Monday, February 1, 2016

Behind the Veil: A Peek into Submission, Part 1

Submission is cloaked in secrecy. For those of you who don't know, this is when agents send your book to editors to try to get a publication contract. It's kind of like querying - but also very much not. Writers don't talk about it much, because we're not supposed to air every good and bad thing that happens to us throughout the process, and let's be honest: there's plenty of good and bad when going on submission. It's a roller coaster. Some people have more ups than downs, and vice versa. But I wanted to give people an idea of what to expect, so I polled agented and formerly agented writers anonymously to see what insight they could give into their experiences.

Fifty-eight of the writers who responded have been on submission with a total of 102 manuscripts. Of those, only 34 had sold at the time of the survey (I counted multi-book deals as one sale). Fourteen writers had books currently on submission that may or may not sell, but still: there’s a good chance that your first book on submission will not net you a book deal. Three of the authors who responded had been on submission with four or more books that did not sell.

Only 20 of my 58 writers sold their first book. Approximately 21% of writers who didn’t sell their first book changed agents after that book was shelved, with almost an even split between whether the change was agent or author-initiated. 

How does submission work?

Agents submitted from anywhere from 5 to 45 editors. (The books that went to less than five editors sold right away, so don’t think those agents weren’t trying.) More than half the writers who answered the survey (52.83%) said their agent sent out multiple submission rounds, to a few editors at a time. Another quarter (24.53%) said their agent sent out several rounds, to many editor sat a time. For 13% of writers, the agent sent out one round to a large number of editors at once. Not all agents talk about submission: Nine percent of writers had no idea how submission was structured.

Sub times were also all over the map. While 6 lucky souls were on sub for one month or less, most people were on sub for about 6 months. For 20 authors, submission lasted more than a year. The longest submission reported was 2.5 years without a sale. This is not a fast process for most people. Never assume you'll be one of the lucky few.



I also asked writers to describe their experience in 25 words or less, and some of the responses were very interesting. You may see some common themes:

Grueling, heartbreaking but eventually euphoric. 

~*~

Felt like I didn't know my agent's process - when she would nudge, when to close something, etc.

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It was a trial by fire. It taught me a lot & helped me become a better writer, but it was often torturous.

~*~

Hellish. Long periods of silence; many, many editors never responded despite promises to read.

~*~

Excellent. Agent super communicative and terrific feedback from editors (despite no offer).

~*~

Long, painful, & stressful

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Not responsive. Was like getting blood from a stone. Sort of disrespectful.

~*~

Quiet.

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Frustrating and fruitless. First sales went sour. Haven't sold again.

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The waiting is the worst part. Having an agent who communicates well is crucial.

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A nightmare. You have handed over total control and can only wait for news. Back in the query day you could send more queries.

~*~

The first time, it was exciting but communication was lacking. The second time was faster and more clear.

~*~

Hell. The refresh button on my email flipped me off the other day.

~*~

Better than querying but still frustrating, and with higher stakes.

~*~

Lots of waiting.

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Long and stressful but there were also quite a few exciting moments so overall it wasn't a terrible experience, but it was difficult.

~*~

A dream come true.

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Stressful. I kept getting my hopes up only to have them crushed.

~*~

Definitely a learning experience that prepared me for submitting my second manuscript

~*~

Awful - I didn't feel like I was kept in the loop on the process, and comments were also all over the map.

~*~

Editors are nice and complimentary in their passes, but the real gold if when they tell you why they pass. So if it's a recurring issue, it can be fixed before the next round.

~*~

Slow. And discouraging that no response means no is becoming more the norm for editors.

~*~

My agent didn't communicate with me much about the process at all, so I remained blissfully unaware for the most part.

~*~

Waiting and more waiting, combined with eroding of confidence.

~*~

Roller coaster ride. Sometimes great, sometimes awful.

~*~

The slow death of hope.

~*~

Death by a thousand cuts.

~*~

Hell. Long. Hell.


Tune in next week to see what advice agented writers gave for people who are about to go out on submission for the first time!

