What’s so bad about going on submission?

So, as I mentioned in my last entry, Agent Joan and I are gearing up to “go on submission” soon, which is just a fancy of way of saying that she’s going to send my novel out to some editors and see if anyone likes it enough to publish it.

I’ve actually been feeling more excited than nervous as I anticipate this part of the process…which apparently shows how naïve I am, because from what I’ve read out there on the Internet, most writers seem to consider “being on sub” the equivalent of being roasted slowly over an open fire, or microwaved to the point of explosion, or [insert your own favorite cooking/torture metaphor here].

The thing is, I haven’t quite been able to figure out why.

Maybe it’s because I just came off a few months of near-constant anxiety as I submitted to literary agents and waited, waited, waited for their responses, but I just can’t believe that submitting to editors will really be worse than that. After all, now that I have an agent, I have a partner who not only vouches for the quality of my writing, but will take over all the most nerve-wracking parts of the selling-a-book process—writing the pitches, figuring out who’s the best fit for my work, and, if a deal happens, negotiating the terms. Now I get to sit back and write while she takes over doing all the businessy parts. I mean, that’s why I wanted an agent in the first place, isn’t it? :)

But it’s possible that I’ve been missing something big—some secret, known-only-to-those-who’ve-been-there reason why I should be dreading submission. So in true Tara fashion, I did some research. On a couple of different forums, I reached out to authors and asked them to explain to me what, exactly, is so gut-wrenching about being on sub—and whether they found it to be more or less stressful than querying agents.

And boy, did I get responses! (It seems that writers like to, um, write a lot about stuff when you ask them questions.) So now, without further ado, I present some expert insight into the question “What’s so bad about going on submission?”

1. The lack of control.

“I’d say that being on submission in some ways felt more stressful to me than querying agents, and that is primarily because I had less control over the process on a day to day basis. … [W]hen I went out on submission, there really was nothing I could do but wait. (And arguably work on something else, but I found that nearly impossible).  I couldn’t send more submissions or research a long list of editors. And the list of potential homes for my book was significantly shorter than that list of agents I might have queried. That loss of control felt really scary to me.” – E. M. Kokie, author of PERSONAL EFFECTS (Candlewick Press, Fall 2012)

2. Other people’s expectations.

“Another aspect of the stress of being on submission is interacting with people, writers as well as non-writers. When you share the good news–that your query paid off and landed you an agent–they expect a sale announcement right around the corner. But, sometimes you can be on submission for quite a while before getting an offer, and sometimes an offer never comes. It can be awkward answering the well-intentioned requests for good news when there isn’t any to report.” – Laurie Thompson

3. You’re sooo close…

“Often I describe it as climbing to the top of a huge rock wall, and the submission process is when you have the top joint of your index finger just barely snagging the highest rock–and you realize your feet are sweaty, and you’re not wearing socks, but you are almost there (insert profanity here).” – Graham Bradley

“When you get a ‘no’ from a submission, it’s pretty much the end of the line–at least for that particular manuscript with that particular editor (and maybe that imprint, and maybe that publisher, depending on how they do things). So, ‘sub’ rejections can be way more depressing.” – Laurie Thompson 

4. The waiting.

Being out on submission is rough because of the waiting. You know answers are going to be filing in, but you don’t know WHEN and you don’t know what they’ll say.”

***

Now, as for the subbing vs. querying question…to my surprise, most people who responded seemed to think either that they were very similar, or that querying was worse (which was a big relief to me!). Here are some more details:

1. It’s all the same.

“I think….they are exactly the same. You are asking someone to judge your book. Submitting to agents or editors is just the first step down a path that will bring both joy and pain.”

“Queries, magazine articles, books…the submission process seems similar to me, at least as far as stress and anticipation. You send something out and wait for good news. And it comes, or it doesn’t. In the meantime, you keep trying, and keep writing.”

2. Being on sub is better, since I know that my agent has confidence in my project.

“It makes all the difference having someone you trust on your side. That’s HUGE. Throughout the years of subbing, [my agent’s] faith in my writing and her cheerleading helped me believe that my work was good enough to be published.”

“I whole-heartedly prefer going on submission to querying for an agent or an editor. When [my agent] sends my work out into the world, it’s this amazing feeling like: Whoa! I am not alone on this. It’s not just me telling myself, ‘… I think the writing is okay–I mean, maybe not exceptional, but possibly-good-enough-to-possibly-maybe-get-a-contract.’ When [my agent] sends it out, I can tell myself, ‘… Dude. SHE thought it was good enough as well!’”

