An Authorial Survival Guide to the Submission Roller Coaster
How do you do amusement parks? Are you someone who dashes from one roller coaster to the next, or would you rather watch the stroller and bag while you munch your hot roasted almonds? If you’re an author, you will find yourself repeatedly tossing aside your cotton candy and climbing on the submission roller coaster, whether you want to or not.
Here’s a few tips for how to survive the ride, adapted from something that I wrote up for a former agency sister a few months back, when she was first heading out on submission and feeling a bit green about it. You could say I’ve become a bit hardcore on this roller coaster thing, seeing as how I queried agents for 2-3 years before signing with my first agent, and then endured 2+ years of submissions with her, only to part ways with that agent and–now–once again climb on the querying roller coaster! I’m thankful that I do have one book (my romantic suspense) under contract, so I can remind myself that this whole topsy-turvy thing really can produce books!
If you want to come out with a fierce grin on your face and avoid the dreaded green splatter, these are my suggestions:
1–Ever notice how much easier it is to scream and wave your hands on a roller coaster when other people are doing it, too? This applies to submissions, as well! Find other authors in the same stage you’re at, or only a little further down the path. They can be a bit hard to locate, but having a group like that to hang out with socially is great, because the challenges you’re facing now go way beyond needing help with a manuscript and are hard to explain to someone who’s not in the profession or at this point yet. Picture this conversation:Friend: “Hey, you look a little tired. How are you doing?Author: “Doing good, but got another glowing rejection today.”Friend-who-doesn’t-have-back-story: “Oh, um, is that bad?” To which the author tries to explain that a glowing rejection can be a good thing, because hey, it’s glowing and the editor really wanted it! But of course also stinks, because, rejection!OR Friend-who’s-been-there: “Oh, man! Those stink! They’re so bitter-sweet, you know?”And Author feels heard and has warm feelings of being understood.
See how helpful that can be? So, try to find your tribe of authors in the same stage or one similar to where you’re at. If you can’t find an in person group, see if you can spot one online.
BONUS, because this particular section of the roller coaster has steep curves and someone just lost their hat: Once in awhile, remind yourself of all the rejections that world famous bestselling authors received. I know, I know! This will feel like an indulgence, and maybe a tad narcissistic since they’re all so amazing and you’re just you. But you know what? They were noobs once, too, and setbacks happens to the best of us. A little reminder that rejection is part of the process, and not a value statement of your book can really help you survive those sharp turns.
2–Promise yourself you’ll buy that cute little stuffed unicorn if you get on the ride and don’t jump off in the middle. Why the reward? Well, you’d celebrate if you got a contract, right? Probably show up at the nearest ice cream store and tell everyone you were buying a round, sprinkles and extra toppings galore! But when you’re riding the submission roller coaster, getting a contract is beyond your control. In fact–and this is important–the moment where you get a contract is actually a reflection of all the many things you did right up to that point. That’s so crucial to understand that I’m going to bold it and repeat it–the moment where you get a contract is actually a reflection of all the many things you did right up to that point! So instead of waiting and buying everyone in town a giant banana split when your contract finally comes (!!!), isolate those things you did right/will do right to get there, and as you go forward, reward yourself in bite-sized pieces for taking those steps. This can be tricky, because day-to-day life makes it hard to find the rewards, or make time for them, but it’s an important promise to yourself that you will get there.
3–What about that writing thing you’re supposed to be doing? How does that fit into this roller coaster riding? Well…you’ll spend a lot of time standing in line. And when you’re doing that, it’s tempting to focus entirely on how nervous you are about the roller coaster, and how you hope this time you don’t cry and you’ll be brave enough to lift your hands. But you’ve got to take your mind off the roller coaster and focus on your next book. Remember, writing a book is how you got where you are. It’s how you’ll get to the next stage, and the stage after that, and so on. So, one of your daily things you get rewarded for (like the fluffy unicorn, above) should be writing, revising, and working on the next book.
BONUS because this is the part where your stomach falls out of the bottom of the world: If you’re ever feeling blocked, or having a hard time working on the next project–right after a rejection, for example–try telling yourself that this new manuscript is just a writing exercise, for you and a handful of trusted friends. Definitely try not to dwell on the rejection process while writing, since that can really stink up the creative process. Shelter this book as much as your heart requires. It will get its turn out in the world, but right now it’s a baby and needs to be nurtured.
4–What about those pics they take? Should you go look at yours, and allow everyone to see how silly you looked? Because it seems like that will just make working on the new project so much harder. Well, this is the part where you have to use your own judgement. ‘Going to look at roller coaster pics’ in our analogy is attending writing workshops, classes, and reading books on how to help you grow as a writer. There can be times when you’re riding your roller coaster that you can’t face the crowd gathered around the pics, and sometimes its okay if you simply slink off and curl up with your new book baby. However, if you’re noticing a pattern in your rejections…for example, they mention repeatedly that the editor couldn’t quite connect with the story, that might be a description problem, or might mean the information flow was off. And the books and workshops can help with that! Or, the editors might all be saying that they struggled to find the pov character sympathetic, and hooray, that’s also something you can improve in! So addressing these issues can help you feel confident as you move forward with your next project, and of course help you grow since we should always be improving as writers.
Riding the submission roller coaster can be hard. But the good news is, you’ll get better at it! Just give yourself a little love, and recognize it for what it is–a temporary time in your career, which will bring great rewards if you’ll just hang in there! Think of it this way…the only way to truly fail at riding roller coasters is if you refuse to ride.