submission of manuscript

Feeling Submissive?

I’ve already written a post about my problems with the words “submit” and “submission” as used in the world of publishing. Even I think this is a bit of a bee in my bonnet, but there it is… Everyone has a bee or two. Before leaving this point, however, I’ll just note I had a really hard time finding an appropriate image for this post. Try a search on the word “submission” in Pixabay. Interesting, eh? No hopeful writers there, but quite a few handcuffs.

When I started writing seriously, I assumed I would offer my novel to agents or publishers, and do it well enough that a publisher would take it on and turn it into a real book. One day I would be on the bus and the person next to me would be reading my book. Or I would be invited to have a serious discussion with a literary journalist on national media about how I came to write it. Yes, that stuff.

Well, I bought one of those fat directories of agents and publishers printed on pulp paper in tiny print. (This was in the early 2000s.) I pored over it and selected targets. I beavered up query letters and synopses and put together packages of paper.

In 2010 I published my book myself.

Now I sometimes read advice to writers about submitting, and realize I would have a really hard time getting back into submission mode. The process of scrutinizing agent and publisher websites, making lists of likely ones, following each one’s requirements precisely, putting together the query letter, synopsis, and first few pages or chapters–that takes a lot of time and mental energy. And that’s before the rejections come rolling in.

Then there’s the skewed mentality of the submitter. You have to be confident but humble, hopeful but pragmatic. You have to believe in the piece of writing you have created, while at the same time realizing it’s nothing special (except to you). And you have to think of the fellow human beings to whom you’re appealing as powerful divinities, eternally busy, always overworked, too preoccupied with important matters to give your flawed offering more than a few minutes seconds of attention.

(Uh-oh, this is turning into yet another foot-stomping, pouty, watch-me-hold-my-breath-until-I-turn-blue rant. ‘Nuff said.)

What I meant to say before that happened is the writer has to psych themselves into the correct state of mind before undertaking a round of submissions. Some say it gets easier the more one does it. That wasn’t my experience in the ten years I spent querying and waiting, processing rejections, querying and waiting, processing more rejections. When I decided I would probably be dead before I got published, I was delighted to discover that self-publishing was a viable option.

At least now that most queries can be emailed, one is spared the tedious and expensive business of preparing SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes).

For those intending to submit, here are some (slightly jaundiced) tips:

  1. Prepare by cultivating the correct attitude. Instead of posts like this one, read some of the many with serious and helpful advice for hopeful writers on how to submit
  2. Ponder the fact that publishing is a business. Big business, in the case of the Big Four (formerly the Big Five, and before that, the Big Six). Starry-eyed romanticism won’t help you at all
  3. Don’t think of your novel as an extension of yourself, but as a potential product for a competitive market
  4. Try to convince yourself that the busy businesspeople who will look at your submission are evaluating your writing, not your worth as a human being. (Yeah, I know…)
  5. If you don’t already know your novel’s genre, figure it out and bone up on the salient points of that genre, such as reader demographic and key words, to give your submission the correct tone
  6. Study agent/publisher listings assiduously so you don’t waste your time directing your efforts to the wrong ones
  7. Once you have compiled your list of likely prospects, follow each one’s submission guidelines precisely. Don’t assume they’re all the same
  8. Consider dividing your list into two or three groups. After sending your first lot of submissions, distract yourself from fretting about them by preparing another batch
  9. If an agent or publisher requests a “full,” i.e., your full manuscript, rejoice. But don’t assume imminent success
  10. You will notice that most agents/publishers do not tell you exactly why they “pass” on your submission (i.e., reject it). Assume it’s because whoever read it thought it would not sell enough copies to make it worth their while
  11. But do not try to guess the reasons for rejection and fiddle with your manuscript before sending further submissions. The next person will evaluate it by their own criteria, which are likely different from the previous ones’
  12. Remember that once an agent or publisher has rejected your submission, you cannot re-submit it to that person unless they ask you to (which in my experience rarely happens)
  13. Prepare for rejections by invoking whatever activities, thoughts, or people make you feel good about yourself and your writing
  14. Persevere. If you have the energy and desire, write short stories, submit them to journals, enter them in contests. Building a track record of such publications may be helpful in finding an agent or publisher for that novel.

“Good luck with your writing journey.” Indeed.

And remember also that publishing your own novel is no longer a mark of failure, but a viable option.

So fellow writers, which of you have followed the submissions route? Have any of you succeeded? What are your thoughts about the process?

