You’ve sent your submission – what happens next? #getpublished

It’s time to make a diary note about chasing in three to six months’ time. Meanwhile, let’s get busy doing other things.

IMG_3383Waiting by Degas, 1880-2

This will be harder than you think. Our inner writer longs for approbation and needs it fast. Do you remember the feedback stage, how hard it was to let your readers take their time? This sensation can be even more powerful now that your work is in the hands of professionals. Please be patient.

Take a break. Celebrate having reached this stage, you’ve done well! Get out among friends again and enjoy the real world. Then get stuck into writing something else. Make yourself a tight schedule of writing and research and stick to it. If a positive answer does come, they will want to know what you’re working on now.

Sometimes an agent/publisher’s submissions page will let you know how long they usually take. Allow them at least three months anyway – that’s the blink of an eye in publisher/agent time. Then a gentle reminder checking that your submission has reached the right person will be fine. Keep it calm and professional.

In my experience an outright rejection comes pretty swiftly. If they like what they see, they will read and re-read, share it around the office, have a word with marketing and accountancy, and so on. If they’re taking a while, it might be good news…

Rejections first – let’s get them out of the way. Some rejections are about you and some aren’t.

Reasons for rejection you cannot avoid:

  • The agent/publisher is feeling unwell, really tired for other reasons, has a headache or hangover, is about to get the sack. We all have off days.
  • Their office has so many unsolicited submissions stacked up, they have succumbed to temptation (who wouldn’t occasionally) to get rid of some. They all deny it but this does happen. There are many easier ways for publishers and agents to make money and there’ll be another load of talent arriving in the morning.
  • They’ve had too many of your kind of thing and don’t have time to say so.
  • They really like your kind of thing and have one in the pipeline or have recently done one just like it. Sometimes they will say so.
  • They’ve just had a bad experience with a new writer – too much trouble, lost too much money? – and can’t face it again for a while.

Reasons for rejection you can avoid:

When agents and publishers come to the slush pile, what buoys them up is the hope of finding the Next Big Thing and making their fortune. They may not know exactly what they’re looking for but they know what they don’t want. Let’s help them out by avoiding the following:

Rejections take many forms:

IMG_3385Sometimes you will receive no answer at all. Considering how many people are sending out submissions these days, this is understandable. Some websites even declare this is their policy. Never mind. The silence could be for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with you.

A standard form reply is common, without your name or a personal signature. Try not to be downhearted, as above.

A personal rejection with your name on it is a big step forward. It might say your submission doesn’t ‘chime’ with what they are looking for but at least they have bothered to look and might well remember what you’ve done. Try to be pleased.

With all of the above, there is no need to respond. Be patient and detached about these rejections and keep studying your craft, looking for ways your submission and script might be improved. This ‘rejection stage’ is your most important learning stage too.

Hard as it is not to take a rejection as a personal slight, it is vital that you stay professional and do not bother anyone who has sent you a rejection. At all costs do not telephone to argue the toss and above all do not call on them in person in their offices. Not only will you ensure that they never look at your work again, neither will their friends and loved ones who may well work in the business.

 Buoying up the spirits

This stage can take years and leave you feeling low from time to time. This is normal. So in one of my writing groups we found ourselves talking about how to keep the spirits buoyed up through rejection times.

  • Repeated rejections of the same piece of work just might mean it still needs fixing. Keep trying to improve.
  • Take up something really good fun that gets you out among non-writers. Dancing or playing a musical instrument can work, whatever you enjoy most. It’s all material.
  • Keep catching those inspired patches of writing, whatever they’re about. Keep flexing happy writing muscles in your journal, or with poetry, flash fiction or whatever else suits you. Remind yourself that this is not peacekeeping in a war zone or fostering orphans, it’s only putting words on pages. If you keep crafting, it will come good.

Good rejections

Are there such things? Oh yes, and if I can do one thing to help you through this stage, it is to lift your spirits when you receive a good rejection and see it for the gold dust it is.

  • A personal rejection with your name on it that gives feedback and some positive comments – well, it’s time for celebration. You have no idea how rarely this happens! IMG_3387It means you have been noticed. It’s time for a kindly thank you and a close look at the feedback. Your inner writer might feel rejected but to have professional advice at this level is a huge step forward.
  • A personal reply makes no promises but compliments some aspects of your writing and recommends a manuscript advisor, perhaps giving a contact. This means that your script has been read and appreciated but needs help. Instead of working with you in-house, as used to happen, you are asked to pay. A manuscript advisor that works closely with your chosen agent might be the best thing for you chances of publication. Maybe not. See how you and your bank balance feel.
  • A personal rejection with feedback, some compliments and an invitation to send your next script – it’s time for celebration. This is great news! Reply warmly with thanks but please do not be tempted to send something until it is ready, even if it takes time. Ask if they might be prepared to consider an idea in principle.
  • A personal reply asking for your full manuscript. It’s time for celebration with fireworks. But before the rest of your script leaves home, have a final check through to make sure everything is on its toes. All too often agents and publishers are hooked by the first three chapters and find that, with the rest, the quality goes swiftly downhill. Take time to make sure all is well first. Then congratulate yourself, you have come a very long way. Fingers crossed.
  • The personal reply asking you to call to make an appointment to meet or speak on the phone. This is the big one. It can be the beginning of one of the most valuable and rewarding relationships of your life.

