Trials and Tips from being On Submission

Snow white ON SUBMISSION cropFor me, as for most writers, being a published author is a lifelong dream. I’ve been writing for over two decades. To have gotten that far, having written three full manuscripts, to have landed an agent, to have been on submission to acquiring editors, meant I was closer than ever to realizing the dream. But I was also no longer able to comfort and motivate myself with a vision of success on the far horizon. I was in the moment where the dream either comes to life or dies.
I think back to being on submission and I see how naive I was. First I waited with genuine hope and enthusiasm. My agent’s last book on submission sold at auction in two weeks! Maybe mine will, too! I recall thinking to myself the day my agent’s pitch went out to editors: I could have an offer two weeks from now. Not that I will, but it’s possible.
I did not have an offer in two weeks. or two months. Or a dozen weeks.
My agent would forward the emails when an editor asked to read the book, or was “reading and enjoying”[!]…and then there would be the inevitable “I liked it but it’s not for me/this imprint” email. A couple of presses really wanted to publish it. One was a Big 5 editor who couldn’t sell her bosses on it. The other was a really small independent press who didn’t have room to take on another book. Each time I got my hopes up, and each time I was crushed. Particularly with the small independent press, because it was so cool and such a good fit. Plus, they had it under serious consideration for over a month. Throughout the whole process, the anxiety and uncertainty just lurked around in the background of my life.
In order to cope…
I started a vlog (a video blog). I did recordings–at first every day, then weekly, then at random intervals. In some of them, I was even crying. Toward the end, I was pretty demoralized, so I began to do them further and further apart. Also, I ran out of space on my phone.
If I had it all to do again, I’d do the following:
1. Get more storage space on my phone. The vlog was great, but took up a lot of space.
2. Start another book project BEFORE going on submission. It was too hard to initiate a new project while on submission, but maybe I would have been able to maintain a project that was already going strong. Most of my energy went into being obsessed with my email inbox. If I had another project already going, maybe it would have been able to compete with the siren song of the refresh button.
3. Get more personal support. Specifically, I would ask people around me for permission to whine. I would pick seven people and give them each a day of the week to listen to me complain about being on submission. I’d have venting sessions for 5-10 minutes on their day. I think that would’ve made it less lonely.
4. Call in Spiritual reinforcements. Toward the end, I built an altar. It was a really tiny one, on a shelf that had originally been for a small speaker. I could look at the altar and remember that it was out of my hands. I would do that from the beginning.
After four months…

my agent was kindly encouraging me to approach small presses directly, and agreeing to get involved if I got an offer.

IMG_4564And then something happened…

an editor wanted to schedule a phone call with me! It was November, and someone from Kensington Books was interested enough to want to talk voice-to-voice. I recall looking her up and seeing that she would be in San Francisco in February. I just knew this was going to be it. Of course, I had “just known” about the small press, and that had ended in tears. But I looked up the numbers on publisher’s marketplace. The small press had only a handful of books annually. Kensington had over 500. I had a great talk with the editor and I knew it was meant to be. This time, finally, I was not disappointed.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to

This article has 2 Comments

  1. Oh God, “the siren song of the refresh button.” So perfect. If that thing were real and not a figment of the internet it would have my grubby little stained-with-chocolate fingerprints all over it. And nobody understands. Only other writers. Only other writers on submission. So lonely!!

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