Featured image designed by Audrey Driscoll using Canva, incorporating an image by Peggy_Marco from Pixabay

64 comments

  1. Hi Audrey, Don’t know if this info will perk you up or have the opposite effect. Many moons ago, I worked for a publishing company (for the two editors)..My favourite job of all time! I learned that it is often LUCK and not necessarily talent.with words which publishes your book Common sense and reasoning was used…Two very readable books about an elephant arrived in the Children’s section.The first was accepted, and the same treatment applied to an adventure book on mountain climbing. Who could know? And WHO YOU KNOW doesn’t always help. One adult book was published as a favour and ended up being ‘remaindered’ (the author had to pay back the advance due to very few sales…) The trouble is taste is so subjective…I read a piece about rejections recently and was amazed by just what was ignored:…Alex Haley’s Roots 100’s of times, and James Patterson, Stephen King and John Gresham were all turned down time after time…Tenacity and money seemed to be the key..I do thInk though that the woman who was rejected for SEVEN YEARS (Di Camillio’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing…) should have turned to taxidermy or origami… Hey ho. (Food parcels welcome…) xx

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Thank you for weighing in, Joy, and to Audrey for making it possible. This will definitely help my understanding of this whole tedious process, and to remember not to get discouraged after the first 100 or so rejections:).

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Haha! Well, when all else fails, there’s still the garden…
      Yes, I think there is a certain element of randomness in what gets published, and criteria other than sheer merit. And, as you say, tastes are subjective. It is a crapshoot in the end, and with so many people writing and hoping to get published, the odds are pretty low for any particular new author.
      I’ve adjusted my expectations and am now happy to be an indie author.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to agree with you about the word “submission,” although I’d never thought of it that way until I read your “submit” rant. I have gone the “attempt to get an agent” route with no success, and the more I read about the world of literary agents, the more convinced I am that I don’t have that kind of time to waste querying and getting rejected–when even if I were to land an agent, there is no guarantee that person would be able to sell my book to a publisher.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Exactly, Liz! From what I’ve read, not all agents are equally skilled at their jobs (just like we writers, haha!) That rant is the result of hearing (at a course on How to Get Published back in the early 2000s) of the poor agent or acquisitions editor with sore feet (because of getting stepped on in the subway) and a headache, who had to read through masses of stuff sent by writers who actually thought it was worthy of publication. As though we writers were responsible for all of that person’s sufferings. Hey–we get headaches too, and if writers stopped writing, there would be no need for agents.
      I think things have changed a bit, due to indie publishing, which is actually recognized in the business now, although grudgingly.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Having one’s feet trod upon in the subway and getting a headache from reading manuscripts offered by writers who think they can help the agent earn some money doesn’t exactly fill me with sympathy for their lot in life.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I queried the first novel I wrote and sent the first three chapters. The very first agent I sent it to was enthusiastic and asked for the the full. I sent it. She was so darn sweet and sent me several paragraphs as to why she was rejecting it. She loved my writing, but my story sucked. Humbled, I quit querying and decided I needed to learn what plot was and story structure and beta readers and target audience and beats and all that.

    So no, I haven’t succeeded in the submissions route, and I realize it’s often just a game of chance, but I am ready to try again!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That sounds exactly like my experience with an agent back in 2001 or 2002. She said nice things about what eventually became The Friendship of Mortals. “Weirdly engrossing” is a phrase that still sticks in my mind. BUT she didn’t think she could sell it to a publisher, due to my being an unknown, etc. I had a few other near-misses over the years, before I heard about self-publishing in March 2010. I published TFOM in May of that year.
      I have one complete but as yet unpublished literary novel in my files. At one time I intended to shop it around, but I really don’t know if I can get back into submissions mode. Good for you for not giving up. I think persistence is the key (or one of them).

      Liked by 2 people

  4. My favorite line in your rant is “When I decided I would probably be dead before I got published.” My experience exactly! I’ve even written the same line! The only difference is, I wrote for 10 years (in the current writing binge), and then I turned 70, and I realized that if I wanted to publish, I’d better get cracking. I wanted an agent, because I knew I would be terrible at promotion. So I queried. But I only lasted 4 months at it. The first agent did write back a personal letter, saying she didn’t think she could handle a book about intelligent termites. I never even got a response from anybody else, and I realized at the age of 70, ” I would probably be dead before I got published.” So self-publishing it was.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’ve always admired my friends who’ve self published, and add you to the list Termite’. I’m still on the fence about it, having heard it can crash your career but also that some “famous” writers actually self published first. The only thing I know for sure, is this biz- like the rest of the world is changing faster than I seem to be able to keep up, but I greatly admire Audrey and those who take it on because the one thing’s that consistent, is that it takes a lot of marketing and energy to promote if you self publish. I, for one am trying to learn more of the pros and cons, but as “y’all” so wisely pointed out, “I may be dead before I get published” so that does spur one into action.
      Thank you again.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. An agent who tells you up front they don’t think they can sell your novel may be better than one that signs you and doesn’t try hard enough, thus wasting your time.
      The big publishers don’t seem to want to take chances on novels that are too different, and small ones are often only one remove from self-publishing in that authors are expected to do most of the promotion. At least if you self-publish, you keep the copyright and get to make all the decisions.
      I for one am glad you published your books!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. At first, I chuckled at the line about searching “submission” on Pixabay. By the end, I realized that the way the traditional publishing process treats authors has much in common with that other meaning of the word.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suspect there are a lot more people writing now and trying to get published than in pre-internet days, when the typewriter and carbon paper were the standard tools. Not all manuscripts are worthy of publication, and rejections are part of the process. But there does seem to be an atmosphere of contempt for writers in the publishing world. Perhaps it’s a form of envy?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Or hey, you can start submitting in 1979 and 40 some years later you’ll have a small collection of rejection letters and slips from famous SF magazines, editors, and paperback publishers to amuse you. Why, back then, some of them even took the time to type or hand write a comment on a short story/novel proposal. It seems that I wrote too wordy back then. Some things never change.