64 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. My fiasco of a submission remains one of the worst things I've ever been through in my life. Now, this probably means I've had a pretty easy life.
    But the worst part is the secrecy. If your book doesn't sell, it's heartbreaking, and there is so little information out there, and even the best agents don't seem to have the time to help pick up the pieces after they've delivered the devastating news that a book you've worked on for 1-2-3+ years isn't going to happen. They have to move on quickly to other clients who have new shiny projects. And you're not even allowed to talk about the heartbreak.
    I wish there was a way to make the process a little more humane. I wish I could say it's made me a better writer, but it hasn't. The only thing I learned from sub is that this industry is cold and fickle.

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    1. You are not alone in these feelings. I hope things work out for you.

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  2. Thanks for this, Laura. It's good to know we aren't alone!

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  3. Excellent informative post! Thanks for sharing.

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  4. The slow death of hope. <---- Yes. So glad to know I'm not alone!!!

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  5. Thank you for sharing!

    Happy Blitz day from BooksChatter in the UK!

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  6. I'm on submission right now...and everything you wrote is SPOT ON!!!

    BTW...you're being BLITZED today! Excellent post for one. Enjoy!! :)

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    Replies
    1. OMG, I had no idea! :-)

      And I'm very relieved you're all going to see this post, and not when I talk about my cats.

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  7. I can only imagine the nerve-wracking roller coaster experience. Perhaps one day I'll know it from experience, but we'll see. Kudos to all who have made it even that far.

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  8. Aaand this is why I'm happy to be a writer in the digital age of publishing wherein agents and the traditional sub process are optional. Thanks so much for putting all of this info. together!

    Happy Blitz Day!

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  9. Wow that is a process for submission. I didn't realize the intensity of it and how grueling it could be for one to get their book sold. Thanks for sharing this info and Happy Blitz Day!

    betty

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  10. Excellent post. I don't know why we're quiet about these things. We should talk about them more. This was really eye-opening. Thank you! Happy Blitz Day! :)

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  11. Happy Blitz Day!
    I wish I had seen this poll because I would have totally contributed!
    My submission would have been labeled as Short. Stressful. Successful

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  12. Wow, these stats are sobering! Landing an agent certainly doesn't sound like the end of the writing journey. Thank you. And Happy Blitz Day!

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  13. Great learning more about the submission process. Happy Blitz Day!

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  14. Even after you're published, it's a roller coaster. Good thing I love riding them! Happy Blitz day!!

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  15. Oh my. This makes me even more nervous now. I'm in the process of trying to get an agent. I never really thought much of what they have to do to get me a contract. Yikes!

    Happy Blitz Day!!!! :D

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  16. Happy Blitz Day!!! You totally deserve it after writing up this post. Absolutely fabulous and painfully true. I've been there and I think the worse part about this process is the self-doubt it inflicts. Thank you for writing this.

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  17. Oh man. I'm hoping to be working on getting an agent by the end of the year.. I hadn't really thought about the agony that could happen afterward! Guess I take my torture step by step, hah
    Happy Blitz Day!

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  18. That was an ambitious undertaking you embarked on with a statistical outcome worth pondering. I guess never give up, but don't expect a pot of gold either.

    One thing you can count on today is a lot of comments.

    Happy Blitz Day!

    Arlee Bird
    Wrote By Rote

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  19. Submission is a SLOW process. LOL It teaches us patience. ;)

    Happy blitz day!

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  20. Sounds familiar… It is slow and incredibly stressful.

    Happy Blitz day!

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  21. I was with a vanity press early in my writing, but I didn't know this at the time. Everything they did cost me something. I did learn something about the submission process. This was a lot of info to collect and post for us. Thank you.

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  22. Wow! Laura, thanks for peek behind the curtain! Happy Blitz Day!

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  23. This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing.

    Happy Blitz Day!

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  24. Yay - go Oxford comma! Happy Blitz Day!

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  25. The publishing business is so slow. It makes me frustrated. But I am not frustrated today. I'm happy because I get to say Happy Blitz Day! Woohoooo.

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  26. What a fab and informative post. It's always interesting to see what happens behind those doors. Happy Blitz day!!

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  27. Wow! Glad to know. (Also sad to know.) Thanks!

    Happy Blog Blitz Day!!

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  28. Wow! Glad to know. (Also sad to know.) Thanks!

    Happy Blog Blitz Day!!

