‘Just be Patient,’ and Other Questionable Advice for Writers on Submission

I’ve always tried hard to make things happen for myself. As a writer, I enter contests, apply for fellowships and residencies, and submit to journals. I seek out feedback wherever I can get it. I take writing classes, attend conferences, and I revise relentlessly. I am committed to giving my writing everything I have. If I fail, I will never look back and wish I had tried harder.

As I revised my first novel manuscript, I entered, submitted, applied to anything and everything that I thought might help me as a writer. I was in constant motion. Always looking for the next thing. Obsessively polishing my query, sharpening my book.

But when I started querying agents and later submitting to publishers, I found myself paralyzed by the anxiety of waiting. Working on my book seemed like a bad idea. What if the agent or editor liked it the way it was? What if they wanted to take it in a different direction? The pages were out of my hands, and I hated the feeling of not having control.

It took one year and two rounds of submission to find that perfect editor for my first novel. The first half of that year, I didn’t do much other than check email. Remember that ambitious me I told you about? The one who never stops trying? I forgot all about her. I stopped writing.

Thankfully, the second half of that year, I snapped out of it.

In the hopes of sparing other writers the crippling anxiety that robbed me of productive writing time, I’ve put together a list of the things that got me through a difficult period without losing my mind.

1.     Read and write book reviews. While my book waited in editor in-boxes, I consumed a ton of books and audiobooks. I find inspiration in the words of other writers, especially debut authors. If you read something you like, shout about it. Review it on Goodreads and Amazon. If you read a book you don’t like, that’s fine. It happens. But don’t write a scathing review. That’s just mean.

2.     Boost other authors, especially debut authors. You want readers to show up at your readings one day, so put some good energy out into the Universe by showing up for other writers. Attend launch parties and readings. Show up at bookstore events. Bring friends. Introduce yourself to the author. Tweet about their books. Tell all your friends. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. That means you can be powerful in promoting the careers of other writers

3.     Work on your craft. Go to conferences. Take online classes. Participate in writers groups. Just being in the company of other writers usually makes me feel better if I’m stressed.

4.     Find your peers. If you are querying, seek out other querying writers. If you are on submission, connect with others on sub. Sharing experiences, commiserating, and celebrating with each other makes the process feel less lonely.

5.     Write something else. When my agent sent my book out on submission (the second time), I signed up for a Pacemaker challenge along with a group of my writer friends. We all set our own goals (page, word, and chapter counts or number of hours per day). We logged our progress daily. The challenge and accountability pushed me to keep going. I channeled all my submission angst into writing a brand new book. I started from scratch, and in sixty days, I completed the first draft of an 80,000-word novel. (Don’t be impressed. Understand that my productivity was driven entirely by the stress over my first book being on submission.) Harness that anxiety and make it work for you!

6.     Try something new. While I waited to hear back from editors, I started showing up at local story slams. The idea of standing up in front of strangers and telling a personal story without any notes sounded scary. But, as a novelist, isn’t storytelling what I do? I’ve since been bitten by the story slam bug. I’ve even been recognized on the street a couple of times by people who asked me, “Hey, aren’t you the one who told that gross story about the bloody hand?” I proudly answer, “Why, yes, that was me!” Story slams won’t be the answer for everyone. Maybe try your hand at flash fiction or take a class on essay writing or poetry. Exercise your creativity while you wait.

7.     Move your body. Walk your dog. Run. Swim. Dance. Do yoga. I will now embarrass myself by admitting that I keep a hula hoop in my family room and have been known to keep it going for forty-five minutes straight. It’s great for your core and burns off stress. As I write this, I am aware this is kind of weird. Find your own weird, wiggly thing to do.

8.     Help another emerging writer. We all look up the ladder for guidance from the writers a few steps ahead of us but don’t forget to lend a hand to the writers coming up behind you. Offer to review a friend’s query. Help them practice their pitch. Most likely, another writer helped you out at some point. Pay it forward.

9.     Work on your author website. I had been haphazardly posting blurbs, blog posts, and my bio. I had no idea what I was doing. I then saw an ad for a charity auction hosted by #AuthorsForFamilies. (Another one is happening RIGHT NOW July 8-22, 2019. ) Author K. Chess auctioned off an author website consult. I jumped on it and won the auction item. She pointed out inconsistencies and things I could do to improve my website, and the money went to helping families on the border. Win, Win! An added bonus was that I connected with K. Chess and learned about her debut novel Famous Men Who Never Lived (2019, Tin House), which I’m now a little obsessed with. Win, Win, Win!

10.  Allow space to dream. Yes, most of the things I’ve listed are things that will distract you from thinking about your queries or submissions but don’t block it out entirely. Give yourself space to dream big. Imagine what it will be like to get The Call. Absolutely fantasize about the day your agent calls with an offer from your dream publisher. And don’t forget the movie deal. Dreams are free. Indulge!

Bonus list: Things NOT to do while querying or on submission:

1.     Don’t obsess over your queries and submissions. Hahahaha. I’m kidding. It’s impossible not to obsess a little. I think it is part of our writer DNA. Just try to keep it in perspective

2.     Don’t stalk agents or editors online. Why is that editor posting pictures of sitting on a beach when she should be reading my manuscript? Wait, maybe she is reading my book, right there on that beach. Why isn’t she posting cryptic hints about how much she loves my novel, which she is undoubtedly reading this very minute? Maybe it’s because she hates it. Oh, God. My writing career is over before it ever started. Don’t do that. It will make you crazy (umm, not that I would know, I’ve absolutely never done that. *crosses fingers behind back).

3.     Don’t whine down the ladder. We writers love to complain, but be careful of who you complain to and when. When you are in a writing group, and everyone is querying agents at the same time, you can whine about not getting any traction, that no one understands your genius, that agents aren’t responding. But as soon as you get an agent, if you start complaining about how difficult the submission process is, it might be tough on your friends who don’t have an agent yet. They would love to be in your shoes, and your complaints may ring hollow. Same goes for when you land a book deal. Be sensitive about bemoaning how much revision your editor is asking of you if you are talking to writers who would kill to have a book deal. That’s not to say you can’t share your struggles. Just be sensitive to the feelings of the folks you are sharing with. We writers are an incredibly supportive lot, but we are also quite fragile.

Good luck with those queries and submissions. You’ve got this! Just be patient (hahaha).

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