Out on Submission

As an aspiring author with a completed manuscript, I focused all of my energy on perfecting my query letter, writing a killer synopsis, and researching agents who might love the story I’m telling. Actually signing with an agent was the dream I never thought would come true, but that dream found me last fall. For months, it was a whirlwind of editing, finetuning, and polishing the manuscript until it gleamed and sparkled.

Now here we are, almost six months into the submission process.

I never really knew what this would be like, probably because I never envisioned myself getting to this point. No one really talks about what it’s like being on submission, not the way they talk about the querying process. The information is out there, to be sure; I found some great resources that helped me understand it better, and met some amazing writers on Twitter who pointed me in the direction of a Slack group dedicated to writers on submission. Without that support, this process feels…remarkably lonely. The silence in between responses, which can drag out for weeks and weeks, is nerve-wracking. Every well meaning “have you heard anything yet?” question elicits an involuntary cringe.

It hasn’t been all bad, of course. My agent sends me the editors’ responses as they come in, and although thus far they have all been passes, every one of them had lovely, kind, and thoughtful things to say about the manuscript. I could tell that they read it, that most of them understood it, and that meant so much to me despite the rejections. No one had read this book outside of six people, including my agent and beta/diversity readers, and to have this wider audience of industry professionals read it and find things they loved about it…that was worth its weight in gold. Sometimes I reread their responses just to bask in the glow of “yes, you actually can tell a story that made people feel things.”

As the months have passed, I tried to distract myself by working on the next novel, but that hasn’t exactly gone as planned. The pandemic, getting sick in the fall and enduring the long road to recovery, and the seemingly indefinite pause in a life lived outdoors emptied my creative well. I hated every sentence I wrote. I had no clear outline, I could not settle on a set narrative for these characters. It didn’t feel like writing the first one did. The first one flew out of me in under six months; this new one was barely crawling. I didn’t know if it was the story itself making it difficult, that maybe I needed a new idea entirely, or if it was this malaise I’ve been in. Hell, I couldn’t even read a book, let alone write one.

And then it was time for revisions to the manuscript out on submission. My agent suggested we pool together all of the editorial feedback and find the commonalities between them; flaws in the story that we could smooth out before submitting to the next batch of editors. I completely redid the middle act to shift the focus and tighten the plot’s forward movement, and shored up the inconsistencies with the time travel elements. I was proud of the new and improved manuscript, although sticking the landing proved to be quite the challenge.

My birthday was just a few days ago, and we celebrated by sending the revised manuscript back out into the world. It’s currently with 16 editors, and I am filled with hope and terror as the process starts all over again. It’s been a challenge to be both hopeful and pragmatic; to pray that at least one editor will love this book enough to champion it and give it a publishing house home, and to also ensure that I have a second novel finished in case it doesn’t find a home. I know it happens; I know for some authors, it takes multiple books for one to finally make it out into the world. I think, perhaps, that pressure is also what made writing this second one impossible. I couldn’t give it such high expectations and set it up to fail.

It took a long conversation with an old friend to ease some of those fears. We met in high school on online forums for an incredibly old school anime, and we’ve been writing buddies ever since. We hadn’t talked as much lately, but she messaged me out of the blue and we chatted last weekend to catch up. “If it doesn’t get picked up now, that doesn’t mean it never will,” she reminded me. “All it takes is one, whichever one that is.” I had been thinking so catastrophically, that if my book didn’t get picked up this first time, it would never be published at all, and that’s not true. I could literally feel a weight lift off my shoulders after talking it out with her.

Being out on submission again, plus the great thawing of Chicago after a frigidly cold spring, has renewed my vigor for reading and writing. I’m giving my current WIP a proper outline, and the writing has been going well. I’m reading again. This is, in truth, all I could ask for, and I’m going to ride this drive for as long as I have it. And no matter how fraught with uncertainty being on submission is, I still feel grateful and privileged to even be here.

Here’s to hoping. Enjoy the sunshine, dear readers!