“I would have to say I much prefer being on submission to querying! Being part of an amazing agency and having a fantastic agent in my corner, who loves my work enough to represent it, does wonders for my writerly self-confidence. That alone makes it so much easier to bounce back from rejection, or simply to sit back and wait for replies. I have ultimate faith in [my agent], and she likes my work, so I guess I’m okay.” – Laurie Thompson 

“Submission means that [my agent] doesn’t like, she loves. And that alone is so unbelievably affirming.” – Jean Reidy

***

Well, there you have it: a slightly scientific survey of the “going on sub” experience. It seems that submission does have some unique stress factors, but overall I’m heartened to know that a good number of folks found it to be similarly or less stressful than the querying process. (And I’d like to extend many thanks to all the writers who responded to my plea for information, whether or not they chose to be named here.)

But, of course, there’s still plenty of room for opinions in this discussion. If you’re currently subbing or have been through the submissions process, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How did being on sub compare to querying for you?

[title of post]

A few years ago, a musical played on Broadway called “[title of show].”

It was about two guys who try to write a musical. Sadly, I never caught it, but based on the (non)title alone, I bet I would have liked it. Especially this week.

See, I’ve been trying to come up with a new title for my novel. I’ve never had much trouble titling the stuff I wrote before nowfor my plays and such, I always had a title well before the writing was done, and each time the name just seemed obvious.

But from the beginning of the writing process for this book, I’ve never really had a title. I would just call it Gladys Gatsby or Gladys if it came up in conversation (which rarely happened anyway). When I submitted drafts to my writers’ group, I called it The Culinary Adventures of Gladys Gatsby, but I always thought that title sounded kind of long-winded and pretentious.

Then I visited a teacher friend’s fifth-grade class last year, and she told them that I was a writer who was working on a kids’ book. The FIRST question the kids asked me was “What’s your book called?”…and I found that I didn’t even want to say it out loud. That moment cemented it for me: I needed to find a better title.

But for once, I didn’t have any ideas. Luckily, I did have the Breadbasket Writers’ Group, who had been reading drafts of the story for 5+ years and knew it almost as well as I did. So when it came time to search for an agent, I asked the Breadbasketeers for ideas. Katie kindly came up with a long list of possibilities, from which I chose Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake. Done! I sent the manuscript out into the world, and after a few months, I found my agent.

But now that we’re getting ready to submit to publishers, it’s suddenly time to reconsider the title. Joan and I agree that the current one is catchy, but we also agree that it sound a little young, perhaps more like a chapter book than a bona fide middle-grade novel. So it’s been back to the drawing board (titling board?) for me.

Luckily, my favorite writing blog featured a well-timed post on this very subject last week, which helped get me going. And a couple of my betas chimed in with their suggestions (my fabulous writer-buddy Ann actually read the whole book on Friday night to try to come up with ideas!). And Joan and I have a good e-mail dialogue going—we are in total agreement about exactly what doesn’t work in all of the potential titles so far, so hopefully when we find the right title, we’ll be in perfect agreement about everything that’s great about it.

(And then, if the book sells, the publisher’s marketing department will probably want to change it to something completely different anyway.)

At least I can comfort myself with the fact that many great and popular books have had title changes at some point in the publication process. Here are a few you may (or may not) know about:

-My favorite book, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, was originally titled First Impressions. Austen made this change herself—she wrote the first draft in her 20’s, failed to get it published, put it in a drawer for over a decade, then revised, renamed, and sold it. (If this story doesn’t give heart to aspiring writers, I don’t know what will!)

 

-When she was querying, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was called…wait for it…Forks. (Nope, not making that up.) She and her agent came up with Twilight together after much brainstorming, but she was never fully happy with it. You can read more on this page of her website, where she also shares the many different titles with which the book has published in translation.

 

-Speaking of translation, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was originally published in Swedish as Män som hatar kvinnor—Men Who Hate Women. Some clever marketing person probably figured out that American readers would be more attracted to a title promising an encounter with a punk chick rather than one that sounds like a tract on misogyny. (Though which one more accurately reflects the content of the book is another question.)

So, of the famous options above, which titles would you have chosen? Do you think the authors (or agents, or publishers) were right to make those changes?

And, any brilliant thoughts on what I should call my book? For now, I’m running with Gladys Gatsby and [the Rest of the Title]. Catchy, huh? :)

How I Wrote a Novel and Got An Agent, Part 2

(Part 1 can be found here.)

So, where were we? Oh, yes—a coffee shop in Tanzania. After six years, I had just written “The End” on a piece of paper containing the last page of the first draft of my novel.

Andy was still up on Kilimanjaro somewhere, so I went out for Indian food with a Norwegian girl I’d met that day. I had a celebratory beer. The next morning, Andy came down off the mountain, and the morning after that, I packed my manuscript back in my backpack and we got on a bus for points west. I didn’t take it out again for eight months.

