Writers aren’t supposed to talk about the submission stage - the anxious time when agents send projects to hand-picked commissioning editors - but I think it would be useful to include here some of my experiences and some tips for what writers can do to prepare.
Writers’ journeys to publication rarely end in a 12-auction fairytale, no matter how often you scan The Bookseller headlines. I’ve learned that when a commissioning editor loves your writing, he or she usually must convince colleagues in Sales, Marketing, PR and Publicity and go through their in-house acquisition process. There are no guarantees except the prospect of a long wait, because like any other workplace, key people are away, offspring become sick and meetings are rescheduled. Just like the agents-querying stage, it demands resilience and the ability to focus on what really matters: your writing.
In the few weeks since my agent submitted my novel to a small number of publishers, we have received warm expressions of interest, near-misses, polite rejections and face-to-face meetings with a commissioning editor and publisher. There have been high hopes and disappointments, but also wonderful opportunities to learn more about the industry and meet for the first time the talented people behind the scenes who make a book happen and get it into readers’ hands.
Here are some tips for surviving this process:
1. Keep writing. Write the way you did before you signed with an agent, when all this was a distant and unrealistic dream.
2. Keep reading, in and out of your genre. If you use social media, reach out to published writers you admire. You are hoping to join their peer group and writers play an important role in publicising, celebrating and sometimes defending each others’ work. Ensure your social media posts are respectful, polite and thoughtful. They will be read by your prospective publisher.
3. Write a statement about yourself and your reasons for writing the novel your agent will submit, the experiences and research that make you uniquely positioned to tell this particular story. I have been asked for two such statements by publishers recently.
4. Write blurbs or overviews for your next project(s) and sketch out future ideas for novels. Your agent may need to refer to this in discussions with editors when considering your career as a whole.
5. Come to terms with the fact that great writing is not always enough. There are many factors that influence the decision to publish or not publish a novel, including the political climate, recent developments in already-published writers’ careers, the texture of the existing list, future lists and social media storms.
In short, believe in your writing and crack on!