what we talk about when we talk about submission




Nothing. Because we don't talk about it. Because we are not supposed to talk about it. It is the "He Who Must Not Be Named" to our writerly dreams.

Whether your agent is submitting your manuscript to editors or whether you're querying agents, the rule of thumb is: stay mum about the process.

And I get that. You don't want an agent/editor googling you or tripping across something that indicates you are harping on the process or being a total snark-bot, because frankly, no one wants to take on a complainer. And no one in her right mind wants to jinx it by sounding ungrateful or just plain grumpy.

But here's the other thing: by not talking about it, we give it this sort of power, allowing it to take on an almost mythological quality and soon, it overshadows other more important things.

Yes. It is a big damn deal to sign with an agent. Yes, it is a REALLY big damn deal to get a book deal. But I would argue that an agent and/or book deal do not a writer make. And I think we do a disservice to ourselves as writers and to the industry as a whole by not talking about a) how hard it actually is and b) how easy it is to let publishing itself get in the way.

Everyone's heard the story. You know, the one about that writer who wrote that book that sold at auction in a major deal and landed on the NYT Bestseller List during its first week of publication?

Except, I would wager that 9 times out of 10, that writer actually worked her ass off for years, sacrificing time from her family/spouse/partner/boyfriend etc., her job, school, or her sleep and had many trunked manuscripts and false starts before that ONE that took off.

The thing is, we never hear about all that. Which is funny, really, because who wants to read a book about a person who gets everything she wants with no obstacles or conflict? It would be like The Hunger Games minus, well, the Hunger Games. Katniss wakes up in her empty bed next to her sister's ugly cat and then proceeds immediately to Victors Village. I mean, would *you* publish that novel? Heck no!

But where our publication narratives are concerned, that's exactly what we seem to want to read.

The thing is, anyone anywhere on this journey knows it's not that simple. You write, you revise, you rewrite, you get betas, you revise, you send it out either to your agent or the agent you hope to have. Then you revise some more. And maybe some more. Then your agent (if you are fortunate enough to have landed one) sends it out. Then you wait. And wait some more. And just when you think the silence is going to drive you batshit crazy, you get a rejection. Then you wait some more. Then you get another rejection. Then a close call or maybe an R&R. Then you revise. And repeat. Over and over in perpetuity. Because not only does your manuscript have to be great, it also has to be timed just right so that the editor has a place on his/her list and it doesn't compete thematically or otherwise with another book on said publisher's list. Oh, also? That editor has to fall in love with your book AND be able to convince a whole host of other people that your book is worth taking on. And then the figures have to shake out.

There's so much to it, so much to think about and worry over that a writer can easily get lost.

Well friends, I'm here to admit that lately, I've been LOST.

I've been writing for 10 years but only began to pursue publication seriously in the last year or so, first with finding an agent and then submitting to publishers. But something happened to me as I started on this submission journey: I allowed myself to focus on it to the point that it has crippled me creatively. I started aborting buds of ideas in my head before they became full-fledged concepts or characters, vetoing them due to being too commercial or not commercial enough, saleable or clearly, not. 

Never in my life have I been so inorganic with my writing process. Usually, I listen for the still, small voice of a character and open myself up until it consumes me and I have no choice but to write the story that must be written.

Instead, I haven't written a word in almost a month. 

Even in writing this, I am ashamed to admit that yes, I allowed myself to be tempted by that elusive idol of publication to the point that I forgot why I want to be published in the first place.

Is it wrong to want to see my book on a bookstore shelf with my name on it? Is it wrong to want people to want to read my work? Not inherently, no. But I think that should be my indirect aim.

The direct aim is to write the truest story I know how to tell and if I find readers along the way, so much the better.

There. I've said it. And hopefully by doing so I'm taking back the power (rise up with fists!).

At the very least, I am thrilled to say that I've found my next story AND have started writing-- actually writing!-- it yesterday. Maybe it will be my NYT bestseller story (ha!). Maybe it won't ever make it off my hard drive.

Either way, it will be the truest story that, in this moment, I know how to tell.


  1. i love this, too. i've been going thru the same thing since signing with my agent and beginning the sub process. it's so easy to lose sight of the real reasons we write, and you captured that beautifully.

  2. This is a great post. Oddly enough it sounds very much like some advice that I read on daytrading - that if you focus on the money then you won't be successful, but if you focus on making "good" trades (even if they're not profitable) then you will be successful. I think the same can be said for many other professions as well. It's all about doing it for the love of doing it.

  3. This is a GREAT post. I feel that I lose my way every so often and your mantra will help me next time that happens. Good luck!!

  4. This is a great reminder for all us writers. And it's so true. I started writing my memoir 5 years ago and people started saying, "Unless your a celebrity, no one wants to read your life story." Then I decided to make it a young adult memoir since it dealt with my adolescent years. So then, people said, "You can't have sex and drugs and religion in your book for teens!" Then, it morphed to "Well, I suppose sex and drugs are okay, but religious cults? NEVER!" Even last year, an agent told me at a conference that YA and religion should never mix.

    Well, now we have novels like The Chosen One and Bumped and other cultish stories. All this time, I plugged away wondering why the hell I even bothered.

    Recently, an editor said to me, "There's not much of a market in ya memoirs, but your story will sell. Get an agent!" And now, an agent wants to read it.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment, but your post resonated with me. What if I had listened to everyone who tried to tell me what would sell and what wouldn't? I probably would never have written a damn word.

  5. Great point, Sera! I feel like there are so many competing voices (read: NOISE) about what is good/saleable/commercial etc. that sometimes if we listen to all that chatter, we allow our own voices to get drowned out. Good for you for sticking to what you *know* to be true.

    It's funny, one of my mss is about a girl who grows up in a fundamentalist family. And the new ms I'm working on (AH! feels so good to be able to say that!) is about a cult (it's a fictional, modern take on a very famous cult).

  6. Great, heartfelt, and very honest post. This is such a hard process and you are so right on so many levels. This process can totally make you forget why you even started writing in the first place: For the pure joy of taking those ideas and imaginings and making them come to life in a world where you can totally lose yourself and have to force yourself to leave so you can tend to that little thing called LIFE. ha. Thanks for this post. I am right there with you, Lindz!

  7. Thanks for your honesty. I thought being on submission would make me crazy, but being immersed in new projects helps a ton. It actually made me not want to get any news before I got the drafts done. ^_^

  8. I've found that submissions gives me the exact opposite thought: Yes, it's painful to think that your story might not sell, and you have to start ALL OVER... but there's a certain freedom in that. I give myself permission to write what I want and fall in love with my story because it might have to be the next The One, you know?

  9. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME post. Two things really resonated with me.

    1) That there is SO MUCH SWEAT behind the deal--so much that leads up to it that never makes it to the public. I recently read an article about me and cringed at how EASY the reporter made my book deal sound. For one, it's misleading to writers and readers. For two, I kind of want the world to know how hard I worked!

    2) The inability to write because we're so caught up in the publication. Oh, Lindsey, you just spelled out my life. Seriously, for a solid six months (or probably more if I bother to count) I was either not writing or trying to force total crap (that I naively thought was full of commercial WIN). Finally, FINALLY I realized where I was going astray and managed to find my way back to organic writing--to real storytelling.

    I know so many writers who go through this, yet no one talks about it! So thank you for being the first. :)

  10. FANTASTIC post! It is a great reminder for us all as writers. Congrats on starting your new WIP!


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