Being On Submission, AKA The Worst

By Premee Mohamed
Jul 30, 2018 · 1,135 words · 5 minutes


Greetings, loyal subscribers! :D If you follow me on Twitter (@premeesaurus), you'll know that I was able to announce last week that my debut novel, provisionally titled (because I used my Terrible SFF Novel Name Generator to name it years ago) 'Beneath the Rising' and an untitled sequel (oh dear) have been purchased by Rebellion Publishing's Solaris imprint! Which is super exciting, and the best way to end the, um. Um. What's the word I'm looking for here. The uh, 'adventure' that is being on sub.

Querying? Not much fun. On the other hand: you handpick your list of agents, choose when you'll query them and in what order, you write your own query, polish it yourself, write your own synopsis, and track everything in whatever way you seem fit. "Autonomy is the highest right of humankind!" you get to yell with every sent email.

But being on submission was, at least for me, an exercise in how much I didn't know about publishing (p. much everything) and also how comfortable I was with my manuscript being out of the tightly-controlled circle of agents I had chosen (not extremely).

I signed with my lovely agent in January last year, he sent me back some edits on my manuscript a few weeks later, and when I had gotten those back, we went out on submission — in early March in North America (just the US, I think) and in mid-March in the UK. We received the official offer in April this year, so I was on submission for just over a year.

At first, when the flattering rejections were rolling in from the Really Big Name Fancy Editors, I was elated. Sure, they didn't want my book, but they had clearly read it, thought about it, liked it, and didn't see why it wouldn't sell... just by somebody else. (More on that in another post, likely.) But as the months went by with no responses either good or bad, I spent a lot of time lying on the carpet yelling "READ FASTER!" at the ceiling, which is extremely helpful, and calling myself an illiterate hack, which is also very good if your final goal is self-flagellation.

Anyway, if I could go back in time to when the book went on sub, I'd probably have some advice for my former self (ah, so innocent!), including the very obvious: Google something like 'what to do when my book goes on submission' and take that advice, too.

- My agent, as is standard practice, asked whether I had any editors I particularly wanted to sub to. I did not. However, in retrospect, I should have come up with a list of names while we were doing edits, and I easily could have. I knew what recent-ish books I enjoyed that had a voice, style, or subject that I liked, or with elements that were similar to my book, and it would have taken me two seconds to flip to the acknowledgements and find the editors' names. As it happened, my agent came up with a list that lined up pretty closely with this, but it would have been nice to contribute something, honestly.

- My agent also asked whether I'd like to see all the rejections. I said yes. But actually, I would have been better off telling him 'No, only the ones that give reasons for the rejection.' It would have been less annoying. Just as with short story rejections, there's nothing useful about a 'Not right for our list,' except that it's... not right for their list.

- The temptation to act on some of the rejections (the ones that had specific items that the editors liked or didn't like) was dang near overwhelming. At the time, all I wanted to do after every email was tear into my manuscript and give it 'one last edit' based on that feedback. The fact that I didn't is basically testament to how busy I was with work, not how much I wanted to do it (because it was A WHOLE BUNCH). Truthfully and obviously, editors' tastes are just as subjective and sensitive as those of agents. What I finally realized (near the end of the process) was that some editors were praising things that others were suggesting I change, and vice-versa, and if I had tried to edit the manuscript to make everybody happy, it would have been a hot mess, and a very different book from month to month. What a waste of effort that would have been! My mantra should have been: "See how it does on its own first." After the first round of submissions, then maybe my agent and I could have discussed making specific edits. Not before.

- People told me 'The best thing you can do while you're on sub is work on another book,' but I would have added to past me: a completely different, absolutely unrelated book. No shared-universe stuff. Not even shared-concept stuff. Not one single setting or name, not one single character stopping in to the new book for a cup of tea. And the reason for that was that my brain was stuck in a rut of believing that if this book failed to sell, then all my future books would fail to sell. The best way to get out of that rut (which I didn't realize till later) was to write a book that had nothing to do with that one, like a clean slate. (I'm still working on it! It's a swashbuckling witch story about revenge and loyalty and jealousy and war, set in a world that is so clearly not the world of the novel that just for the hell of it I gave it two moons and some rings.) 'Don't write the same book twice,' I'd have told myself. But I really really wanted to.

- I never saw the pitch used for my novel (I figured that was my agent's problem, not mine) but it turned out that he used my query for the purpose, which was delightful. I mean, if you write something difficult, you may as well get some mileage out of it, and I'm so wordy that something short like a query was seven billion trillion times harder than a novel. So I wouldn't do that any differently, but if you, dear reader, are about to start the journey of querying or submissions, just... polish that thing till you're sick of it. It might be useful somewhere else (like back cover copy or the acquisition announcement or something).

I'm probably missing a bunch of things here, maybe there will be a second post. But anyway, it does feel great to finally be able to yell 'IT BOKE!' and not have to keep the secret any more! :)