    All very good advice, Audrey. From not only your experience, but from everything I’ve read or seen on submitting, it is not only a brutal process, but the financial rewards, for even the successful author, are often far less than one would expect.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s just it, Chuck–most trad-pubbed authors don’t make enough from their books to live on, and supplement that income by teaching, editing, and similar services.
      When you first started sending work out I think there were fewer hopefuls who actually managed to put together the typewritten ms that was the only option then. So editors were more apt to give a personal response instead of a canned one, or none at all.
      At least self-publishing has provided a quasi-respectable niche for those of us who decide not to take the submissions route.

      Like

  7. Me too, Audrey. Like TermiteWriter, I thought I’d better get this job done while I’m still above ground! I couldn’t go down the submission route again either. In fact, it seems daft to spend so much time looking for an agent, sending in chapters to publishing houses and waiting – sometimes up to a year – for a reply/rejection. It is so easy to publish on Amazon, and I found the process a lot of fun. The only downside is having to do all the promotion yourself, which isn’t fun at all!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Terrific advice for “submissive” writers, Audrey. And I’m living it right now, deep into querying agents with my latest book (110 queries so far!). Though there are no longer SASEs to frustrate us, the process has become pretty tedious with the different requirements, and now many agents use an online form so you have cut and paste from your usual email presentation to give each agent what she wants. Add to your synopsis the new one-sentence pitch a lot of them ask for. And be ready to name a few titles your book is like. And to name the target audience for the book. I’ve lightened the load by querying one agent each day, which makes it like any other task and not feel so overwhelming. One negative: compared to the early 2000s, requests for full mss are few and far between these days. [sigh]

    Liked by 3 people

  9. You make very good points, Audrey. I’ve submitted children’s book manuscripts to publishers. Sometimes I hear back, and only once or twice did anyone give me any real feedback. I’ve had some of these published as stories (both online and in print), but my goal is still to have a traditionally published picture book or early chapter book. I’m having trouble letting go of that but fear I’m running out of time!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I’m at the point where I am facing many of these same questions. At 62, I feel like I don’t have an inordinate amount of time to jump through a lot of hoops, but I’m stubborn that way. Reading about your experiences and that of others helps to make a more informed decision.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Every writer has to decide what strategy to take for getting their work published. It’s good that there are more options now. Whichever you choose, I’m sure you’ll have another book out there someday.

      Liked by 4 people

  11. Hi Audrey,

    I’ve not done this for twenty years or more now. I used to find the submission letter a most humiliating thing to write – trying to big oneself up in front of a total stranger. I was always the reticent one in class and hated the noisy ones, clamouring for attention that way – that’s what it felt like. The submission letter I always wanted to write would have gone something along the lines of: “Look, I’ve written this. Would you like to have a go at reading it? If you’d like to pay me money to publish it, then get in touch. Regards etc,etc.” I never did send that one out – maybe I should?

