7 steps to surviving sub(mission) club

If you’ve arrived here wondering how to maximize your submarine sandwich loyalty program, I’m sorry to tell you this is not the place for you.

“Sub Club” — for the purposes of this post — refers to a group of writers living in limbo land as they wait to hear the fate of their books,  currently in the hands of editors. If that is you, or you’re hoping to join the Club soon, welcome. I wish you a short visit to Sub Club, but if you have to extend your membership longer than you hoped, know this — YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

(Even if the first rule of Sub Club is never to talk about sub club…)

I remember very clearly getting the email from my agent — the one listing which editor inboxes my little book had landed into — and feeling the rising wave of excitement in my belly. “Here we go,” I said. “This is the beginning of everything. Let’s get it out there and see what sticks!”

I tried to imagine those editors (who felt a bit like unicorns, if I’m being totally honest — quite mystical and untouchable) opening the email and LOVING my book. I wondered how long it would take to get feedback — any kind of feedback (the first pass came in about a week) — and commented to my husband on numerous occasions how much EASIER it was to be on submission versus querying. How HAPPY I was to have my agent handling all these wiggly details, so I could just sit back and patiently WAIT, and write another book all LAH-TEE-DAH. How I couldn’t believe how very close I was to realizing the dream of a book deal.

Oh, how CUTE I was with my enthusiasm.

How positively NAIVE I was to the process.

I have officially left the Club for now, but I’ll be back. Because I hope to write many, many books over the course of my career, which means I’ll probably be a Gold Member before long. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. But Sub Club can be taxing, frustrating, and at times, deeply disappointing, so going in armed with some knowledge and stamina is a good strategy.

So here are my 7 steps to surviving Sub Club:

1. The first rule of Sub Club … is not to talk about Sub Club.

This is no joke, and if you must, duct tape your mouth — and your keyboard — to ensure it happens. There are plenty of reasons why you should keep your foray into submission quiet, especially on social media. One, not everyone needs to know what you’re up to at all times — and it makes good business sense to stay quiet while your manuscript is being considered by multiple editors. Also, some — when frustrated by how slowly the process can move (more on that later) — could take out their irritation via Twitter streams etc., and this is NEVER A GOOD IDEA. Stay professional. Find people offline you can talk to, and bounce your comments and frustrations off them. I know how tough it is to stay quiet when you’re excited, or frustrated, or WANT TO ANALYZE EVERY SINGLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING, but don’t, okay?

2. Write something else (or pick up a new hobby).

The advice you always hear about what to do while you wait (to hear back on queries / to get agent notes / for editor feedback / to get your edit letter…) is to write something new. This is great advice — though admittedly not always easy to do. Because your brain is still stuck back on your last book — the one you hope is being read (and adored) by editors. However, the wait can be LONG. Like, really long. So allow yourself a small window of time to do nothing but obsess and ANALYZE EVERY LITTLE THING, then get back to work. I’m a perfect example of why this is so important. While my first book was out on submission, I worked on my next book. And guess what happened? When my agent and I decided to pull book 1 after a round of editors passed (with great feedback and lovely comments — editors really do know how to reject your work AND still make you feel good about it) to do some work on it, we pushed ahead with book 2. Which was the one we ended up selling as part of a two-book deal. Time to open Scrivener, friends…

3. Settle in — it may be a long haul.

(Tip: limiting the amount of sobbing while on sub club is … advised.)

I mentioned how long things can take while you’re in Sub Club. I know people who have been on submission for nearly a year. It’s a tough, tough slag at times. Sure, some will get a book deal between going to bed the first night their book is on submission and pouring their coffee the next morning, but this is the exception, folks. Most of us linger here for a while. I was in and out pretty fast, all things considered — Michelle Meade (my lovely editor at MIRA!) asked to see book 2 on February 11th and the offer came through March 7th. MIRA had passed on book 1 previously, but because I’d been writing book 2 at the time {see step #2} my agent was able to pitch the blurb when she submitted book 1 for consideration. And Michelle remembered it and reached out. WRITE SOMETHING NEW while you wait, okay?

4. Decide what’s best for your emotional well-being. Things can get … challenging.

I can’t stress this enough. You need to know yourself, and how you react to disappointment. When book 1 went on submission I asked my agent to tell me everything. I wanted a blow-by-blow account of what was happening (can we say, “control freak”?), including having her send me every rejection email so I could see the feedback first hand (I would still recommend this, but perhaps not AS THEY COME IN because you might be having a good day, having forgotten for a split second you’re on sub, and then BOOM. Three rejections in a row). And because she’s awesome (thanks, Carolyn!), she did exactly as I asked. Now some of the feedback — even though a rejection — gave me warm fuzzies. I can honestly say feedback from editor passes is WAY more encouraging than any feedback I got while I was querying. It was at times quite specific, and usually gave me a lot to think about. I’m grateful those editors took the time — they certainly have a million other things to do.

