It’s kind of like Fight Club. The first rule of being on submission is: you do not talk about being on submission. The second rule of being on submission is: you do not talk about being on submission. No one tells you this explicitly. My agent never emailed me saying, “This is the part where you shut your mouth, okay?” But common sense (and for me, a little bit of superstition) says that you don’t talk about things that haven’t happened yet. Especially really, really big things that you really want to happen.
So if your book is being shopped around to publishers, you don’t blog about the almost-yes’s or about how long you’ve been waiting (it’ll always feel like an eternity anyways, even if it’s just a week). You don’t tell Twitter friends if one publisher has shown interest in your book for fear that they’ll change their mind and you’ll have to turn around and tell friends, “Oh, false alarm.”
You don’t put all the insecurities that come along with being a writer on submission out there because you have Thick Skin and you will wear it like a badge of honor. You sit and wait quietly and patiently, trusting in the support system of close friends, family, and your agent. When you finally have news, you share it.
Except I kind of cheated. Somewhere along the way before my book sold, I wrote blog posts about being on submission, about the sting of rejection, about the obsessiveness that sometimes came over me, and the things that kept me going. I just never published them (until now).
Over the next several weeks I plan on sharing these secret posts with you. There seems to be a lot of information out there about what it’s like to query agents, but not much about what it’s like to have your agent submitting to publishers. And while there’s a lot of overlap between the two experiences, in many ways they’re completely different. There’s the excitement of being one step closer to that elusive book deal, of having an agent on your side. There’s the agony of knowing the number of publishers you can submit to is finite, that you can’t just keep trying tens or hundreds more till you find the one, like many of us do when searching for agents.
During the year and a half that I was on submission, I felt so close! (awesome) and yet so far away (major bummer) from my goals. I was caught in what I eventually called the “hope and mope cycle” (E deserves a medal for putting up with me). There were days when I appeared perfectly calm but on the inside I was moping around like this:
There were days when the hope was like a drug—it kept me elated and high, only to make me crash when it was nowhere to be found, replaced entirely by fear. I thought the worst thing that could possibly happen was that my book didn’t sell. And when it didn’t, when Brandi and I started talking about the next book, about starting this process all over again, I realized I was wrong. The worst thing that could happen wasn’t my book not selling, it was me not writing another one. And another one. And even another one if those didn’t sell.
One day, when I was feeling particularly hopeless, my best friend since high school put it this way: “So? You’re a writer. Wasn’t your plan always to write books? Plural? Not just one?” He’s a bit of a smart-ass, that one. But he was right.
So I started writing another one, even as the first one was still on submission, and a strange thing happened. I realized that the fear of my book not selling was actually a fear that I only had one book in me. Each day that I wrote, I chipped away at it. The new story became my new source of hope, and unlike that needy, nagging hope I’d had previously, this one was steady and nurturing.
I went from being a writer on submission to being a writer again. A writer, writing. Imagine that.