Finally, in June of 2011, our travels ended and we found ourselves back in New York. I typed up my novel and sent it out to my writers’ group (and also finally let Andy read it). Everyone gave me excellent feedback, most of which I proceeded to ignore. I had already spent so much time working on the project, I just wanted it to be done.

(I had also spent so much time working on it that BOTH of the agents I had met in the years before—the ones who had said they’d be happy to look at my book when it was finished—had left agenting. Oops!)

So if I wanted to find an agent, I was going to have to start from scratch. I’d have to send out query letters (one-page letters pitching the book to prospective agents) and hope that an agent requested to read some pages…and loved them so much that she requested to read the whole book…and loved the book so much that she requested to represent me forever and ever, amen.

While there was plenty of information out there (thank goodness for writer and agent blogs!) about the querying process, the numbers seemed to be stacked against me. For every kindhearted post I found on how to write a great query letter, I found another about how agents receive 100+ queries a day and are looking for any reason they can find to reject you.

Luckily, that’s when my friend Julie introduced me to the wonderful Eugene Myers, who had been through the whole querying process and come out the other side with an agent and a book deal. He gave me tons of querying advice and the most spot-on critiques a person could hope for on my query and synopsis. (He could tell just from my synopsis that the beginning of my book was too heavy on backstory—an important issue that I, in my hurry to get querying, once again chose to ignore.)

In August, I e-mailed my query and first 5-10 pages to seven agents. Some took only days to respond and others took several weeks, but the results were all the same:

I won’t lie—it felt like crap. Tears were shed. I felt like I had made my book as good as I could on my own, and that even if it wasn’t quite perfect, it needed that professional feedback that only an agent or editor could give to take it to the next level.

But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that wasn’t true. I already had plenty of feedback to work with—all the stuff my writers’ group, and my husband, and Eugene had told me. My book wasn’t as good as I could make it yet. I could do better.

So I fired up the computer in my parents’ basement and got to work on the hardest part of the whole process: major revisions. I cut my first two chapters. I wrote three different new beginnings for my book, scrapping days of work each time I decided one wasn’t working. I took the metaphorical hatchet to my trademark long, comma-ridden sentences. (And cut them down. Into shorter sentences.)

I also discovered Miss Snark’s First Victim. Every month, that blog hosts a “Secret Agent” contest in which an agent critiques the first pages of entrants’ novels and picks winners. I read through months’ worth of contests, learning what kinds of entries appealed to agents, and what appealed to me. I learned how to write a first page that grabs the reader. And when I finally finished my big revision in October, I entered that month’s contest…and ended up with my first partial request.

Then, a few days later, I got a request for a query and five pages from another agent who had seen my first page in the contest. I sent it to her, and the next morning I had an e-mail saying that she wanted to read the whole book. Hooray! That agent was Ammi-Joan Paquette.

With renewed confidence, I started querying again. I got more requests for pages. I still got rejections—more rejections than requests—but they began to hurt less. I entered more contests, including the annual Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction at Miss Snark’s First Victim, in which agents “bid” on how many pages of your book they’d like to read. Three agents ended up bidding for my full manuscript within seconds of each other…and a week later, I had two offers of representation. A week after that, I had two more.

In the end, five wonderful agents offered me representation, which is kind of a ridiculous dream situation for a querying writer. They all brought different and compelling skills to the table, and I found myself faced with a difficult choice. But the agent who was the best fit for me turned out to be the first one who ever requested to read my whole book: Joan.

So, I signed the contract…

…and am now an agented writer! :D

Phew—story complete! However, if for some reason you have a hankering for EVEN MORE details about the writing of Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake or the querying process, you’re welcome to check out this interview I did at QueryTracker, which also includes my query letter for Gladys.

Also, without the support of my friends and family, Gladys and I never would have made it to this point, and there are a few more people who deserve extra thanks for their help during this process: Katie, Jessica, Evelyn, and Miriam (the brilliant ladies of the Breadbasket Writers’ Group); Hoi Ning, Aunt Judy, Brooke, Christine, Nomi, and Cath (my beta readers); and Ann (the very best companion a girl could ask for in query hell).

Much shorter entries to come in the near future, I promise.

Big news, revealed.

Let’s get right down to it. I’ve been hinting for a few days now that I have exciting news to share. Well, here it is: I have an agent!! Last Friday I accepted an offer of representation from the lovely Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Hooray!!!

Not only is Joan an accomplished agent for children’s books (pictures books through young adult), but she’s an author herself. If you like Thailand, adventures, mysteries, and/or beautiful, lyrical writing, you should check out her debut novel Nowhere Girl, which I loved. (And how beautiful is that cover?)

