November 28, 2019
For many of us, the hardest part of the submission process comes after you've finally gotten brave enough to send off the submission.
Whether you're submitting to an agent or an editor, whether you're sending a query letter, a proposal, or a full manuscript, the next step is always the same.
Personally, I'm not good at waiting. It's the spot in the process that is totally out of my hands, and that lack of control is uncomfortable. But it's not something we can skip over. So what do you do after you send a submission?
If you don't already have a submissions plan for where the item could go next, it's time to make one. Always have a plan in place for something active to do if you get a rejection. Otherwise, it's easy for the gloom of rejection to derail you from sending the piece out again. And that can keep it from landing on the desk of the person who is going to love it. So I try always to have a worst-case-scenario plan for what to do if rejection occurs. It saves time, and it keeps me from having to deal with two difficult things at the same time, namely dealing with the emotions generated by rejection, while trying to be reasonable and analytical about where to submit next.
Since rejection is going to happen to most of us over and over, it's a good idea to declaw the pain of rejection as much as possible. I have a note on my computer that says:
Rejection means I sent it to the wrong place.
Ultimately that's the only thing that rejection always means. If the manuscript you sent has correctable flaws but you sent it to the perfect place, the editor or agent is going to respond with a request for revisions. They won’t pass up a manuscript that is perfect for them simply because it needs some work. So even fixable flaws won't keep you from getting some kind of positive reaction if the piece was sent to the right place at the right time. So if I get a rejection, it means the piece went to the wrong place. That means that I need to be prepared with a next step plan that will help me correct course and send the manuscript to the right place.
Another thing I always do once something is sent is to jump into other work. If I don't, I'm going to fret and work myself up over how long the whole process takes. And the process of submission and reply takes a long time. Usually the only time the process is short is if I sent something to an EXTREMELY wrong place. Now that doesn't necessarily mean I was stupid in my market selection. I may not have known that that publisher at that time is just way too full on dog stories so my dog story didn't stand a chance and was rejected as soon as they spotted the dog in the cover letter. But really, a quick rejection doesn't mean the story stunk (in fact, it probably means the story wasn't read and something in the cover letter triggered the rejection.) It means that story doesn't work for that market at this time. I sent it to the wrong place. So I'll send it somewhere else.
But the super quick rejection doesn’t happen very often. Mostly a submission is followed by a lot of waiting. And I need to keep busy during that waiting time. Since I'm in "eager to hear" mode, it's often not a great time for me to stare at a blank screen and wait for a new idea to pop in my head, because there is no popping. And I'll eventually give up and decide I have writer's block when I basically have "eager to hear" block. So how do I switch gears during the long wait time? I do it by being prepared.
Here's how my brain works: when I'm working on a project, my brain is throwing out all these ideas for other cool projects. All the time. Honestly, it's a nuisance, because the reason for this to happen is because my brain is lazy, and it would much rather play with something new and shiny than to do the work of finishing and revising the present project.
Because this is true, I have a file specifically for these "great ideas" that intrude while I'm writing. Sometimes they're a premise. Sometimes they are a line or two of dialogue. Sometimes they are a character. But I'm making notes about them in the “great idea” file during the writing process so they are captured, but with minimal distraction.
Then when I'm in the revision phase of a project, I'll let my non-writing time be spent thinking about my favorite item in the "great ideas" file. While I'm washing dishes, I'll imagine a scene in that potential work. And I'll definitely think about what the opening scene of that potential work might be. While I'm getting the mail, I'll think about what motivates the main character in that potential work. All during the revision process, I'll take off time to visit that great idea. Then when I have submitted the present project, I'll have put in enough pre-work on the new idea that I can launch into it during the waiting time without that "blank page" terror.
When I'm deep into a project, I often don't have time to keep up with industry information. So by the time I’ve submitted something, I'll have a list of links I've saved during the flurry of work, intending to read them later. Going through those, reading them, and making notes (if useful) is another way I'll use my waiting time.
For me, keeping up with the industry is a big part of my work. I may not write historical fiction, but I like to know what topics in historical fiction are trending in the books coming out. I'm a big believer that all information has value, so I'm collecting information within my field all the time. I'm also keeping up with information about agents and what they want and editors (especially their movements or new imprints they are starting). That information may not be immediately useful to me, but by staying on top of things, I often find that something I learned and didn't see any immediate benefit from may actually come in very handy later.
Don't Lose Touch
Over the years, I've gotten really, really good at distracting myself during the waiting time. In fact, I've gotten so good, I'll forget about a submission entirely. That's not such a good thing. It's good to revisit your manuscript now and then during the waiting process so you can stay attached (at least somewhat) to the material. The reason I try to stay somewhat connected to a manuscript is because acceptance virtually always requires revision of some sort. There will always be things that need to change for the project to work perfectly for the publisher that wants to publish it. And to do revisions well, it helps if you still feel some connection to the material. You want some distance but you don't want to lose all connection to the piece as that can make smooth revision difficult.
During these visits, you'll likely keep revising on each visit (because we never stop that). Remember, minor flaws do not cause rejections if you sent a manuscript to the right place. So don't panic if you make a revision and desperately wish you could send it again with the flaw fixed. Honestly, the flaw is probably not going to cause a rejection if the overall story is strong and compelling. If you were able to fix it, an editor or agent is also likely to see it as a fixable flaw if they like the rest of the story. Rejection doesn't happen because you sent something with a fixable flaw. Rejection only happens when you send the manuscript to the wrong place. If you do get a rejection, next time you'll have both fixed the flaw and sent to the right place.
So when you hit send on your submission, do so with a sense of accomplishment (you've overcome the terror of submission) and turn to your plan for what to do next. Don't spend your waiting time in anxious waiting. Instead, spend it in positive action. You'll find it makes the whole process more comfortable and more productive.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor.
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