Over the last several weeks, we’ve been exploring the business-end of the writing life: finding agents, querying agents, and preparing a fiction book proposal. Today, we’re going to talk about what happens next, once you’ve found your agents and written up your proposal: Submissions, Waiting, and Rejections.
Most agents and publishers will accept electronic submissions these days. This means an email with your proposal attached as a Word document, formatted in standard manuscript format. If you don’t know what standard manuscript format looks like, check out this blog post.
Some agents and publisher still only except submissions the old-fashioned way: on paper. If you’re at all like me, the last time you went to the post office was when America Online was still in knickers, so let me explain:
- You’ll need to print everything, single-sided, on this crazy wood pulp stuff called “paper,” then
- Put it all into an envelope or a box (whatever fits best).
- You’ll need a second envelope that you’ll then address to yourself (a self-addressed stamped envelope, or SASE), and include in your package, for the agent/publisher to return your materials to you. Without it, your package will go into the recycle bin.
- Then buy stamps for both the original envelope and the return envelope.
Once you have all that together, you put it all in the mail addressed to the agent or the publisher.
Given the relatively low-cost of making your own printed copies at home compared to the cost of postage, I recommend printing out a simple postcard with your home or office address on it, and a simple series of check-boxes on the other side:
- Rejected, manuscript destroyed;
- Rejected with comments, manuscript destroyed.
Then leave a small space for the agent or editor to write in their own simple comments:
- “Not currently accepting new authors.”
- “Not currently looking for more books in this genre.”
- “We love you, but you’re too good for us.”
- “You’re awful, we hate you, never send us anything ever again.”
- “Please stop violating our restraining order against you.”
Include this postcard in lieu of a SASE, with appropriate return postage. This saves you a little money on postage, at the expense of using more paper. What works best for you depends on your budget for postage and office supplies.
Keep in mind that, as a professional author, these costs (paper, ink cartridges, toner, envelopes, stamps, etc.) are all potentially tax-deductible operating expenses, so be sure to save your receipts and consult with your tax attorney.
It used to be that agents and publishers hated simultaneous submissions. They wanted to have the exclusive right to accept or reject your work, to avoid getting into bidding wars with other publishers.
So authors were forced to slowly work their way around the publishing houses, one at a time. Realistically, given the average 6 – 12 week turnaround from most publishers, this meant that an author could only submit a particular book to 4 – 8 publishing houses per year.
Nowadays, publishers and agents have generally given up trying to stem the tide of simultaneous submissions, but you should be aware of any particular publisher’s or agent’s policy.
Some don’t mind at all one way or another.
Most don’t mind, so long as they know it’s a simultaneous submission (so this information should be included in the cover letter of your proposal).
Others absolutely won’t consider a manuscript that’s under consideration anywhere else.
Know which is which, and follow their guidelines on this point. Many an author has sneakily made simultaneous submissions and found themselves with two or more interested publishers, then gnashed their teeth when each publisher turned down the manuscript after learning about the other interested party.
Once you’ve submitted your fiction book proposal to an agent or a publisher, the waiting begins. I recommend that you keep a record of which manuscripts you’ve submitted to which agents/publishers on which dates, and then set a reminder for yourself to contact the agent/publisher 6 – 12 weeks after the submission date, to see if they’ve had a chance to review it.
Waiting can be torture, so the best possible thing you can do for yourself is forget about your submissions and work on something else: a new book, a new short story, a revision project of another book, building your blog following and newsletter audience, etc. Anything to keep your mind off the submission package and keep your writing career, craft, and talent moving forward.
The fact is that even if you get published on your first time out, it’s rare to achieve immediate commercial success with one’s first book. So practicing your craft and building your “author brand” is a wise use of your time while you wait. In the event that you do get published and achieve success, you’ll be that much closer to the end of your next book, and have that many more potential readers.
“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
— Robert Benchley
Nobody likes to be rejected. Nobody likes to feel like they’ve wasted their time, or that they’ve been misled by family and friends for years, or that they’re a poor judge of their own talent and expertise.
On the bright side, rejection by an agent or publisher has nothing to do with any of that. It is purely a business decision, factoring in sales, marketing, distribution, production, printing, and editorial costs.
- An agent might decide that, no matter how good your writing is, the market just isn’t looking for anything more like that right now. For example, if your book is one of a score of imitators of a recent bestseller, you might be rejected simply because the market is glutted with similar stories at the moment. Put the manuscript in a drawer for a few years, dust it off, and try again later, when the market isn’t quite so flooded.
- A publisher might decide that, no matter how good your writing is, that their production budget just can’t sustain another book of that length. Consider trimming your book or splitting it into multiple parts, and/or submitting your manuscript in June or July, immediately before the publishers prepare their budgets for the following year.
Remember, these are business decisions that have nothing to do with the artistic merit of the work in front of them. They don’t give a hoot about the artistic merit of the books they publish and sell. They only care about selling the books they publish.
The worst thing you can do is stew over any of these rejections. If you let them eat away at you and break your momentum forward toward the goals you’ve set and the success you desire, then you are simply sabotaging yourself.
After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel badly about yourself without your permission.” By giving in to the rejection, you’ve given someone else permission to make you feel badly about yourself. You’ve given away your control over your own work and your own destiny.
Don’t let it happen to you. Fight for what you want. Plan your work every day, and work your plan every day. Never give up. Never surrender.