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!

Those 1st three chapters – what works best? #getpublished

You’ve prepared your email/letter and synopsis – what next? Some agents and publishers ask for a chosen number of chapters, others for the first X thousand words. A few want a submission summary about you and your book with no chapters at all. As ever, comb through the websites carefully.

  • They want three chapters? In the fiction world, that means your first three chapters in sequence. They want to see how you set the story up, your style and tone, and above all how you reveal your characters. They are particularly interested in your stakes: what your characters want and need, what stops them getting it and why we care.
  • How long is a chapter? George RR Martin’s chapters can be over 20 pages each. Many other writers work in short, choppy chunks with no chapter breaks at all. Do not be tempted to blend some of your chapters together and send half the novel. You want three distinct scenes or sections that establish and build your story.
  • Your scenes or chapters should flow into one another in a way that keeps the reader engaged. That means careful thought about your hooks and links.
  • Try to close with a cliff hanger that encapsulates your book. If your chapter three is a dreamy non-event chapter, change it or move it to later in your story. Now is the time to be as compelling as you can.IMG_2372
  • Your main throughline question should ring like a bell from the first line.
  • It’s first line time. Some books begin with setting the scene or theme (‘It was the worst of times, it was the best of times’), others with a character revealing or denying a problem, others with dialogue. Sam Goldwyn (the G of MGM) said his films should start with an earthquake and work up to a crisis. Your first line should be memorable, balanced and above all it should hook us right and tight into your second, fourth and two-hundredth lines too.
  • The first page. Come with me into an ideal world. Not entirely ideal because it’s a world where people pick up a book, look at the first page and judge by a line or two whether it’s for them. In this ideal world, that first page flows from the wonderful first line with two or three paragraphs that settle us nicely alongside the main character (who is this person and why do we care?) using a clear point of view. We should have some sense of the essence of the situation and why we give a damn. (What are the stakes?) And a sense of place. All with a thumping hook or hint about what is about to unfold. It is a lot to convey – preferably not told but shown ‘slant’ – and it may take several revisions before you are happy. All this in a shorter page than usual – 150-200 words – because chapters are usually laid out with space to breathe at the top. IMG_2994a Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka (2005) – a perfect first page. Hone till your fingers and heart are weak with exhaustion. Have a look in a book shop or library at some published first pages for inspiration.
  • Your third chapter may be the one where, having set up your earthquake, you are relaxing out a bit, indulging in some info dump about the back story, letting your lovers stare at a sunset, glad they’ve survived. It’s time to rewrite that, I’m afraid. This submission is a sprint to grab attention and by the end of it you should have two main things in play. First, your readers should have a firm grasp of what the story is about and why they like it. (This includes your style as well as your characters and where they are heading.) Second, they should be desperate to read more. Sometimes this means rearranging things, calling high stakes from later chapters forward to help. The third chapter of your submission should end on a cliff.
  • The final hunt for spellings, typos, grammar errors and clichés is a must.

It’s time to congratulate yourself. You have prepared a professional book submission and I wish it the very best luck in the world.

There is though one other thing to do before you click and send.

Some agents read quickly and could ask you for the rest of your typescript in days or weeks. Try and have your whole novel up to the same professional standard, ready to go when it’s called for.

How long will you have before your precious acceptance arrives? That’s for next time.

Happy writing!