Diary of a Storyteller

Going on submission… again!

May 11, 2020

Amber Morrell

  Amber is a writer, librarian, and educator. Follow her on Twitter

Last week, my agent informed me that my most recent book—which I’ve been calling, descriptively, MAGIC BOOK, to avoid the risk of getting too attached to a title I may have to change—will be going on submission to editors. This is exciting! But it also elicits a lot of conflicted feelings for me. But first…

What does it mean to go on submission?

A writing career is a series of submitting your work again and again and again and again until eventually it is book-shaped. At least, that’s how I’ve begun to see it. When I first started writing novels, my big goal was to land an agent. That seemed like the ultimate success, the one thing that would launch me on a path to greatness. Get an agent and then it’s easy sailing from there, I told myself! It turns out getting an agent is just the beginning. There is still a LOT of submitting that happens after that. And a lot of waiting. 

Every agent does things differently, but in general, after you sign with an agent and you complete any edits they want you to do, your agent will submit your book to publishers. This is called “being on submission” or “on sub.” Much like how authors query one agent at an agency, agents will submit your book to one editor at a publishing house. The big difference is that your agent will already have a relationship with those editors, so your novel is less likely to end up in the trash heap. The editors will probably (hopefully) read your novel. 

Unfortunately, this can be an extremely long process and still doesn’t guarantee your novel will become a book. Hence my conflicted feelings. It’s hard to feel excited about going on submission.

Why? Because my first book—the book that landed me my agent in the first place—never sold. 

I signed with my agent in February of 2018 (which is a long and strange story that I wrote about here) and went on submission shortly after. My agent sent me lists of editors at huge publishing houses, and I thought, this is it! This is the beginning of my career! All I have to do is wait!

So I started waiting. A lot of things happened in my life while I was waiting—I started and dropped out of grad school, my mother-in-law passed away, I moved to a new apartment. I didn’t start writing another book because I was waiting to see what would happen. I waited. And waited. And waited. 

And it turned out, nothing would happen with it. I got a lot of feedback from the editors who read it but didn’t want to acquire it for one reason or another. One editor said she loved the voice but didn’t like the plot. Another editor said she loved the plot but didn’t like the voice. Too dark, not dark enough. No room on the list for a book like this. Etc. etc. 

I asked my agent if I should revise, but since the feedback was so conflicting, it was clear it was a matter of personal taste. My agent told me to write another book. 

At the time, I was devastated. It’d taken me three years to write this first book and I had nothing to show for it. It was another heavy weight on my shoulders after a year of heavy weights. I’d lost a few good friends along the way, too, and I felt like a complete failure. And the worst part was that I hadn’t written a single thing in at least six months (that was the biggest mistake). 

You can see how this was an extremely discouraging process. I’d spent years dreaming about getting an agent, and then I was stuck in this weird limbo. Agented but not published. I was terrified that I was going to fail before I even got off the ground as an author. I joined some Facebook support groups, which helped, but I still had a hard time writing.

This was a really tough period of my life. But in 2019 I attended a few conferences that really helped me overcome this. I attended a local SCBWI conference, as well as the SFWA Nebula conference. These two—especially the latter—changed my perspective on myself as a writer. When you interact with other authors who take you seriously, you start to take yourself more seriously. I talked to a lot of people who got excited when I talked about my novels and encouraged me to keep going. This sense of community is now an invaluable part of my experience as a writer. Without it, I’m afraid I would’ve given up. 

But I didn’t! Last year, I wrote another book. Well, rewrote another book. I repurposed an old NaNoWriMo draft and rewrote it from scratch. That became MAGIC BOOK. I’m really proud of it. I finished the draft in about five months, then spent another three months revising. Most of that three months was spent procrastinating revising, but I eventually finished it. I sent it to my agent in March, and as of last week, we are officially on submission with editors. 

This is exciting but, as I explained above, also nerve-wracking. I’m excited because I’m proud of this book and I hope it connects with editors more than the last one did. Knowing that a bunch of people are reading your book is also a really cool feeling. 

But I’m nervous, too. After all, my last book was on submission for a long time and it didn’t sell, so it’s hard to be hopeful about this one. The disappointment before was crushing, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high. I don’t want to feel that way again. 

Then there’s the whole COVID-19 situation. Editors are being laid off en-mass, which means many of my agent’s contacts are out of jobs. The entire submission process, already complicated, is now up in the air. It’s not a good situation for anyone, and I empathize with those who’ve lost their jobs. I’ve been out of work, too, which is another difficult thing for me emotionally that I won’t really get into right now.

I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, though. Being on submission is exciting! And if nothing else, I feel resilient—I wrote a book, it didn’t sell, and I could’ve given up but I didn’t. I wrote another book. And if this one doesn’t sell, well, I’ve already started writing another. For anyone going on submission for the first time, my biggest recommendation is to keep writing. Even if you just write for fun and it doesn’t turn into a book, do something. Don’t just wait around. Even if your book sells quickly, or sells at all, you’ll still need to write another thing eventually, so you might as well get started. 

In the process of writing this post, I realized there’s a lot of other things I can talk about on this blog. I’m feeling inspired to keep writing here and share more about my writing journey. If there are any topics you’d like me to talk about, let me know in the comments.

More soon!

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