A Year on Submission--A Year of Failure
It’s no secret...the querying trenches are not for the faint of heart.
They are brutal—arguably the most difficult hurdle to overcome if you’ve made the insane(?) decision to pursue traditional publishing. The good news is that the internet is laden with querying advice, accounts, successes, and failures. If you find yourself on this path, you can take solace in the fact that you are never short of comrades trudging alongside you—likely just as miserably.
What we do not see much discourse over is querying’s sloth-like brethren—
Oooh submission...you brutal bitch.
With a thousand moving parts and a penchant for despondency, submission is a monster all of its own.
Querying I understood. I queried for TEN YEARS, and it was impossibly hard.
The number of tears I cried while querying...endless, my friend. Endless.
All the tears.
But submission was a process I was not prepared for. It hit me like a bag of bricks, and it kept on pounding. Despite MANY warnings as to what to expect, I found submission more challenging than querying in every way...because of that one dirty word we all know too well . HOPE.
So, let’s talk basics. What is submission?
Glad you asked!
Submission is what happens AFTER you’ve landed an agent.
In my case, it is what happened after I signed with an agent, revised, signed with another agent, revised again, then spent 12-ish months basically watching paint dry in a downpour of rejection. LOLOLOLOL.
Agents—God bless them—are like the fairy godmothers of publishing. (Or maybe they're more like the overworked, underpaid dwarves of Snow White...) They fall in love over and over again, traverse thousands of pages, and are the literal frontline when shit goes south.
Remember when you were querying, and every agent and agency had different guidelines to follow? Editors and publishers are basically the same way. The biggest difference is that now your agent is the one shouldering the burden of your dream—Huzzah! (?)
During the submission process, your agent will keep you as informed as you wish to be. At least this was my experience.
I was told who and where my manuscript was being sent, when “nudges” were planned to go out, and our responses to each submission in as much or as little detail as requested.
One of my biggest mistakes during the submission process was receiving rejections in real time.
When it came to receiving rejections, I was given countless options.
I could receive rejections as they came, weekly, biweekly, monthly, never, by carrier pigeon every six months, etc. I was even reminded of this at several different points during the process.
In the beginning, like an idiot, I asked to receive rejections as they came with as much detail as possible. (I am a masochist. I'm beginning to suspect everyone in publishing is...)
I wanted to know everything as it was happening.
This resulted in me checking my email way more times than what is socially acceptable and being constantly disappointed in one way or another.
Now, before anyone rolls their eyes, I just want to get this out of the way. I am a reasonable human with reasonable expectations. I understood rejection was undoubtedly going to happen. I don't live in a fantasy world. Not to brag, but I know rejection. We go WAYYY back. At this point, rejection is basically family. *Cut to Vin Diesel*
In publishing, rejection is expected to a certain degree. After ten years of querying, I thought I’d developed alligator thick skin and wit so sharp it'd cut down my adversaries like daisies in a field!
But receiving rejections on submissions from publishing houses you have spent your life obsessing over... it is a knife to the heart I just can’t explain. To be given this incredible opportunity and to come SO close only to fail is devastating.
Yet rarely do we speak of our failures
—which may be our biggest mistake of all.
In part, I believe it is embarrassing for a lot of people no matter the dream—to get so close to your goal only to fail. Not only have you let yourself down—you’ve squandered an opportunity other writers would literally kill for. (Writers are WILD. You know who I am talking about.)
Secondly, you are holding out hope (be it small) that despite everything, this dream will break through the noise and become a reality. To speak of your failings is to guarantee you’ll never succeed.
This is not true.
I am going to repeat that.
This Is NOT true.
Speaking of your failures is not the nail in the coffin you think it to be. But it is how you feel when you are in it—so what is true may not matter.
Burdened by toxic positivity (more on that another time!), we stay tightlipped, and we endure—waiting for the day we succeed so we can share our triumph without letting on to the failures of our past. We had a dream. We achieved it. That is the story we will tell.
No need to speak of the struggle—of the countless failures suffered before knowing success.
But this way of thinking is as much a tragedy as anything else.
Not only are you suffering, but you are doing it silently and alone.
While querying, everyone is in agony, but there is such a sense of comradery about it.
"We may be miserable pieces of shit, but we are miserable pieces of shit TOGETHER!"
In a small way, that makes enduring it easier—softer and more palpable to the senses.
But there is something about failing on submission that feels almost...shameful.
It is toxic and stinging—made worse by the fact that you feel completely alone. At one point I sought advice from my peers, and I was told by A FELLOW WRITER that I had no right to complain about the struggles of not selling a manuscript on submission because at least I had an agent.
. THEMotherfucking AUDACITY
. Yes. It was, in fact, a basic, middle-aged, straight, white man who said this.
. Is that detail completely relevant? Perhaps not.
. But I wanted to paint a picture—so here we are.
Look, failure is failure no matter how you slice it. (Additionally, fuck that guy for making me feel like my struggle was somehow made lesser by his.)
There should be as much discourse about our failures as there is about our wins! Open, honest, supportive conversation. TOXIC POSITIVITY destroys HEALTHY reactions and emotions, and it inhibits you from moving past your failures so you can try again!
As a society, we have adopted toxic positivity as our savior. We live and die by manifestation and will find the silver lining—even if that means we must carve it from the sky ourselves.
Now, I don’t believe manifestation or positivity is harmful in moderation. In fact, I think optimism can get you a long way on this dumpster fire of a planet. But give in to the idea of either too much and you may find yourself drowning in a pool you were never meant to swim.
Toxic positivity will have you swallow your failures as if they are secrets to hide.
Yet we should be doing the opposite! Failure is meant to teach, to help us grow, adapt, and overcome. As a community, we should be sharing and learning from our struggles. Together!
Some people never experience failure as anything more than a brief inconvenience.
I am not bitter about this fact.
I am happy for it.
What a relief to know there are dreamers out there who shoot for the stars and land first try.
I wish everyone succeeded straightaway.
But for those of us on a rougher path, speaking openly about our failures is NOT going to jinx our chances of success down the line. It will only help to better move us forward.
I started writing at the age of eleven. I wrote several full manuscripts before finding representation—each one teaching me how to better hone my craft. I *honest to God* believed this was THE ONE. Hell, in many ways it was. It did move my career forward in a lot of wonderful ways.
But it did not sell on submission. And that is okay.
I can confidently say that I created an incredible book. Period. End of discussion. That fact is unchanged by the circumstance. It was a story that wanted to be told—even if it will only ever be loved by me and a few others.
I went on submission. My manuscript failed to land a deal. I try again.
About a month ago, I went on submission again...this time with a book I love more than anything I've previously done (if that is even possible). It is full of everything that makes me me—with characters who try and fail and cry because of it but keep pushing forward despite it all. Without my own failures, I doubt I could have written it. Without my overly sensitive, “bleeding” heart, I don’t think I could have given it an authentic voice.
Maybe there is a silver lining I did not have to go to war to find...
At the end of the day, I understand rejection is a part of playing the game. But I do not need "thicker skin” to achieve this dream or to make it to the other side. What I need is to share, to set boundaries for myself and my heart, to allow the people and professionals in my life to guard me when they say they can.
And I need to talk about my failures without shame or discomfort—as I believe we all do.
This business is a hard one. Anyone who says otherwise is ill-informed. But we are brilliant, creative people. We can learn, adapt, and overcome any failure thrown our way.
Onward and have courage.