully for some silver lining here.)

Panda in Chief said...

For a minute there, I thought I had written this question. Ha ha! Must be because it's Sarurday morning, and I'm not quite awake yet. I'm coming up on my two year anniversay of being out on submission with my graphic novel. It's very good to know I'm not alone on this leaky boat.
I try not to obsess, check in with my agent periodically, and work on more books in the (as yet unsold) series. I'm also working on another unrelated project which I hope will have a shorter submission journey, but who knows. Fortunately, my life has lots of moving parts, and while many of them are non paying ones, I haven't quite run out of funds yet. I hope it doesn't take 18 years to sell my book.
Keeping busy so I don't obsess is the key for me. After the first flush of excitement of being out on submission, where I checked my email constantly to see if my agent was contacting me with multiple offers wore off, I have settled down to wait (mostly) patiently. It will happen, or it won't.
Courage, OP, courage. (An adult beverage every now and then helps too!)

Elissa M said...

I'm only guessing, but I think the answer to EM's question number 2 is, yes. But probably not two books to the same editor(s) until said editor(s) have replied yes or no to the first submission.

Karen McCoy said...

A friend of mine who is an author informed me that submission is the "Vodka and cookie dough" part of the process.

Panda in Chief: Keeping busy is how I'm getting through querying. There's a reason the second draft of one of my novels is almost at 70,000 words...

Panda in Chief said...

Karen, I like the Vodka and cookie dough approach to surviving submission, although maybe I will substitute ice cold gin. There is a brand of gin that comes with the cutest little plastic bowler hats as part of the lid and they are just the right size for my small stuffed pandas. I am collecting enough so they don't have to share. I will soon have enough for a little cadre of Avenger attired pandas.

Who says the submission process makes writers crazy?

Peter said...

To add another .02 cents: My debut novel was on sub for almost 2 years before it sold. My second novel was on sub less than a day before it sold. My third novel (whichever one of the novels I've written over the ensuing years) has yet to sell. From the very bottom of my heart, I feel your struggle and truly wish you the best of luck!!!

Also, I'll also add my intrigue as to why you hesitated to ask your agent these questions. I understand that thought process, as there are and were times I've perhaps relied upon the kindness of our illustrious host here for answers my, now former, agent might have provided.

Keep writing, and keep asking questions. And let us all know when the book sells!

E.Maree said...

It doesn't look like E.M. Goldsmith's excellent questinos have had answers yet, so I'll chime in:

1. Does writer send new book to agent?
-- I'd say so for most agents, definitely! I can't imagine an agent not wanting to see what their writer has been up to.

2. If #1 is yes, can agent have more than one book per writer on submission at same time?
-- I can only speak for myself, here, but my agent wouldn't overload an editor with multiple subs. He'll only simultaneously sub projects if they're in different genres (so going out to different editors). If you want to sub a second book in a genre you're currently on sub in, you'd need to wait until the editors have responded to the first sub.

So I could have a fantasy novel and a sci-fi novel out at the same time, but if I want to sub two fantasy novels in a row to the same houses I'll need to wait for them to read the first one. And that, as with all things in trade pub, can be a looong process -- 7 months+ to hear back from an editor isn't uncommon.

I hope that makes sense and is helpful!