For book 2 we agreed to a different communication strategy, because submission ennui had settled in (see step 5 for insight on this), and I wanted a break from the play-by-play.

I said I’d check in with Carolyn once a week, and she could let me know the status and forward any editor emails at that point. It was a relief, knowing I could go about my day without wondering (worrying) how the manuscript was doing.

5. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

Book 2 looked promising for us — a bunch of editors had asked to see whatever I wrote next, so we knew there was a decent list of interested parties. One of those had come quite close for book 1, and so we granted them an exclusive read — which means the book wouldn’t go to any other editor during an agreed upon time period. All I’ll say about this is that is was an exciting time, because we got as close as you can get to a deal without getting a, well, deal. But it was also an incredibly disappointing and soul crushing experience, because I learned a very important lesson: until you have an actual offer in hand, YOU DO NOT HAVE AN OFFER (even if you’ve been told one is coming). So many factors go into an editor being able to offer on your book, aside from the merits of your actual manuscript: the financials (how many books they feel they can sell vs what advance they can offer), what else is on the publishing house’s list, author platform, getting buy in from the rest of the acquisitions team (this is a good post, with GIFs, on what happens with a manuscript from landing on an editor’s desk to offer / rejection time), the book is too commercial / not commercial enough, too niche / can’t find a spot for it on the shelf, they’re personally tired of {insert your book’s concept}…you get the idea. Bottom line? It’s hard to get a book published. Period.

6. Celebrate successes as you go.

There’s a lot of crap that happens on submission, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a) you wanted this, you asked for this, you need to live with this until you decide you don’t want it anymore or the book sells, and b) that plenty of positive things are happening, too. Like you’re getting great feedback on what’s really working with your writing and/or your story — sure, it may not be exactly what the editor wants to acquire right now, but hey, you’re on the right track. Or maybe an editor can’t see a spot for your book on her current list, but she’s asked to see what you write next. Or perhaps it’s not quite right as is but you’re close, so he’ll entertain a revision if you decide to put the work in. Or maybe it’s that having one book out of sight, out of mind has allowed you to write another book — an even BETTER book. Take the good where you can, because it will help buffer you when things get a little rocky.

7. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing [how many books they sell / how quickly they get a deal / how much their advance is / how many publishing houses fought for them at auction…]. JUST DON’T.

Remember being told to keep your eyes on your own page? This applies here. Yes, please (please) help other writers celebrate with a congratulatory tweet or email when they get to leave Sub Club (for now), but remember this is your journey — and it won’t look like anyone else’s. So try to keep the envy to a minimum — guaranteed MOST of those writers you see announcing book deals worked damn hard to get there. They likely have a book or two lingering on a shelf somewhere. They probably have a stack of rejections holding up that book deal. And really, the hard work is ahead of them — a book deal is AWESOME, but it does not guarantee future success or personal satisfaction.

So I guess my final tip is to remember you are so much more than your book(s). Sub Club is just a stop along the way…

Just start at the very beginning, A very good place to start…


I have just started a new book. What we writers refer to as a “WIP” (Work in Progress). Now, when I say I’ve “started” it, what I mean is I have the idea. I have a few details about the plot scratched down. I have a vision for where it can go. And I’ve done some research because one of the characters is set in a time I’m unfamiliar with.

But as for how much I’ve written? About 200 words.

I need to write about NINETY THOUSAND MORE.

When I told (bragged) to my husband the other day that I got my first line nailed, he looked at me, raised an (ever supportive) eyebrow, and said, “You’ve written one line?” BUT IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LINE, I said. He smiled and nodded as I tried to explain why (this has always been true for me — even in journalism school, when we were on crazy tight deadlines, I couldn’t write a word of a story until I had that first line).

So I thought, why not share my process for how I go from the first word to the 90,000? If for no other reason, it allows me to procrastinate for another few hours on what I should actually be writing, which is … you got it … the book.

IT ALL STARTS WITH THE IDEA.

I have a folder on my laptop titled “Book ideas (that suck)” — and you guessed it, it’s full of book ideas that, well, blow chunks. At first I thought they might be good, even great, but after spending a little time thinking through plot and realizing just how wrong I was, off they go to the file. However, every now and then I have an idea that works when I take it through the first test. It has legs, and with some work, I can see how the story can go from good to great.

This is how I feel inside when I figure that out:

 

Okay, so I have the idea. I write a short blurb and vet it through my critique partners, my agent, and my husband (who is always my toughest critic, which is only one of the reasons I adore him so) — if everyone thinks it has merit, I give the story a (usually crappy but hey, it’s a start) title in Scrivener and figure out what I need to know to start writing.

