…are great but not the usual outcome for debut authors. Everyone knows it happens but it’s rare and it’s not always a good thing. All that money invested by the publisher is a lot of pressure and if that advance isn’t earned out then your publisher is less likely to take a risk on your next book. As one writer friend put it, there’s a lot to be said for the softly, softly approach, steadily building your career, your audience, and your publisher’s confidence in your writing.
More likely is that, when you’ve given it a final polish, your book will go out on submission to a shortlist of publishers drawn up by you and your agent (mostly your agent because they know who’s looking for what type of book etc.) and you will wait. You’ll hope that a few of those editors will have immediately snatched your manuscript from their towering TBR pile and made the decision within minutes that they MUST have this book on their list.
But in reality you will wait. And wait. And however much you try to sit on your hands, you will send needy emails to your agent asking if this means you are talentless. And if your agent is as lovely as mine, they will reassure you patiently and bite back the urge to tell you to get a grip…
Anyway, having got to the end of the submission process for the time being, I thought I’d outline what I’ve learnt from it in the hope of informing others in the same position. And why next time, I’m sure I’ll be infinitely more relaxed about it all (yeah, right… I can hear David’s hollow laugh as I type that)
1. Being offered representation by a great agent is a cause for celebration but you’re not over the line yet. More of a Pizza Express and Prosecco whooping it up. Keep the good champagne in the fridge for the time being.
2. As I said, when your book goes out don’t expect a crowd of publishers to come chasing you brandishing huge cheques. Although if that happens I will be delighted for you. Seriously. A little bit envious, but mostly really pleased
3. Editors have a lot of submissions to read so it’s not unreasonable for them to take a while to get to yours. Even though waiting is agony.
4. Although your agent will have targeted his submissions to the people he thinks are most likely to be interested, some editors will not get what you’re doing. Don’t take it to heart. You can’t expect your work to appeal to everyone.
5. Example: someone turned down Death Will Find Me because it was a bit ‘saga-ish’, despite the fact that there is not a clog or a bonnet or a be-shawled downtrodden woman staring out to sea ANYWHERE in it. No-one fights their way up from humble beginnings to run a massive corporation. No workhouses, no TB, no orphans. But hey you can’t please all the people all the time. *shrugs*
6. When you get feedback from editors, some of it will be lovely and boost your confidence. I can quote the words of one who had to pass for sub-genre reasons. The fact that he thought I had a “crisp, elegant style”, the dialogue “fizzes on the page” and the denouement is “sorrowful yet satisfying” made me feel loads better. Treasure those comments. It might be flannel but it will be a comfort during bouts of imposter syndrome.
7. Editors not buying your book doesn’t mean they don’t like it. Sometimes it just means that it overlaps with other titles or authors on their list. See number 6 on this list.
8. Every time an editor expresses interest, you will overthink the possibility of being published by them, get excited and, if they pass, you will be gutted. It’s a cliché, but having your book out on submission is an emotional rollercoaster.
9. Every time your family and friends who aren’t in the book trade see you they will ask if the book is sold and you will get defensive when you explain that it takes time. And you know that six-figure advance that you probably won’t be offered? They think you will.
10. If you get to the end of your list of preferred publishers without a deal, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean your career is over because your career is more than one book. Lots of writers aren’t published until their second or third book.
11. Fashions change. Your manuscript might not be what the market wants right now but it might be perfect in a couple of years. Don’t be afraid to put it in the digital bottom drawer for a later date.
12. That first manuscript taught you a lot about the craft of writing. It got you an agent and they didn’t take you on because they only wanted that one book from you. And this first experience of the submission process taught you a lot about the business of the book trade, even if was rather bruising.
13. Love that manuscript, know that you’re not writing it off and concentrate on your next book, that one you’ve already been writing because – and I’ll repeat this – your career is more than one book. Don’t get desperate, don’t feel a failure. Chances are, it’s not you, it’s the market.
And if you’ve got to the end of this post, then you can probably tell that Death Will Find Me is in that digital bottom drawer. David and I are both sure that it’s the market that’s not right for it at the moment rather than my writing, and that’s been by far the most common reason for rejections. No-one has said that my writing’s not good enough. Unless David’s been hiding those comments but he says not.
Should a publisher say to him that they’re looking for a post-WW1 crime fiction series with a strong female protagonist then he’ll be able to produce it like the proverbial rabbit from the hat*. In the meantime, I’m polishing my next book and I’ll be sending it to him for his comments in the next couple of weeks. Fingers crossed.
*If you are that publisher then he’d love to hear from you…