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!

Ten things to get your novel published

  1. A solid sense of yourself as a writer

You need a solid sense that writing is what you were born for. The good news is that if you are a writer, then writing is what makes you happiest in all the world. Our writing is an essential part of our heart and spirit and the more we honour it, the happier we become. As our writing grows, we grow. If you have not had that experience yet, try writing more every day and see if you feel a difference.

  1. Love of the writing process

One of my earliest childhood memories is of sitting alone with crayons deep in my own writing world. I can still feel the bliss of those crayons in my fingers. Partly it’s the safety of that cocoon, partly the joy of rolling those words into the right order, of producing something new under the sun. The more we write and study the craft, the better we write and with that comes self-assurance that will help through the feedback and criticism stages. This is a long way from arrogance; it comes from the long process of trial and error, above all from the rewriting process. It comes from a sense that writing is always where your time is best spent, regardless of the outcome.

  1. A safe place to write

Virginia Woolf’s extended essay published in October 1929 was famously titled ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Not all of us can afford this and the creeping closure of libraries threatens our writing spaces. However, we are usually not far from a friendly café and all we need is to train our brains to cut out the noise, take from the surrounding company inspiration as we find it and let writing wrap itself around us.

  1. Write loads

We all do, far more than ever gets published. Musicians practise scales and arpeggios daily and play sections of their latest piece till their fingers are numb. Hemingway talked about his published work being ‘the tip of the iceberg’ of his writing. Incidentally, this New Yorker piece about the great man shows that even he was capable of a truly dreadful sentence now and again: In pencil, he added, “Time is the least thing we have of.” All creative work is trial and error. Will this work? Maybe this will work better? Or that? The more you write, the more confident you will become. That is why I am a huge fan of journal writing. Scribbling for the sake of it loosens the writing muscles, clears the fog and can come up with surprisingly useful things. Go for it. Go for everything. Be fearless!

  1. Choose your best ideas

So much for words. Agents and publishers trade in ideas. What are your stories about?

Choose your best ideas and if a story is not working, it may be the central idea that is deficient. Do not be afraid to dump it and move to something more exciting. Our greatest crime is to waste our readers’ time.

  1. Value your craft

Story-telling technique, grammar, spelling – these are our tools and they all matter very much. In creativity, rules are always there to be broken so it helps to know the rules first. For a reader to feel a sense of your authority, they need to know that if you are breaking rules, you know why even if they do not. They need to trust you.

There is an illusion among civilians (non-writers) that to produce a best-seller, all you have to do is knock out a blog at the kitchen table. This has never been true.

IMG_E1806Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, Wilde and Hemingway all rewrote their masterpieces time and again. Nobody ever said this would be easy.

We are lucky, we can learn by reading great books and by seeing great plays, television and films. Drink up all the best stories you can. Go on all the courses you can afford. Read everything about the craft you can find.

  1. A thick skin

Now I’m talking about the rejection period where doggedness is your best friend. These are your learning years too and a professional standard does not come overnight.

  1. Be ready to be edited

Arrogance stops your writing career dead. Agents and publishers always see your script as work in progress that needs their professional input to suit the market. Writing is about rewriting and we all need it. The trick is to relish the company of these professionals who know what they are doing, to take their interest in your writing as a compliment and to enjoy lifting the quality of your work. The next book(s) should be easier.

  1. Have good people around you

Part of the rejection years is about gathering ‘champions’ of your writing, people who are impressed and will remember you but aren’t quite ready to offer you a contract. These people talk to each other. Sometimes they live with each other. So it’s good to keep sending your best writing out so that the positive vibe around you can grow.

The good people you need most are your agent and publisher. In the best of all possible worlds, you and your agent are friends for life and build your career together for mutual benefit. This means you are honest with each other, listen to each other, both work hard and understand why things might not be perfect during tricky times. Like any relationship really. A solid relationship with a publisher is wonderful too. You might write a variety of things over a lifetime, gathering appropriate publishers as you go.

You need good support at home, or none.

A good other half is a great help. A great other half is often one who takes no interest at all in your writing other than to offer a shoulder when a rejection comes and a hug whenever there’s good news. A bad one is worse than being alone. Beware of hooking up with a frustrated writer (this happens more often than you’d think) who wants to shoehorn in on what you’re writing all the time, trying to push and pull you in different directions that somehow never quite satisfy them. Their well-meaning critiques can shrivel your will to write.

Being alone is not so bad. All writers need access to great big slabs of time alone (Jilly Cooper called it writers’ ‘hermit-itis’) and not all other halves have the self-confidence to live with that.

Finally, you need a good writing group. A band of good-hearted people you trust to understand the writing process and who will help you thrive at your own pace, as you help them thrive at theirs. People who understand that if your genre is not their sort of thing, then their feedback might not be your sort of thing either. People with a positive critique ethos, seeking to tell you what works best in your work because, believe me, by the time you have read your words aloud to any group, your bones know all too well what has not worked. We writers are less good at knowing what we’ve done well – we need to be told.

  1. Luck

Did Thomas Jefferson say that the harder we work, the luckier we get? Actors and musicians joke about how ‘overnight success’ sometimes comes after years of hard graft. This is true of writers too. Hilary Mantel spent ten years writing her first book. The Da Vinci Code was Dan Brown’s fourth novel. Beatrix Potter and William Blake published their own work initially, as did Jane Austen.

If you keep writing, keep learning, keep circulating among writers, publishers and agents, keep sending out your best work in a professional way, keep raising your game, that mysterious ingredient luck has a better chance of finding you.

I wish you all the luck in the world.

Happy writing!