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  29. Whoops, I just commented on the wrong post! I meant that comment to go here on this submissions post. Anyway, thanks for talking about something that so many are wary to talk about. So helpful!

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  30. Happy Blitz Day!

    Submission is Hell. Querying is only Purgatory. :)

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  31. Hmm, the repeated referral to hell is not encouraging. Happy Blitz!

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  32. I've never been on submission, YET, but querying isn't easy, either.
    Happy Blitz Day!!

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  33. Color me embarrassed. I went a whole 'nother way with that post title! Happy Blitz Day, Laura!

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  34. Thanks for the great post! Very informative. Happy Blitz Day!

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  35. Very nice to see some direct talk. I think these really long wait times for trad publishers is part of why we've such growth in indie publishing. Happy Blitz Day!

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  36. Interesting information! I didn't submit to agents, but it took eight months to find my publisher. And it was for my first book.
    Happy Blitz Day!

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  37. Saving this to read this weekend.

    HAPPY BLITZ DAY!!!!

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  38. I actually retweeted this the other day and now find myself back here for Blitz! Good stuff, very insightful, thanks for sharing it!

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  39. This is such good stuff, I think as writers we must be aware that it is not easy. Great insights.
    Happy Blitz day! Have a great one!

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  40. Excellent post. The waiting was like hell. :)

    BAZINGA!

    You've been blitzed!
    Have a great day!
    Heather

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  41. Woo Hoo!
    Blitzed you are my bloggie friend.
    Live Long and Prosper.

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  42. Happy Blitz Day!
    Your post confirms the bumps along the road we can expect in the writing journey.

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  43. 2 & 1/2 years is a long time to be on sub.

    Happy Blitz day.

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  44. Thanks for that! It's helpful to know what others have gone through! Happy Blitz Day!

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  45. Whether I'm agented or unagented, the submission process is a long wait and I have no clue what's going on at the other end until I hear back from someone. Happy Blitz Day.

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  46. Thanks for insights!
    Happy Blitz Day!

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  47. This was fascinating - makes me definitely want to self-publish instead of trying to go the traditional route. haha.

    Happy Blitz Day to you!

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  48. Well, gosh, you make the process sound so... enticing! Kinda like stabbing oneself in the eye with a rusty fork.

    Anyhow, Happy Blitz Day! Enjoy.

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  49. I came here for Blitz Day and found a really interesting post. Happy Blitz Day.

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  50. Fascinating and frightening. Not sure I want to go through all that. :)

    But - happy blitz day!

    Sylvie Grayson

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  51. Wow. Certainly makes me take pause as I start writing my first book. I appreciate your insight and especially the quotes from those who you surveyed. Happy Blitz Day!

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  52. While I am not an author, I found this informative, interesting and funny! Hope your Blitz Day was the bomb!

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  53. I am definitely not an author, but you do make it sound intriguing. You have been BLITZED Aussie style, Carolyn from Pastimes, Passions & Paraphernalia.org

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  54. Happy Belated Blitz Day. It seems like you had a full house. I love this article. It's very informative and insightful. It really puts the process into perspective. Even though I self-publish, I go through a similar process in seeking beta readers, editor, endorsements, and finally promotional support. As authors, submitting to someone at some point, will always be part of the process.

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  55. Very informative. It also proves that the industry is subjective. Fickle.
    I'm a bit late but...Happy Blog Blitz Day!
    Seems like you had a blast!

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  56. i found this information helpful. Happy Blitz Day. :)

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  57. I've never submitted any writing to a publisher, but it sounds terrifying!

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  58. Utterly fascinating post. Makes the indie market seem very logical, doesn't it?
    Happy Blitz Day!

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  59. Happy belated blitz day! I like that description -- gruelling, heartbreaking but eventually euphoric. Can't wait to reach that last bit!

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  60. Great post. Submission is horrible. I'll never put myself through it again. At some point, it's a matter of self-respect. And no, it's not giving up...they just want you to think that because the traditional industry is terrified of indie publishing. Look at all the junk that makes it through the 'professional vetting' of the big 5!! What a joke.

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  61. Excellent information! My friend and fellow writer has had two books that didn't sell and has given up on writing because of how hard it was on her and her family during submission. If I'm ever lucky enough to get an agent, I hope I can handle it!!!

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