And let me tell you, there’s A LOT to sort out before the writing begins.

WHO THE HELL IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Your characters need to feel like real people. And to do that, you need to build them one layer at a time. Things like giving them names, sorting out how they look, determining their quirks, who their best friends are, what they do for a living, where they grew up, when their birthdays are, where they live, how they live, what they like to eat, drink, do for fun, what makes them angry, what makes them cry, what they like to wear, what they do that pisses others off, what they were like in high school (if you’re writing adult), what people love about them, what people hate about them …


(This is how I feel when I start thinking about all these details … a little dizzy and most definitely overwhelmed…)

It’s time-consuming, creating the main players in your story and their world(s), but it’s important to do it so you don’t end up with cardboard characters no one wants to spend time with.

WHAT THE HECK HAPPENS IN THIS STORY?

Then comes plot. Ah, plot. You can have the best characters, the best setting, the best title, the best hook (more on that in a minute), but without a solid plot, you will be lost. There’s a lot of talk about pantsers vs plotters — pantsers write “by the seat of their pants” whereas plotters do the opposite, with every detail sorted out in advance of writing a single word — and I’ve done it both ways. But I’m most comfortable taking a hybrid approach — a “plantser” I call myself. I like to have a strong outline, with plot points clearly stated and characters worked out, but I give myself some flexibility as I write. Sometimes I’m in a scene that I’ve worked out point by point, and a character unexpectedly jumps out from behind a tree and beckons me to follow her. Which I ALWAYS DO, because this generally leads to an even better scene.

THE HOOK (A.K.A “THE THING THAT MAKES YOUR STORY DIFFERENT”).

The hook is the thing that when you share it, it makes someone sit up a little straighter, lean in, and with eyes wide say, “Wow … tell me more!” It’s critical in today’s book market, and until you have it (in my opinion) you’re not ready to start writing.

This is surely how I look when I figure out my hook …

It’s what makes a writer vibrate a little, the hook, because you spend so much of your story figuring out how to tease it and reveal it, and this is FUN. Now, this all depends on genre, of course, but for those of us who write commercial fiction in any genre, hook is a big deal.

CLOSE TWITTER, FACEBOOK, PINTEREST, EMAIL, RIDICULOUS “WHO ARE YOU?” QUIZZES, AND POTTERMORE (I’M IN GRYFFINDOR, IN CASE ANYONE CARES) … AND START WRITING.

First, comes the panic. The “even though I’ve done this X number of times before, I’m pretty sure I don’t know how to write a book” feeling. This is when I typically need my CPs and husband to CALM ME THE EFF DOWN (see gif below for how this stage generally looks), and remind me that yes, I can write a book. I’ve done it a few times already. So stop panicking (procrastinating) and get to it.

So once I’ve found some inner peace, have the idea, the outline, the plot points, the character details (including setting), and I’ve managed to find time to focus … I start writing.

This is how I EXPECT things to go at this stage:

 

This is how I KNOW it goes, based on experience:

But in the end, despite my greatest attempts at self-sabotage (via procrastination), I end up with this:

And there is no better feeling. Turning an idea into a stack of papers and thousands of words, that swirl together to tell a story? A story crafted out of the depths of your brain?

Awesome.

Time to get writing …

You did what?!

Whoa. It’s been a while since I posted. My only excuse is that I’ve been down a writer’s rabbit hole, and am only now popping up to see the light!
Here’s a brief rundown of the crazy events of the past few weeks. My last post talked about the pitch contest I entered, and why I’m a fan of such events. Well, that contest led to an agent request, which was exciting! Then I decided to play along with a twitter pitch contest running a few days later, put on by the same creative minds behind the Pitch Madness contest. THAT led to a small press publisher partial request!

And here’s where things went crazy.

 

That small press pub partial request (query and the first 25 pages of the manuscript) turned into a full request (!) … and a few days later, an offer of publication.

This. Was. Exciting. Like, really (REALLY) exciting. I was in Florida on vacay with the family, trying to sort out what I wanted to do. If I took the offer it meant my book could be in the hands of readers (or rather, on the screen of their e-readers, as it was a digital only press) by the end of 2013. Now small press publishing hadn’t been something I’d considered before. I have been set on the idea of getting an agent first. I really believe in the partnership of agent-author, and that felt like the right path for me.

But to be published by year end? Tempting …

However, there were some challenges with the offer, including editorial changes I wasn’t sure about. Contracts can be tricky and sticky, and I didn’t love the idea of slugging through that process on my own.

So I did what some lovely writer friends advised and sent notification of the offer to the agents I had queried. There weren’t that many of them, because I had only sent out a handful of queries before this all happened, but I ended up with eight agents reading my full manuscript by the end of the week.

