Deb Joanne’s Submission Survival Guide

Today marks the beginning of The Debutante Ball Query Critique Contest!

The Debs are giving away query critiques to 5 of our beloved readers! To be eligible, just leave a comment any day during our Submissions week (Starting today and up to and including Saturday, April 14ths post—contributed by our FABULOUS guest agent Michelle Wolfson) and specify if you’d like to be entered in the contest and we will randomly select 5 winners. You’ll have up to two weeks to send us a digital copy of your query letter (for books in any genre) and we’ll give you feedback on the query. We’re so excited to see what everyone is working on!


If you’ve been around for a bit with us here at the Ball, it will come as no surprise to you that I’ve been on submission a lot. As a matter of fact, I’ve been on submission to editors with various overlapping projects since June 2009 (not counting all the subs before that, I’m talking about how long I’ve been continuously on sub without a break). That’s almost three solid years that I’ve been waiting to hear about something. It’s tough, but has basically become standard operating procedure around here, so I feel somewhat qualified to give you some pointers. And my pointers are for both waiting on agents and editors, because it’s much the same and it’s still waiting.  It’s very important waiting that can often be crazy-making.

One important tip: Before you go out on submission, please, please, please make sure your project is THE BEST DAMN THING that you can produce. Seriously—there aren’t a lot of second chances to make that first impression, so make it count.

Okay, so assuming you’ve sent out THE BEST DAMN THING and are now in a holding pattern, what do you do? I have a few suggestions.

Rock climbing is such a great metaphor for writing, isn’t it? All that hard work getting to the top and yet, people still notice your panty-lines.

Get a new hobby. Refreshing your e-mail every 19 seconds and sending yourself test e-mails when you haven’t gotten a message in 2.4 hours is NOT A HOBBY! Go find something that takes your mind away from writing and being on submission. Something physical isn’t a bad idea—rock climbing or marathon running will get you out of your house and maybe even out of your head for a few hours. P.s. leave the BlackBerry at home. No one will decline to sign you/buy your book if you don’t respond for a few hours.

Write something new. There is no better way to get your mind off your old project than to start a new one. There’s a good chance you will be waiting a long time to hear about submissions (I looked it up the other day for a different blog post I’m writing, and SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE took 245 days to sell to Bloomsbury-think of how many e-mail refreshes that is…) so you may as well use that time to your advantage. And consider this: if your first submission does net you a sale, you will be dancing and staring at your contract, your cover, your galleys and Goodreads enough to make you pretty much non-productive for the next year (not to mention the marketing when the book comes out), so best to get another book in the can as soon as you are able. You want this to be a career, right? Best to treat it like one and get back to the work of writing.

Don’t nudge. Well, you can nudge, but only at appropriate times. Please don’t send agents (especially ones you are on sub TO) cute e-mails wishing them a Happy whatever-holiday-is-on-the-calendar as a thinly-veiled reminder that they have your stuff. Be businesslike and send a reminder a week or two after they told you they’d get back to you, or if their policy is ‘no response means no thanks’, then just leave it and move on. Really, what I’m trying to say is DON’T ANNOY PEOPLE. These are people you want to work with—don’t start a relationship (or prevent one from starting) by being an annoying person that people don’t like dealing with.

Don’t take rejection personally. You know this one, right? They’re not rejecting YOU, they’re just declining to buy your work for reasons that have nothing to do with you and may not even have much to do with your book (economy, they just bought something similar, etc). If you can’t tell the difference between your work being rejected and you, the person, being rejected, you’re in the wrong business. There is a LOT of rejection in publishing, so if it makes your heart die every time someone says no thanks, best get out now. Sorry for the tough love, but this is a difficult business for the thickest of skinned, so best be ready to take a lot of hits. You need to believe in your work when you put it out there and trust that it will sell, because if you have doubts, it isn’t THE BEST DAMN THING and you need to go back and make it so before sending it out. And remember—everyone gets rejected! From Stephen King (you’ve read On Writing, haven’t you?) to J.K. Rowling to, well, the rest of us. We’re in good company!

Celebrate. If you’ve written a book and sent it out to the world, you need to stop and really think about what an amazing accomplishment that is. NEVER lose sight of that. TONS of people say they have books in them and will someday write a book, but how many do? How many stick it out and revise and get it to where it’s THE BEST DAMN THING and find the courage to send it out? Not many. You are in an elite club of real writers. Give yourself permission to forget all the other stuff and get up and dance. And remember, we’re here, gettin’ down already and we’re happy to have you join us.

(And if all else fails, there’s always chocolate.)

Now, you! What is your best submission survival tip? I’d love to hear how you handle the waiting, because no matter how long I’ve been doing this, the waiting is still hard.

25 Replies to “Deb Joanne’s Submission Survival Guide”

  1. Excellent tips, Joanne! Especially that last bit about chocolate. It never hurts to remember that.

    Oh, and of course, making sure your manuscript is the best you can make before you start sending it out, too — that’s so important. I actually had a writer tell me once that she never bothered to revise before she submitted because she figured that was the editor’s job. (Yes, my jaw dropped.)

    Now, I just hope I can think of something to add by Friday! 😉

    1. Thanks, Linda. You know, we should have done a week flip-flop for April fools, so you could have gone first (of course, I think of this NOW). And goodness about that writer who didn’t revise – I wonder how far she got with that thinking.

  2. I love how your kicking off this week, Joanne! (And darn those pantylines!!) I think this point about making it the best it can be is the hardest to follow because we are SO excited to be querying, to be done (or at least THINK we are done!) and sometimes it’s hard to know WHEN it’s ready because we alone (presumably) have been looking at it so long…

    1. And lookee here! I just proved ANOTHER tip–always proof your work before sending it out!!

      “I love how YOU’RE kicking off” not “your”

      Ugh. Chocolate, anyone???

