Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ten Reasons Why I Hate Novel Submissions

I promised to write about the novel submission process quite some time ago.

Ironic, right?

If you're wondering how that statement could possibly be ironic, I offer for you, the first reason why I hate the process of submitting novels.

10. The steps are mind-numbingly slow.

If you submit an unagented, unsolicited manuscript to a publisher, expect to wait at least a year before you hear a word back.

A few publishers still accept unagented, unsolicited submissions. That means, you don't require an agent to send the novel for you (unagented), and you don't need the prospective publisher to show an interest in your query before you send them the novel (unsolicited).

This process is sometimes called an over-the-transom submission. Imagine arriving at the publisher's office after hours, you stand on your tip-toes, and you stuff your manuscript through the open transom above their office door. Totally 1950's right?

Unfortunately, most publishers stopped allowing this sort of submission on or about the 1950s. Thus, you should seriously consider acquiring an agent.

Agents can substantially speed up the submission time-line, but finding one has its own issues.

9. A sizeable portion of agents will never respond to your query.

Sounds harsh, right?

That's why it's my reason number 9.

Don't get me wrong I understand why the agents don't respond. They are very busy. They get thousands of proposals every day/week/whatever, many of which are terrible/boring/not what they're looking for. They don't have the time to respond to every single query.

Still, after I've put all of the effort into writing the novel, editing the novel, begging feedback, editing some more, writing the perfect query, and perfecting the synopsis, it's a drag to simply never hear a word back. It's like the silent treatment your mother gave you when you were six and about to be grounded for breaking her favourite vase but first you have to admit your guilt.

8. Not all agents are above board.

Before you submit to an agent or a publisher, visit the website Preditors and Editors. The site includes a comprehensive list of agents and book publishers (among other important resources) and provides information as to whether said agents and publishers are likely to help you or rob you blind (and the levels in between).

I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to do your research before you submit your work.

7. Choosing the right agent is as important and difficult as choosing the right spouse.

This one's a biggie for me, because I've been through a divorce. No matter how "amicable" the separation, this type of break-up can be emotionally crushing and financially devastating.

In many cases, your agent will be representing you for a long time. They will need to be behind each project, working for foreign rights, film rights, going to bat for you time and again. They need to "get" you and "get" your writing and if they don't, then you're likely to be very disappointed with the relationship.

On the plus side, the agent only makes money when you make money, so they have a vested interest in making sure that you sell your work.

Research again plays a key role here. Make sure you meet with the prospective agent (or at least speak with them on the phone, but in-person is better) before you sign a contract. And be prepared to back away if the relationship doesn't feel right, even if it means going back to the ugly prospect of square one.

6. Writing a query letter is really difficult.

Now we're getting into the meat and potatoes of novel submissions.

The query letter should grab the reader, provide a sense of the "voice" of the novel, outline the genre and/or similar published novels, and provide a brief biography.

Sounds easy, right?

Did I mention you need to accomplish all of these elements in less than one page? And that's including room at the top of the letter for your info/address, their info/address, the date, and the opening and closing salutations. (The query is a business letter, after all.)

Most writers despise composing query letters. Because you're essentially distilling 80 to 100 thousand words into about 150 words.


But the query is a crucial part of the process, so you must endure it, like a rite of passage. (Or write of passage, if you're looking to be punishingly clever.)

I will explain the query letter in more detail next week.

5. Writing a synopsis is really difficult.

The synopsis is the Readers' Digest version of your novel.

A synopsis is NOT a cover blurb. (That's the one or two paragraphs at the back of the paperback, or on the inner sleeve of the hardback, providing a teaser of the plot.)

A cover blurb does not contain ANY SPOILERS.

A synopsis is the ULTIMATE SPOILER.

In your synopsis, you must introduce the most important characters, point out the major plot points, and explain the ending. Often a synopsis will also include comparative novels from a marketing perspective.

Again, it sounds easy, right?

Did I mention you need to accomplish all of these elements in two pages? (Some publishers will allow up to ten, but that's rare.)

