Authors on submission – how to survive the waiting game

[ 7 ] October 10, 2014 |
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watched-pot-never-boils-900-by-350 by randon C Warren

Earlier this year I participated in the marvelous BookBound UK retreat, a tutoring scheme for promising, unpublished children’s writers. Many of us from BookBound, and many more of my SCBWI friends who attended the popular Agents Party, are currently on submission with our manuscripts, seeking representation from a literary agent, so I thought it might be time for a sensible blog about being sensible.

Being an unpublished author on submission to agents is only slightly less harrowing than being an unpublished author whose agent has her manuscript on submission to editors.

But these scenarios share one element: the waiting game.

Repeat after me:

The only way to survive the waiting game is not to play it.

That’s it. Don’t wait. Forget you have submitted a manuscript, and carry on writing something else.

“Impossible!” I hear you cry. “How can I forget that my baby has been set adrift in a boat with minimal provisions?”

But this impassioned statement mis-states the scenario. Your baby is not adrift in a boat. Your baby is in hyper sleep. It will not suffer from its state of suspended animation, but you might, if you continue to mis-comprehend the situation you’re in.

The situation is this: when you consider the entire universe of aspiring authors out there, vanishingly few debut authors are taken on by agents. Painfully few debut authors’ work is taken on by editors. The debut author’s manuscript is looking for someone to fall in love with it, but the game of love is a search that has ever been fraught with heartbreak.

So let me reiterate: don’t play the game. Read submission guidelines; submit; forget.

Repeat.

If you have a polished, promising manuscript, and if you keep submitting, it might just find its true love.

Just can’t forget?

If you find yourself unable to submit and forget, I hear you — I do. Try the following:

1) Get a cup of tea

2) Make a to-do list

3) Include on that list “check in with submissions”

4) Do not approach that item until the to-do items above it on the list have been completed, and do not approach that item more than once daily.

5) If you are worried that a nibble from an agent will go unseen, ask yourself whether that is a worry grounded in reality. The truth is, checking in with submissions once a day is acceptable. Checking three times an hour is madness-inducing. Trust me on this. Delaying your response to a nibble will not hurt your chances with that agent.

6) Remind yourself you’re hiring the agent, not the other way around. You are not seeking an employer. You are seeking a partner. Keep searching until you find the right partner, but devote an appropriate portion of your energies to the search. Believe me when I say that 95% is not an appropriate portion of your energies. We all know that a watched pot never boils, but aspiring authors on submission have a gut-level fear that tells them the unwatched pot will boil, burn dry and set the house on fire. Try to ignore this fear.

Remember: don’t play the game. Revisit that to-do list and its priorities. Your writing is one part of your life, it’s not the entirety of it.

 

 

Image courtesy Brandon C Warren on Flickr

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About the Author ()

I live outside Edinburgh, Scotland and write middle-grade adventures (age 9-12) with a science-fiction/fantasy bent. Originally I'm from Boston in the US, where I studied American History & Literature and did arguably too much student theatre at Harvard University. I’m represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Comments (7)

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  1. Great advice, Sheila! People often talk about writers dealing with rejection but I find waiting much more difficult. Especially if I don’t know how long I will be waiting. A week? A month? Or much longer…

  2. Patricia Toht says:

    You summed up this writer with your statement, “We all know that a watched pot never boils, but aspiring authors on submission have a gut-level fear that tells them the unwatched pot will boil, burn dry and set the house on fire.” It’s so hard to ignore the waiting game, but healthier to do so. Thanks for the post, Sheila!

    • Hi Patricia thanks for that comment. Isn’t it comforting to know we’re all in the waiting game together. Publishing doesn’t move at the speeds we’re accustomed to in the immediate gratification age, unfortunately!

  3. Jan says:

    Sheila I love the idea of a ‘sensible blog about being sensible’!
    Also such a good point about trying to get an agent that we’re seeking partners not employers.
    Good tips too!

    • Thanks Jan. I got that one from Sara O’Connor at Book Bound and it stayed with me!

    • Jenny Robertson says:

      Fantastic to be reassured like this. Agents come across as so overbearing and their automatic responses are not for the faint hearted. “If we like you…” So patronising! I always tell myself, where would agents and publishers be without writers. Nowhere! They’d have nothing to publish. It often makes me want to try toe self-publishing way but I prefer to go with the system, awful though it is

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