Submission: Feelings & The Myth of the Fast Sale

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Being on submission to editors is both a more personal, fulfilling experience than querying... and also infinitely more painful.

Most editors will write personal responses, ie: rejections. Unlike in querying where you will mostly receive form rejections, in submission, editors typically will explain why they aren't buying your book. Now, there are "form-like variations" within the world of editor responses, some of which will sound familiar from querying, such as "just didn't love it enough to take it on" or "just couldn't connect with the MC," but your average rejection will, nonetheless, give you something concrete to hang onto.

This is both WONDERFUL and TERRIBLE at the same time. Personally, I liked feeling like I was being read, and considered, and the editors were taking the time and consideration to craft a (mostly) personal response. It made me feel like A Real Writer. But knowing why an editor is passing can be maddening, especially when the response is "personal" but vague, or contradicts your other rejections, or is for reasons that are specific but COMPLETELY FRUSTRATING. For instance, you may find out an editor loved your book! But the publisher just bought something a little too similar, so they can't move forward. Dagger. In. Heart. Market condition rejections are also especially painful. "Too quiet to break out." Weeping.

But usually, your agent has a relationship with these editors, everyone is professional, and you wouldn't have an agent–and be on sub–if you couldn't string sentences together and craft a pretty decent story. So your responses will be polite, kind, and very often will compliment the things you do get right. It's always a small comfort to hear an editor finds your writing to be high quality (if not for them). So in that sense, submission is better than querying, but the stakes are WAY higher, and rejections can hurt a lot more. You can be SO CLOSE yet so completely far away.

Now, let's talk about timing. Some books do, indeed, sell overnight. Or in two weeks. Or in a (relatively) zippy 6-8 weeks.

Many many many more do not sell this fast. The slightly unhelpful truth is: once you pass the 8 week mark, you may have a book that is simply going to take longer to sell. Or you may have a book that won't sell. But it's like Schroedinger's cat. He could be alive or dead, and you don't know until you open the box. The box is submission. You just have to... wait and see. (I have probably mucked up that metaphor. Oh well.)



Real Talk: some books don't sell.


Once you get over the hurdle of querying and getting an agent, going on submission is the Next Big Step towards publishing... but sometimes, the book you sign with you agent on doesn't sell. And, much like querying, it make take a few books before you end up with The One. It's painful, but you are not alone.

More of my writerly friends who have gotten agents and gone on submission HAVEN'T sold their first subbed project than have. I am among this group, as well–my first book, which was on submission for a year–did not sell. I shelved it.

The good news! Those who keep going, who keep writing, who don't give up DO eventually sell something. There's no standard journey or guarantees, but typically if it's not the first project you sub, it's the second. Or the third. etc.

Important to remember: books that do not sell ARE NOT BAD. There are so many factors at work with submissions and acquisitions, which may be out of yours, your agent's, even the editor's control.

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