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?

9 Responses to “What’s so bad about going on submission?”

  1. unpub

    At least an agent opens doors that might otherwise be locked. And if you have an agent, you are more likely to get feedback from a publisher, even if they reject you, And useful feedback is a rare commodity when submitting – at least it is here in UK.

    Hope they love the book – Sincere best wishes.

  2. Melodie

    From what I’ve heard, going on sub is a bit like taking a hike up a mountain with no idea where the summit is…or IF you’ll make the summit. You could get knocked down/eaten by a bear at any time….hmmm, can you tell I live in Alaska? :))

    Best of luck, Tara. I have a feeling you’ll reach that summit in record time.

  3. E. M. Kokie

    I’d add that I do agree with those that say having an agent on your side, sending out your work, does make it easier in some ways, too. It’s a mixed bag of emotions. That loss of control really was difficult for me, but I had my agent’s confidence and enthusiasm to hang on to. His confidence made me more confident that we would find a home for my book. But the waiting…the moment to moment waiting…can be crazy-making.

  4. Anna Staniszewski

    I found querying to be a lot like being out on sub: there’s the waiting, the possible rejection, and the anxiety. Having your agent there holding your hand does make a big difference, though. At least you know that your dream isn’t totally crazy. Good luck!

  5. Monica Goulet

    I prefer querying to the submissions process, other than the fact that I do love having an agent on my side! I think part of it is the control thing. When I got a rejection while querying, I could send out another one right away and there were a lot more suitable agents than there are editors to send to. But it also tends to take a lot longer to get a response. When querying I could get a response within hours or days, but with submissions you can go months with hearing nothing but crickets. And it’s that silence that slowly drives you crazy!

  6. Leigh Moore

    Good luck to you, Tara! These guys have pretty much summed it up. The lack of control and sort of feeling like “this is it” (the end) sort of wigged me out. But it’s not really true that not getting a deal is “the end” anymore. And you’re right, having a good agent on your side is a super plus.


  7. Jill Hedgecock

    Best of luck. I am in the same boat with my agent. I actually find this stage easier than querying since I can’t get sucked into one more read through of the manuscript. I love that someone else believes in my book as much as I do.

  8. Monica B. W. (@Monica_BW)

    Oh I thought I had commented! LOL–but now I remember. I read it on my phone the moment you posted it and then I forgot to come back!
    But yes! I pretty much agree with the points above!
    I tried to write another ms while being on sub, but I was so nervous, too, that I really couldn’t!!
    I wish you luck!!

  9. Lori

    Hi Tara! Years and years later, I found a link on the EMLA forum that led me here…and it was super cool to read that you also found querying gut-wrenching but thought that sub wouldn’t be so bad since you had Joan on your side. I had/am having the exact same experience! Querying kind of did me in, but with Joan subbing my book I feel like, I trust her completely, and she loved it, and she’s brilliant, so I’ll just let her do her thing and eventually it will work. It was pretty great to read that here from you as well, all those years (and books) ago!


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