So, Joan and I will be working together to try to get my middle-grade novel (that means ages 9-12, approximately, though I like to think that it has crossover adult appeal, too) published. I’m working on some revisions right now (OK, not RIGHT now, right now I’m writing this blog post, but right after that I’m going back to the revisions, promise!) that will hopefully make the book as strong as it can be before we present it to editors.

Exciting times are ahead, for sure. But, you may be wondering, how did I get here? Well, that’s a longer story.

How I Wrote a Novel and Got An Agent, Part 1

I first heard about literary agents as a college sophomore, when one of my Creative Writing professors (the wonderful Ernie Hebert) devoted a day of workshop to telling us wide-eyed writer-wannabes about the cold, hard business of publishing. I don’t remember many specifics, but the gist of the talk was that getting your novel published is really hard, but having an agent represent your work to publishers increases your chances.

“OK,” 19-year-old me probably thought, “So when my first book is finished, I’ll need to get an agent.” Since my professor already had an agent, I figured I would just write something that blew him away so much he had to introduce me to her.

A couple of years later, I did end up meeting his agent at a department event, and she was nice enough to offer to take a look at my work if I ever finished a book. At that point, I was writing a novel as my senior thesis, so I felt confident that by the end of the school year I’d have something to show her. I already had a pretty good Chapter 1, and starting is the hardest part, right?

Wrong! The WHOLE THING is the hardest part. I had no outline, no schedule, and next to no idea what I was doing. I never made it past Chapter 2.

But in the years after college, I kept her offer in mind, even while I focused mostly on writing plays rather than fiction. Then, while my first full-length play was running in the NY Fringe Festival in 2007, the assistant director introduced me to a friend of hers who was a literary agent in NYC. This agent was also very nice, said she enjoyed my play, and when she found out that I was working on a novel, invited me to submit it to her when it was finished.

Whoopee! I thought. Two agents out there are just waiting to read my novel! Hm, I’d better get cracking on that.

This was a different novel from the one I’d started in college—it was a novel for kids. In the early and mid-2000’s, I’d started reading a lot of the amazing kids’ novels that were becoming so popular then: the Harry Potter series, the Lemony Snicket series. I fell in love with these books, and decided that if I ever attempted another novel, it would be for that audience. But I knew that it had to be a really good concept. Finally, one day, I got this brainwave about an 11-year-old girl from the suburbs who becomes a restaurant critic for The New York Times. Her editor has no idea that she’s a kid, since they communicate only by e-mail, and her parents are microwave-loving, fancy-food-fearing foils to her secret career. As my brother-in-law would say, “Shabam!” I had my big idea.

So I wrote when I could. My writers’ group set me deadlines and cheered me on, telling me I had to finish the story. But I also worked full-time, freelanced, produced another play in another festival, and planned a wedding. Then in 2009, Andy and I quit our jobs, sold all of our stuff, and embarked on a two-year, round-the-world honeymoon.

I packed my half-written novel in my backpack and vowed that I would come home with a finished book. I wrote by hand whenever I had a chance, and during the week in 2010 when Andy climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, I parked myself in a coffee shop in Moshi, Tanzania, and wrote until I reached The End.

(I found this sign in Moshi. My main character’s name is Gladys. Coincidence??)

Hooray! I thought. I wrote a novel! The hard part is over!

But I was wrong about that, too.

To be continued…

Oh, hello there.

So, I’ve been thinking for a while about launching a writing blog here.

You know, just as the rest of the world succumbs to blog fatigue.

Here’s a taste of my reasoning:

1) I spent most of the last two years out of the country, bouncing around in the developing world. So in my mind, it’s really still mid-2009, and blogs are HOT. (Also, what’s a smartphone?)

2) I already have plenty of practice blogging. Andy and I did do that epic travel blog. And there was the blog where I reviewed the gourmet yogurts. And there was my xanga blog (anyone else remember xanga?), where I complained a lot about work, and my landlord, and never mind because I’m not putting up that link.

3) Believe it or not, I think that there are actually some topics out there in the writer-o-sphere that haven’t been discussed to death yet (or if they were, it happened between 2009 and 2011 and I missed it). And I might like to weigh in on those topics at some point with a post that’s longer than a Tweet or Facebook update. A blog seems like a good forum  for doing that.

4) I finally have some exciting writerly news to share, and cautiously suspect/fervently hope(!) that I may be at the beginning of an interesting journey toward publication.

So, assuming that four reasons and at LEAST three potential readers (mom, sis, auntie, I’m looking at you!) mean that I should go ahead and do this thing, I welcome you to my shiny new blog. Bookmark it, stick it in your RSS reader, make it your homepage, do what you need to do…

And brace yourself for post #2, which will contain some big news. I can’t share it quite yet, but here are some hints.  =)