I will explain the many rules and style-related expectations for a synopsis in greater detail in next week's post. Suffice it to say, writing them is a real pain.

4. There are a finite number of publishers.

In any genre, a finite number of "major" publishers exist. Add to that a handful of "small" publishers, and you might have fifteen (or so) possible places to send your novel.

And then you're done.

That last phrase scares the crap out of me. Because, let's face it, I've spent YEARS on my novel and the thought that I could exhaust every avenue makes me want to weep.

What then? What will I do? Where will I go? (Sounds very Scarlett O'Hara, doesn't it?)

Hence the reason I dread this aspect of the novel submission process. Because a part of me is terrified that I will, in fact, run out of places to send out my novel, and no one will ever like me, or buy anything I write, or--


Whew! I needed that.

Of course, there's always self-publishing either in print or e-format, but I don't have room to discuss those issues in this post.

Shall we move on to the top three? Bronze, silver, and gold in honour of the Olympics that just finished?

3. Every time I'm sure the novel is ready to shop around, I receive feedback that suggests the novel requires a MAJOR rewrite.

Man, I hate this one. Because a critic lives inside every writer and that critic is always ready to tell us that the words are terrible and we should edit them just one more time.

Only once more. I swear.

But we don't stop. We never stop. Many writers will spend years, decades even, rewriting and reworking the same novel over and over again and never submit it anywhere, because they are afraid.

Every writer is afraid, but they submit anyway.

So pull up your socks, lock your internal critic in a closet and throw away the key. (Or maybe put it in your sock drawer so you can find it quickly, just in case you need to ask the critic a quick question.) Then submit the novel.

2. That agent/editor seemed really keen when I pitched to them, so I should wait to hear back because they object to simultaneous submissions.

I universally despise this one, too, because the temptation is like candy or chocolate. (Or crack, but I run a positive ship here, and I do not condone drug use, so don't misquote me, please.)

Maybe you did have an awesome pitch session, and you did submit a partial or full manuscript, and you haven't heard back yet. Do not wait!

I will repeat this message.

Do not wait!

Work on something else. Either on a new novel, or a short story, or submit to other places. Or go to a writers' group meeting, or whatever it takes to get your mind off the hope-filled waiting!

I have been burned far too many times by this reason. I wait and I hope and then the rejection comes and I kick myself for NOT sending the novel elsewhere, or NOT working my heart out on another project.

Save yourself the butt-kicking and self-loathing and keep working.

Ready to go for the gold? To learn the number one reason why I hate novel submissions? Because...

1. Rejection sucks.


Really. Really.

Years ago, when I did submit my first over-the-transom novel to a major publisher, I kept myself busy. I worked on other writing -- short stories and other novels -- and lived my life without too much concern for the submission.

Just for clarity, I'm not Catholic, but sometimes I give up something for Lent, simply because I believe that those of us who live in first world nations can do without for 40 days, simply to remember that it's okay to experience want.

So while my first novel was sitting in some queue at an unnamed major publisher, (Okay, it was TOR, I aimed high), I gave up chocolate for Lent.

Oh, you know where this is going.

Yep, I received my first novel rejection on the first novel I ever submitted to a major publisher, during Lent when I gave up chocolate.

Rejection SUCKS!

I believe that the lesson to be learned here is if you're planning on making writing your career and you plan on submitting novels then never give up chocolate for Lent or any other reason (unless you're diabetic, but I hear they make really good sugar-free chocolate these days) (or unless the caffeine gives you migraines, but I hear they make really good migraine medicine these days).

You get the idea. Chocolate is an important tool in the writer's toolbox.

Do it now
1. Raise your left hand, place your right over your heart, (or is it the other way around?) and repeat after me:

Rejection sucks, but acceptance rocks!

2. Buy chocolate.

3. Research three agents that you've always wanted in your corner, including checking their reputation on Preditors and Editors and ensuring that they represent your specific genre/market.

4. Repeat step 3 for three publishers.

5. Buy more chocolate.


  1. Great post, Suzanne! This really is a game of perseverance. Best of luck with your subs!

    1. Thanks, Nancy.

      I'm not giving up any time soon.