    2. I almost went in and fixed your typo for you, but then you turned it into a wonderful point! 😉 Why don’t you just have a mocha latte and do the caffeine-chocolate combo-maybe a writer’s best morning friend. But you’re right-sometimes it is hard to know when it’s ready, especially when enthusiasm gets in the way!

  3. Wow, this is a hard week for me to put my thoughts in. Well maybe just one or two.
    1. It is damn hard for the parents of a writer to hang in and not to say well did you hear.
    2. Great post J it is wonderful to read how the feelings on what you should and should not do.
    3. To all the Debs can’t wait to read this weeks posts.

    Well, never give up (this week I have to give up, no hands,legs,back, shoulder and neck left and no cooking left over’s only). Hope everyone had a good Passover and Easter.
    See you all next week. And yes Chocolate is the BEST great fall back especially for me!!!!!!!

    1. Hi Mom, well, I kind of thought I’d give you the day off since I knew you’d be recouperating from the two amazing seders you put on this past weekend (any food left? I’m suffering matzoh ball withdrawal). But thank you for weighing in and giving your input on what submission is like for those around us. Sometimes we do forget that our loved ones are sitting on their hands as well. 🙂

  4. The waiting is indeed hard! I have a spreadsheet of agents that I’ve queried and when their deadlines are (if they aren’t no response means no). When I near those deadlines, I always get anxious. To take my mind off it, at present, I’ve been working on a few anthology submissions and sketching out my third book. I’m waiting for a day when I get a positive response on my query 🙂

    I’d like to be entered into the contest! 😉

    1. Hi Kimberly – thanks for coming by and entering the contest! Ah, spreadsheets! A woman after my own heart. I always find that automatically tacking two weeks onto the deadlines is a good idea – timelines in publishing are always long and agents are SO busy. Good for you for working on other projects, though, hopefully that does help.

  5. PERFECT timing as I’m starting to query in very short order. Thank you for these tips. I have worked long and hard making sure it’s as good as I can get it — hope it is… It’s the first time in a long time I’ve queried with book-length fiction so I’m nervous but excited, and already launching my next writing project. So although I have no doubt that refreshing my email will still be my favorite hobby (sorry, can’t give it up), I will be writing but also looking for other hobbies too, so thanks for the suggestions!!

    p.s. Yes, I am definitely interested in being entered in the query critique drawing!

    1. Hi Julia, thanks for your contest entry and I’m so glad this week’s theme is timely for you! I’ll admit that I do refresh my e-mail a lot, but not nearly as much as I used to and it’s a lot less crazy-making if you can force yourself to take breaks and stay away. Good luck!

  6. When I start querying this time around, my plan is a read-a-thon! There are so many books I’ve been ignoring so I can get this book finished and I miss them.

    Oh, I’d love to be entered in the contest.


  7. I like that you begin this post with “make sure it is absolutely you’re best possible work.” I’ve had friends try to pressure me into querying before my draft is ready because they figure I can get 25,000 words cleaned up, and you get so impatient to send your work into the world it gets tempting. Thanks for talking me down.

    I’d love to be entered into the contest as well.

    1. Kim, this is so crucial – listen to that voice in your head that’s telling you to only send when it’s ready-That voice is right! So glad my post was helpful and thanks for entering the contest!

  8. I have had my manuscript professionally edited for grammar and spelling. I have also had beta readers and have done countless rewrites. I feel I am putting out my best work — except my query letter. I feel it is holding me back. I am always trying to improve it, but I never feel confident presenting it.

    I would like to be entered in the critique contest.

    This blog post was fantastic. I will be retweeting the link for sure.

    1. Hi Melanie, thanks for your nice words about the post and sounds like our contest came at the right time! We’ve entered you in the contest – good luck!

  9. Great advice! I’m at this stage in my querying, too, and I’m trying not to check my email or to look at the agent’s Twitters TOO much. But it’s hard! Chocolate always, always helps 🙂

    I’d love to be entered in the contest, too!

    1. Hi Bess, it’s so hard to resist the refreshing, isn’t it? And yes, the agent Twitter feed – this is a relatively new thing, but just as maddening! Thanks for entering our contest – good luck!

  10. “Write something else” and “Don’t send it until it’s ready” are my two favorite ‘rules’ for sending queries. And chocolate (but that’s a daily habit anyway)

    Another thing I’ve done is celebrate each rejection I’ve received – “Hurrah, I got a response” or “Every rejection is one step closer”. One writing forum I used to hang out on had an annual rejection contest with points awarded for each rejection (the number of points varied by the length of the piece and you got more for an acceptance) – great motivation for getting your stuff out there.

    Thanks for all the great posts, Debs!

    And I’d love to be entered in the query critique contest – I was waiting until after the holidays to send off more queries and a few more holidays than I intended have passed.

    1. Hi Jill, yes, each rejection is one closer to a yes, so celebrating them is a great strategy (and helps keep you from getting down in the dumps). Thanks for coming by and entering the contest!

  11. I’ve submitted my scientific publications many, many times. I hate the waiting. With scientific writing, you can only submit to one place at a time and you are guaranteed a response of some sort. However, it could take 3 to 6 months!

    I love your advice for occupying your time while waiting….write something else!

    1. Wow, that would be maddening – waiting while each one took their time with an exclusive submission. Yow. Waiting sucks no matter what, doesn’t it? Thanks for popping by!

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