When you’re a beginning author, you probably have a series of graduated goals: finish a manuscript. Get an agent. Have that agent put that book on submission. Sell the manuscript. It might look like a smooth process from the outside. Because, hey! Getting an agent to represent you? Someone who knows the industry from the inside and they believe the book you wrote has what it takes? That’s huge! And it is!
But here’s the thing: even insiders don’t necessarily know what will sell. Because editors are also readers. And readers’ tastes differ.
How do I know what I’m talking about? Well, hi. I’m Adele Buck. My agent and I agreed to a business relationship almost exactly two years ago and I’ve been on submission (or “on sub”) pretty near constantly with two different manuscripts since then.
What to Do While You Have a Book on Submission
I hope I didn’t lose you with that lack-of-success story, because publishing is littered with more stories of books that didn’t sell than books that did. I wish I could tell you that getting an agent was the golden ticket. It isn’t. You still have a lot of hard work and emotional fortitude ahead of you. My dear friends at All The Kissing asked me to give some tips about being on sub and OH, I HAVE THEM! SO:
Before your book goes on submission, talk to your agent about communication.
Get used to waiting.
Don’t fret in public.
Prepare for rejection.
Don’t Twitter-stalk editors.
Getting consistent feedback? Consider revising.
Boost the wins.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at each one of these tips.
1. Talk to Your Agent About Communication
Talk to them about at least two things: frequency and detail. Do you want updates as they come? A weekly roundup? Let them know. Also, do you want to know every time a response comes in? Or do you only want to hear positive things? Do you want to hear all the feedback immediately, or should they hold it back for a bit to give you time to process?
A good agent knows that you’re going to be affected by rejection and calibrate their communication with you accordingly. I initially told my agent I only wanted to hear good stuff, then decided later I wanted everything: warts and all. Check in with yourself. What can you handle? What will be helpful to you? Especially what will be helpful to you as you…
2. Stay Busy
Get to working on something else. I’m not talking about your day job if you have one. I’m talking about the minutes or hours you had previously devoted to working on that manuscript that is now a book on submission (insert holy crap this is huge!!! gif because it is! It is huge! Most people never get this far!!!) Use those minutes or hours to plot or write your next book (and don’t do what I did—don’t go and write a four-book series and have the first book not sell. Silly Adele… But seriously, if you must think about series, outline or plot the next books, but don’t write them unless they will stand alone).
In addition to your own work, swap manuscripts and critique others’ work. Continue to read, in and out of the genre. Keep your brain busy on what’s next, not on what you already wrote.
This does a few things: it keeps your writer brain engaged. It helps continue to build your skills. And if, sad to contemplate but statistically likely, that first project doesn’t sell, you will have another one to send to your agent.
3. Get Used to Waiting
It could be days, but more likely, it will be months. Think about how you can cultivate patience (or fortitude, or whatever it takes to get you through). You had control over the writing process. You don’t have control over this. Yes, it sucks. Get used to it.
4. Don’t Fret in Public
Keep your anxiety to DMs, private e-mail, or conversations with your nearest and dearest. Especially when it comes to talking to friends who aren’t where you are. You may feel like you’re the most put-upon author in the world. You’re not. Don’t let it all hang out on social media about being on sub. Some of your followers don’t have agents yet, or they haven’t finished a manuscript yet. You’re actually in a very fortunate position. It might not feel like it, but please remember that you are. Remember those graduated goals. You’re already on step 3. Think of how rotten you’d feel when you were still at step 1 and saw people moaning about being where you are now.
5. Prepare for Rejection
Because it will happen. Not every book is for every person. That includes editors. Do what you need to do to get ready for that. Tell your partner that you’re going to need to come home and have a glass of wine and a good cry. Sign up for a boxing class. Keep an “in case of emergency break glass” book you know you’ll love on your bedside table to get lost in. Whatever. I don’t know you, but you do: figure out what will help you through. You’re probably going to need it.
6. Don’t Twitter-Stalk Editors
It will be tempting to look at an editor’s twitter feed if you know your agent has subbed to them (and consider having your agent only tell you what imprint they’re subbing to and not what editor—it will lessen the temptation). Because every tweet might seem like it’s about YOUR BOOK, OMG.
Relax. Chances are, none of those tweets are about anyone’s book. Or if they are, it’s about an already published book.
I can’t recall a single instance of an editor who tweets about manuscripts they’re currently reviewing.
7. Consider Revising
Just like with any other situation where you’re getting reader feedback, if you are getting rejections where 80% of the editors say they didn’t buy the book because the heroine is X? Chances are good that’s what 80% of readers would say too. If your agent has a second round of editors they want to send your manuscript to, make like you’re in high school algebra again and solve for X before they send your book on submission again.
8. Boost the Wins
Not yours. Your friends. Your critique partners. Other authors you don’t know personally but you follow on social media. There are probably going to be a lot of books that get sold between the time your first book goes out on sub and when you get a deal. You may feel like every other deal is a barrier between you and your own success. It isn’t. It’s proof that the romance market is robust and thriving and has room for lots of books. Remember that and send all the love and hugs and congratulations and dancing zebra gifs to your friends that you will hopefully get when you can announce your own deal.
Personally, I think this last tip is the most important one of all. Because here’s the other thing about celebrating other people’s wins: aside from being the right thing to do, it helps make you into the best version of you. The you that overcame your disappointment that that “very nice” deal isn’t your deal in order to be gracious and kind and make your writing community a brighter place. It also may put you into a better mindset to go forward and keep working on your next project.
So…get crackin’. Someone out there needs your stories.