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?