It’s been a while since I wrote a post about writing/publishing, and that’s the whole reason I started this blog, so here we go.
Back in July, I somehow conned a gen-yoo-wine literary agent into offering me representation. I, of course, accepted before she could discover I was a talentless sham and snatch her offer back out of my grubby hands.
I’m kidding, mostly. The truth is I’m far from the first writer to feel like I’ve somehow pulled one over on the literati (there’s actually a term for it—imposter-syndrome!). And the day I accepted that offer of representation, I felt more comfortable calling myself a writer than at any point since I picked up a laptop and started letting my brain spill out into a Word doc. But now, I’m on submission…
For those not in the know, being on submission means that Jen, my agent, has sent submission letters to a number of editors and some of those editors have asked to read my manuscript. I can’t give you details about which editors she submitted to at which publishing houses and which ones requested the manuscript or which ones have passed or made offers because, as many of you might already know, being on submission is like being in Fight Club. The first rule of being on submission is you don’t talk about being on submission. But there are some things I can tell you.
After I accepted the offer of rep this past summer, Jen and I started working on some revisions. These took a while because she had some really good ideas for improving the novel and I wanted to do them justice. I also have a full-time job and a family and I like things other than writing…yeah, yeah, I know. Excuses, excuses.
But after much hemming and hawing and writing and rewriting, we ended up with a version of the manuscript we were both happy with. Once the holiday season wrapped up, Jen sent my little baby almost-book out into the big bad world of publishing. And I was left to hem and haw some more and obsess over every little writer-choice I’d made. Are the stakes high enough? Was I too heavy-handed with my themes? Not heavy-handed enough? Are my MCs flawed but likable? Are their voices clear? Do they stand out from the other MCs crowding every editor’s inbox? Is my novel a trite piece of trash filled with whiny kids and a plot that goes nowhere?
At one point, I found myself scanning my manuscript, reading over certain passages and going, “Ugh. What was I thinking? Why did I write it that way? And why didn’t I fix it before it was too late?” But that’s the thing. At this particular stage of the game, it is too late. The milk has been spilled and it’s already seeping into the cracks between the floorboards. If we end up doing another round of submissions, I’ll get a chance to tweak a few things here and there. For now, though, that ship has sailed and driving myself down a writer-anxiety-spiral isn’t going to do anyone any good, least of all me.
Some productive distractions were clearly in order. I’m lucky enough to know some ridiculously talented writers, so for the past two months I’ve had the opportunity to beta-read some fantastic stuff. The first was a dark contemporary fantasy novel with a thoroughly-researched and twisted take on fae-lore by Troy H. Gardner. I’m not going to lie—some of the body horror in it gave me daymares. And I’m still in the midst of beta-ing a noirish YA novel by British writer Josh Winning that’s chock full of sharp prose, complex characters, and deliciously smart pacing. Seriously, it is the shit.
I’ve always heard that delving deep into your next project is the best cure for the on-submission-jitters. In my case, that appears to be mostly-true. I started a new project a while back, but had to hit the pause button multiple times to work on a short story for this, do some beta-reading for various writer-friends, revise the project that’s currently on submission, work on this blog, compose some tweets, etcetera, etcetera. Thus, I hadn’t really gained any momentum with my new WIP.
As Josh Winning astutely noted in an email to me, “It’s always weird starting something new when you’ve been so involved with one set of characters, isn’t it?” I can’t stress enough how true this is. By the time I was revising my last project, sitting down to write was like sitting around and shooting the shit with old friends. We know each other’s quirks, we get each other’s jokes and obscure pop culture references, and we can finish each other’s sentences. In contrast, this new project felt like doing forced-smile icebreakers at an employee retreat with a bunch of coworkers I’ve known for only a few months. Because I couldn’t find a flow with this new WIP, all my on-submission-anxieties continued to plague me.
But I soldiered on. In addition to my characters being awkward strangers, my plot felt like kind of a train wreck, so I started using Scrivener instead of Word to get myself organizized. I swore at my laptop a few times and pushed past all the self-doubt and writer-fear. And then, in the midst of one little scene, I cracked the code with one of my MCs. He laughed at an off-color joke I told under my breath and I was all like, “Hey, let’s ditch this retreat and go get plastered at that bar down the street and tell each other all our deepest, darkest secrets.” And he was like, “Yassss, Queen!”
We’ve been besties ever since, which makes writing a pleasurable distraction instead of a chore. Thank gawd.
Because being on submission is like being in Fight Club (except there’s no Meatloaf or Brad Pitt and less references to Jack’s bile duct), I won’t be able to give you any more details until I’ve actually accepted an offer and my little baby almost-book is on its way to being published. That could happen next week, or a year from now, or never. Until then, I’ll try to keep you entertained with pop culture rants and maybe a few details about my current WIP. Maybe. I’ll tell you now that it’s pretty weird and probably overly ambitious, but that’s just how I roll.
If you’re a writer who’s survived being on submission, please feel free to fill the comments section with your stories, sage advice, words of encouragement, or any combo of the three.