Being “Out on Submission” P2: Advice to Debut Authors

Last week I started to tell you about what to expect in the magical and terrifying time between signing with an agent and (hopefully) selling your book. Read Part 1 here.

4) You Wait

So we left off on a climax – your book is out on submission with editors! A carefully curated list of editors that are sure to love your book! It’s so exciting, right?

Sure. It also makes you want to vomit and cry and eat a lot.

Steph told me she would probably have news in the first two weeks. In my mind, I doubled that. I’ve learned this is a good formula for anything publishing related. Any timeline you’re given, double or triple it and don’t expect anything until that deadline passes. (Except when you’re given deadlines. Follow those.) I am really saying that without even a hint of sarcasm or bitterness. Everything takes much longer than you would expect and/or what you are told and it’s better to just figure that into your mental calculations so you don’t go crazy. It’s a lot easier if you just accept it instead of spending your time railing against the unfairness of it all.

Luckily, I was “out on submission” two months before my wedding, so between that and working on my second book, I was actually able to pretend it wasn’t happening. If you only listen to one thing I’m saying in this entire post, let it be this: Work on something else while you’re out on submission. You’ve heard it a million times – you should be working on your next book as you query agents, and the same goes for when you’re out on submission, and all the times after you sell the book when you have down time (i.e., you’re not actively editing the book that’s coming out first). There’s a reason you’ve heard this a million times, so don’t discard this advice. You may think you couldn’t possibly concentrate on something else, but you can, and you should. You need to focus on your next project to tamp down all that “What if it doesn’t sell?” anxiety. Writing another book proves that all your eggs don’t rest in one basket, it shows agents and editors that you aren’t just a one-hit wonder, and it will stop you from checking your email 100 times an hour.Worst case: your book doesn’t sell, but then hey, you’re already working on your next so that will cushion the blow. Best case: your book sells and you still have something in the works way before all those deadlines start looming over your head and all the pressure kicks in.

Okay, sermon over.

After about three weeks my agent told me she had a couple nibbles but many passes as well, and that she had extended her search to more editors to give me a better chance. Me, being me, took this as a sign that no one was going to buy it, so I asked her not to inform me of anything (unless there was an offer) until after the wedding, which was five weeks away at that point. I didn’t want such an important day in my life to be sullied by the disappointment that my dream was not coming true. And then I went back to pretending it wasn’t happening.

5) If you’re lucky, you get an offer

Literally the day after my wedding, I got an email from Steph that with an offer from Corvus. I was still in the wedding haze and confused about what it meant to have a UK offer and not a US one, so I didn’t really know what to make of it. When I returned from my honeymoon, Steph and I talked on the phone and slowly I realized that someone was actually going to pay me money to print my book and sell it in stores, and I started to get excited. I was still a little freaked that we hadn’t gotten a US offer – after all, isn’t part of the fun of publishing the idea of walking into a store and seeing your book on display? And if my book was only going to be published in the UK, well, there’s just a much smaller chance of that happening.

Almost two months later, I got the US offer from Sourcebooks Landmark, and then the tears came, just like when Steph said she wanted to represent me. All the feels.

6) Back and forth

Once you get an offer they send the terms of the deal to your agent, who passes it along to you. This is different than a contract. The contract comes (much) later. You should just go ahead and schedule a call with your agent for them to walk you through what all this means. You’re going to need it. Looking back at it, even though Steph so patiently and thoroughly explained every term to me, I still don’t remember everything. So take notes. The offer will include, of course, the terms of your advance – how much and what the milestones are for your installments. Mine were different for the two different deals – for Sourcebooks I receive 50% after signing the contract and 50% after turning in the final draft. For Corvus it was broken into thirds – 1/3 at signing, 1/3 after turning in final draft, and 1/3 upon publication.

The deal will also have your royalty percentage on all different kinds of things beyond just the book sales (you have no idea how many different rates there will be depending on if it’s hard cover, paperback, trade, discount, audio, etc.) It can be pretty hard to keep straight.

You should talk to your agent about the publishing house and the specific editor(s) you’ll be working with. There is a reason your agent sent your work to that person, and she will already either have a relationship with her or at least more detailed knowledge about their experience and working style than you could find yourself on the internet.

This works differently for everyone, but there should also be some discussion before accepting your offer about what changes the editor wants to make. If it’s important to you to have a phone call with the editor before accepting, ask for that. I corresponded all through email and felt fine with some of the proposals for changes to the book, so I didn’t ask for this. I could tell just by her suggestions that she “got” the book and my style so I felt very comfortable saying yes. If you have multiple offers (good for you, btw, this is a pretty sweet posish), a phone conversation to see which one you clique with better is a good way of determining which you want to work with. Don’t let it be all about money. You have to work with this person on what is no less than a piece of your heart. That sounds cheesy, but come on – you’ve poured yourself into this work and it isn’t just coming from your brain.


I’ll talk more about what happens next in my next post. Stay tuned!


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