To make a long story short (although I suspect it’s too late now, because this story is already long…), by the deadline I had one agent who offered representation and the publication offer on the table. I very carefully considered both offers, and then turned them down.

Many may think this was a crazy decision. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted, after all? Well, yes, but it wasn’t that simple. Through the passing agents’ feedback I got a good handle on what’s really working in my story — plenty of compliments on my writing and the ‘freshness’ of my premise and concept. However, I also sorted out what wasn’t working … and I wanted a chance to fix that on my own first. In truth, while both were GOOD offers, neither was the right fit for me … or my book — for reasons that aren’t important to mention here. But in my gut I knew I had to take a step back and start anew. So that’s what I did.

I have no regrets about my decision, even when I’m struggling through my revisions and feeling like I may never get it all done. Writing is like anything else — if your heart, head, and gut are not aligned, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing. That has never let me down before, and I’m confident it won’t this time either.

Off I go back down my rabbit hole again … see you when I see you …

 

 

Why I love other writers, and Twitter.

I follow a lot of other writers and aspiring novelists on Twitter. And almost as many agents and publishers. Which means every day I’m seeing plenty of good news in my stream … writers getting agents and book deals, agents signing authors and sharing ‘happy publication day’ tweets, and a whole lot of publishing love.

And every.single.time I see one of these good news tweets I give a ‘congratulations’ shout out. Even if I’m having a bad writing day. ESPECIALLY if I’m having a bad day. Because these writers? They’ve worked DAMN hard to arrive at this good news place — whether it’s getting an agent or a book deal, finishing a new book, receiving a great review, winning an award, learning of a publication date … regardless, they deserve to be recognized for not.ever.giving.up. Plus, every time a writer gets her publishing wings I’m reminded what is possible. And I decide I’m never.giving.up.

I’ve heard rumblings of writers not feeling the love for other writers (market is tough and competitive, blah blah blah). That we’re sort of jealous and territorial about success, kind of like this:

But when I see a tweet about a writer getting ‘the call’, or read someone’s good news on one of the message boards I visit? I don’t feel all Black Swan-like. Nope. You’re more likely to find me doing this:

In my experience, writers love helping other writers, especially via Twitter. Stuck on a line in your query? It won’t take long to get some tips, or perhaps even an offer of a critique. Frustrated by your revisions? Add #AmRevising to your tweet and you’ll find out you’re not alone. Up at 5 a.m. writing, wondering if you’re crazy to be doing so when everyone else is sleeping? Check out the hashtag #5amWritersClub — used every morning by a bunch of super supportive, crack-of-dawn writers who will keep you company. I have been endlessly amazed at the kindness of the writers I follow on Twitter, and how willing they are to help one another out.

So when it’s my turn to announce the good news? Here’s what I imagine I’ll be doing:


And the best part? I know there will be a whole crew of other writers celebrating right a long with me … Kermit flail and all.

Revisions (aka WTF)

When I finished my first draft of book #2 I immediately had a glass of wine and patted myself on the back. I’m DONE! I exclaimed to my ever-patient/ever-supportive husband, who filled up my glass and let me bask in the glow of my accomplishment for a few blissful moments.

It was around the last sip of glass #2 that I remembered I wasn’t done, really. Not even close. (which sobered me up enough to have a third glass of wine) Because while I knew the book had legs, I also knew it had a long way to go to get wings. I want this book to positively sparkle before I send out a single query letter. And that takes work. Killing my darlings kind of stuff.

And then I felt like this:

Because the truth is I haven’t ever revised a full novel all in one sitting. Book #1 was revised as I wrote. Some weeks all I did was polish a chapter, rather than writing the next one.

So I vowed to do book #2 differently. I caressed and massaged the idea for a while, then I wrote an outline detailing all the plot points, character traits, and other goodies I could come up with. I engaged forced my husband to listen to my ideas and read the outline. He liked it, which immediately told me I had something (the genre is women’s fiction, so he is not the target market obviously). And then while he and my daughter spent the long weekend up at the cottage, I sat at our kitchen table and wrote nearly 20,000 words in two days. It looked a little like this:

NanoWrimo got me another 50,000 words, and by January 2nd I had finished the book.

I am not one of those writers who wants to hide her work. I am not fearful of someone telling me it sucks. So out book #2 went, in all its rawness, to beta readers and my critique partners, who together are God’s gifts to a writer. Truly. I’m also using revision workbooks and tips from other authors, and letting my own instincts for storytelling (and my experiences with book #1) guide me the rest of the way.

And with all that, hopefully by early spring this is how I’ll be feeling about the state of book #2:

Wish me luck!