    But seriously, after the joy of writing a book, I found the business of submission opaque and soul-destroying. Self-publishing certainly gets is around all of that. Thanks heavens for the Internet and self-publishing!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I felt pretty much the same about the submission process, Michael, and for the same reasons. I like your letter–it gets right to the point without all the posturing and silliness that seems to be part of the game. And like you, I’m grateful that we can write and publish ourselves without all that.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. And if you’ve had children, we all remember those days of Middle School when we’re looking at faces with rolling eyes, or their backs more than their fronts while we’re trying to eek out some final words of wisdom before they’re out the door. I must admit, when I finally got published in my first attempt – magazines, I had just a tiny bit of satisfaction, gently reminding them that, “btw, you may find my words of wisdom trite, and be too busy now to listen to them, but people are now actually paying to read what I have to say. Just sayin'” :).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I enjoyed reading your post and all the comments. All are very informative. As I want to see the novel I’m working published before I’m dead I think I’ll self publish on Amazon. A handful of readers is better than none at all. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s what I’ve concluded, Suzanne. I think some people see rejections as a kind of challenge that spurs them on to further efforts. That isn’t me, though. I’m happy to have the option to publish my own writings.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I read about the requirements some publishing houses are looking for and felt it was impossible to achieve at this stage of my life – all that getting short stories published plus entering competitions, writing for magazines and having loads of blog followers. I don’t have the time and energy to do all that.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. Oh, I did enjoy this. πŸ˜€ I never did the publishing rounds with my fiction, but back in the early oughties I sent submissions to Australian agents [names and addressed taken from a neat little book I bought] for an internet banking how-to I’d spent a year perfecting. I actually had one nibble, but the publisher concerned wanted the bank to take the book and publish it, I assume as some kind of a hand out. The deal fell through, of course, and I never tried that route again.

    Like you, I’ve found self-publishing to be a satisfactory way of getting my work ‘out there’.
    Oh, and btw…I still have the odd dream about being on national television… πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I couldn’t agree more. I did send Vokhtah out when Harper Voyager announced an ‘open submission’, but that was the one and only time. I felt I had to do it to convince myself that I wasn’t going Indie because I was too ‘scared’ to submit. Yes, I know, convoluted, but after I submitted, and was rejected, I felt this huge weight lift from my shoulders. And this was back before I knew how awful traditional publishers were.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, I see my experience with submitting and getting some encouraging responses, although followed by the fatal “but,” as a kind of rite of passage. The world of publishing is changing in a big way, and the Big 4 (or is it 5) aren’t the only ones calling the shots anymore, even if they think they are.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. lol – I like that ‘rite of passage’. Yes, that’s exactly how it was, and I’ve lost count re the Big Whatevers too. I suspect the consolidations continue because their business model is no longer fit for purpose in the new world order.

            Liked by 2 people

  15. Great list of tips, Audrey. I spent a couple years “submitting” and couldn’t stand the process. When I received my first auto-rejection (the email rejection showed up in my inbox about 2 seconds after I hit send), I knew I was done. The publishing world has changed and we are just about as likely to “make it” with or without a publisher… just my opinion. And during my brief period as a traditionally published author, I discovered it has a lot of drawbacks too! So happy self-publishing! It’s the way to go, in my book. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I meant to weigh in on this right away, but life got in the way.

    I loved this paragraph, Audrey. “You have to be confident but humble, hopeful but pragmatic…..”
    Very true, therefore not at all pouty.

    I was submissive when I began, some 40 years ago. The first publisher to accept my work was a small one-man show and he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. The second went bankrupt in short order. Otherwise, there were tons of rejections. Then I realized that a publisher would choose the cover and probably want me to change things and these days, expect me to do a lot of promotion, which I loathe with a passion. I also realized that I didn’t want to be famous (my favorite position is ‘fly on the wall’) and that guaging one’s success by the amount of money received is not necessarily a valid measure. So I stopped being submissive. I love doing covers, and I recognize that one person’s (agent or publisher) opinion is merely that. Subjective. Often, they don’t seem to know any more about the market than I do. As several people have observed, luck is a major factor in who gets published.

    I have self-published about 21 novels. The process hasn’t been a financial success, but I’m happy with the work I’ve produced and am proud of the row of books on my shelf.

    Your “rules” for submission are excellent. And I wish those who wish to go that route lots and lots of luck.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Lea. Subjectivity is such a huge factor in writing (or the arts in general, I suppose). Writers have to decide what success looks like for them before they put themselves through the submissions mill. As you say, money and fame aren’t the only criteria. Now that publishing ones’ own works is relatively easy, and even fun, it’s a valid choice rather than an admission of failure. Quite a few writers self-publish without even bothering with the traditional route.
      It is a good feeling to look at that row of books, I’m sure, and to know there are people in the world who have read and enjoyed them.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I would never go through that again – twice I have given away my big red Writers and Artists Year Book vowing to never look inside one again. Free from trying to guess the mindset of various agents. Getting an agent is no guarantee they will find you a publisher, let alone the path to impressing your family by being interviewed on BBC Radio 4!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. A lot of what you experienced resonates with me. I am also uncomfortable with the word “submit” as used in the context of a creative endeavor. I went ahead and direct published my first novel but at times still send queries. Mostly though I feel that creating and writing is enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to have the correct mindset to send out queries, and I’ve lost that since I started publishing my own work. At least writers have more options now than when it was either traditional publishing or “vanity” publishing.

      Like

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