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…