Next time we’ll look at why agents and publishers reject. Meanwhile, I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing. Good luck!

Choosing your trad publisher and agent

Before your novel goes out to find its ideal agent or publisher, let’s take time to visit book shops and up-to- date libraries. E-readers can help but are less easy to browse.

What sort of book have you written? Is it in a genre? If it’s crime, for example, settle into the crime sections of as many different bookshops as you can and really look at what’s there. However much you admire Conan Doyle, it’s recent publications you’re after:

  • Who are the main publishers of books like (or a bit like) yours? Make a list – you’ll look them up in detail shortly.
  • Who are your favourite living authors in this section? Living because that will give you an idea what publishers and agents are looking for now.
  • Who are those authors’ agents? You can sometimes find out from the author’s website or by looking in the acknowledgement sections of their books.
  • Who were those author’s editors? You might find an independent mentor or editor mentioned in the acknowledgements. More often it’s effusive thanks to the publisher’s editor who helped pull the book together just before publication. Both are useful to know.

Borrow and buy as many of your favourites as you can afford, to study at home.

IMG_2889

Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren by Mary Cassatt, 1880

And a whopping great copy of the latest Writers & Artists Yearbook will pay its way time and again.

When you want to learn from a book, the same approach works as for giving feedback to your writer friend: read once for the thrill and gist of it, a second time more slowly, deeply, on the lookout for technical detail:

  • How long is the standard book in your genre these days? 400pp for novels? 200 for some children’s age groups?
  • How long are the chapters? Are there always chapters? How are books usually divided up?
  • What shape and tone does the first chapter take? Is it mostly action, dialogue, description or backstory? Study the proportions of these in the last chapter too.
  • As you read, develop a feel for the balance of action, dialogue and description. How much is there of show or tell? What does the writer achieve and how?
  • What is the through-line of what you’re reading? Notice what techniques the author uses to keep bringing you back to it. How else does the author keep you on edge or hold your attention?
  • Notice places where you see two or even three things going on at once, winding together. What does this add to the pace and mystery?
  • Do you find your attention wandering? Why?
  • Is there anything you would improve? Be bold.
  • Characters: how many are there? Are they all actively needed in the story? What are the proportions, male/female, old/young, interests, ethnicities etc? Does this make you realise that your own characters are too like each other? (Unless that is deliberate to make a social or other point, as in Lord of the Flies.)
  • Notice other techniques like use of tenses, POV, flashbacks, memory and other use of time. In Young Adult novels, for example, using the first person is very common. Can you see why? How are writers in your genre using point of view to serve a story these days?

Am I suggesting another rewrite of your book?

I am not suggesting, now or ever, that you write to a formula. The fact is though that, for your first book at least, when you’re trying to step forward from the crowd, it’s best to offer publisher something close to what they know works well. It’s not too late for you to make adjustments. It is at this stage in writing my second novel that I realised division into chapters was holding the story back; it could flow better without them.

The Writers & Artists Yearbook

By now you have a short list of publishers, agents and editorial staff who favour your kind of thing.

There is absolutely no point in sending your love story to publishers who want horror fantasy set on Mars. The scattergun approach will only produce rejections you don’t need and you will get demoralised. There is no point either in sending your precious words to publishers and agents who have closed their inboxes to unsolicited submissions. They expect you to know this.

You are hunting for publishers and agents who are a) suitable and b) available and it’s time to take a fine-toothed comb to the Yearbook.

IMG_2888I have no shares or stake in Writers & Artists. I just know it to be unrivalled as a resource for writers, not only for the lists but for its excellent articles about the business. The moment you open it, you will see what I mean. The sections of agents and publishers in various countries are what you are looking for at this stage. You will find short descriptions of what each one does and is looking for, with author lists and contact details.

Agents’ and publishers’ websites

By the time any physical book exists, it has been superseded by events and people do move around in the publishing and literary agency worlds. Besides, you will find much more detail on the companies’ websites. So use the Yearbook to produce your list of best targets and then browse their websites in detail. Sometimes you will come upon a submission window (of a week, month or even a day) in an otherwise closed publisher.

Events, courses, social media

How do publishers and agents find us? They lead events and tuition courses, talk at conferences, Book Fairs and literary festivals, and usually publicise what they’re doing on social media.

Go to as many events in your genre as you can and don’t be afraid to ask a question or strike up a chat afterwards. Your research in book shops will come in handy – it’s time to explore with them some technical aspect of one of their books or authors you like.

Publishers and agents are looking for good writers with great stories but the world is full of talent and that means they are free to choose to work with the ones they like, the ones who are easy to get along with. Try not to mention your ornamental stacks of rejections, your overdraft or how little you think of the work of some famous authors. Be professional, pleasant, kind and have plain no-nonsense business cards ready.

Follow up on any good contact promptly and professionally. Do not ever assume they’ll remember you; just mention that you enjoyed meeting whoever it was at whatever event it was and, if they asked to see some of your work, thank them and send it.

What do you send? Next week we’ll look at submission guidelines.

Happy writing!