The Rollercoaster of Submitting Your Novel to an Agent
Your book is finished.
Self-publish or face the submissions rollercoaster?
Most writers would still prefer to be trade-published.
A few bag a deal quickly.
Some fall faster than Alton Towers’s Oblivion.
For most it’s a long, bumpy ride.
If you’re on that ride or about to begin you’re not alone.
Strap yourself in and come with me on my trip.
My novel, Oy Yew, is the first book of a middle grade fantasy trilogy.
I printed several batches of sample chapters, followed all the submission guidelines: using rubber bands instead of staples etc, because, as we all know, editors can be mortally wounded, or worse irritated, by staples.
My first submission was to publisher, OUP.
First submission to publisher, OUP.
They come back very quickly with a request for the full manuscript. Excited.
Result: good feedback BUT not quite right for our list. Disappointed. There’s a long way to go.
Armed with you-know-which fat yellow book I make second, third and fourth submissions to agents.
Two standard rejections.
One request for full manuscript.
Result: glowing feedback. Suggest some changes. Says would be interested to see after rewrite. Pleased and apprehensive. Can I deliver? Start work but continue to submit.
Ffxth, sixth and seventh submissions.
Same result. Low, low, high. One request for full. Manuscript returned with suggestions for changes. Now have three sets of contradictory suggestions. Confused.
Go with the advice that chimes most. Rewrite and resubmit.
Result: not quite right. Frustrated.
See the Times/Chicken House prize.
Deadline four days away and there’s a postal strike.
Decide to deliver by hand.
Chicken House are based in Frome, 90 mins away by train.
Quaint market town, explorable side streets of butter-coloured stone. Find the Chicken House offices down one of these. There is no letter box.
Most of the larger publishers now specify no unsolicited submissions. Dispensing with a letter box is a clever way of screening out submissions: all submissions.
I imagine editor, Barry Cunningham, sitting inside with his feet on the desk playing with his pen, satisfied that he has finally, once and for all, beaten those pesky authors who continually harass him with their bloody manuscripts.
With this thought I ring the bell. I expect a receptionist to answer the door, but Barry himself appears. He looks like a character from a children’s book—a mixture of Mr Toad and Rupert Bear—in window pane checks and bow tie, all in shades of rust and mustard. I hand him the package, tell him that it is a competition entry. I don’t attempt conversation because publishers, even the ones without letter boxes, are busy people and take against time wasters. But I think maybe the personal delivery will stick in his mind at some level. Perhaps it is an omen. Perhaps this time next year I will be the next JK. I continue with this and other such grotesquely inflated daydreams. Deluded.
I make the longlist.
Teetering on the height of the rollercoaster.
Some weeks later I hear that I’m not on the shortlist.
So much for omens and daydreams.
Another agent asks for the full manuscript.
She comes back to me quickly.
She’s excited about the book and would love to work with me on it.
She asks for some specific changes.
I comply quickly.
The book is much improved.
She hawks it round the major publishing houses.
More excellent feedback BUT it isn’t quite right for their lists.
(One of these editors writes to me years later and says she enjoyed the book immensely and it had stuck in her mind BUT it didn’t fit their list.)
Decide to self-publish.
No sooner have I clicked on the publish button, than American publisher, Pugalicious, tell me they’re interested.
It took them longer than the three months they specified so I had given up on them.
I say I’ve just self-published but can easily pull the book.
They say if it’s out there it’s a no-no.
Then I see a call for submissions from small press, Mother’s Milk.
They like the book and don’t mind that it has spent a short time as a self-published book.
I sign with them for the trilogy.
Oy Yew was released on 27th June 2015.
Stagger dizzily away from the ride.
With response times of three to six months plus rewrites along the way, the submissions round can easily run into years. Here’s what I learned along the way:
1. Be your own matchmaker
Publisher’s and agent’s web sites will tell you what their tastes are and what they are currently looking for.
Have a look at their lists and try to work out if you match.
When you’ve exhausted the low hanging fruit, go ahead and scrape the barrel. The geek with the combover might just be the love of your life.Publisher’s and agent’s web sites will tell you what their tastes are and what they are currently looking for. Click To Tweet
2. Be prepared for the long haul
Agents aren’t keen on multiple subs.
Given that response times are three-six months and you may be asked for rewrites, the process can easily run into years.
Submit in batches of up to six.
Inform agents/publishers if and when your manuscript is picked up elsewhere.
3. Rejection is standard
Don’t take it personally and don’t dwell on it.
If you receive many stock or negative rejections consider a professional critiquing service.
4. Do accept all feedback gratefully and learn from it
If asked to do a rewrite, deliver.
You don’t have to make every suggested change, but do respect the views of seasoned professionals.
5. Don’t overlook the small presses
Some of the most interesting and innovative books are coming from indie publishers. If your writing differs from current trends or crosses genre boundaries this may be your best option.
6. Build a satisfying creative life that will sustain you whether or not you find a publisher
Network with creative people.
Attend literary events.
Do enjoyable research.
Seek out novel experiences and interactions that will enrich your writing.
Enjoy all the other aspects of being a writer.
7. Don’t beat yourself up
Luck is a significant factor.
Your manuscript needs to hit the right desk at the right time.
Maybe the publishing world isn’t ready for your book.
8. Be certain you want to self-publish before you hit the button
It’s practically impossible to remove a title from Amazon once it’s out in hard copy.
I wish you all the best of luck.
Originally published in July 2015.