5 Lessons learned on sub
Last week I talked about my querying journey, so this week it only made sense to discuss the exciting/scary/stressful-as-heck next step in the publishing process: Being on sub!!!
While I was querying, I found plenty of relatable #writingcommunity tweets that offered support, encouragement and an outlet to express frustration with the process. But when I was on sub, I didn't see many tweets about it at all. It almost seemed taboo to talk about.
Even worse, I noticed many querying authors were dismissive about #onsub woes, saying things along the lines of "Well, at least you have an agent. At least you have someone in your corner. Being on sub is way better than querying."
This is a very valid point. Having an agent put their support behind you and your work is invaluable, and can help tamp down the self-doubt. It's also nice to share the workload with someone, have them research editors and send proposals instead of you doing it all by yourself.
Having gone through both querying and being on sub, I really can't say whether one is "better" or "easier" than the other. Both kind of suck in different ways as you're experiencing them. I like to think of being on sub as querying's glamorous older sibling. It's more exciting because the stakes are higher, and you're that much closer to your dreams of publication coming true.
But here's the first on sub lesson I learned: There is no guarantee of getting published, even after landing an agent! So many books on sub don't end up selling, which effectively crushes the author's dream and that book. When a book dies on sub, that's kind of it. You're forced to shelve it, and hopefully after you publish a different book, there might be interest in your old work. But, for now, that book is dead, and you have to start all over again.
With that thought always in the back of your mind (What if I don't sell?!), being on sub is stressful. You've had an agent like your work, but what will editors think? This brings me to lesson two: Publishing is SO, SO SUBJECTIVE!
What one editor loved about your book, another might hate. I experienced this a lot. For example, my main character in Another Day, Another Partner, Lulu, is snarky and sarcastic. A little jaded, has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. As a young female police officer, I thought this made sense for her character. She's tough because she has to be -- she's got to prove herself in this male-dominated field (and did I mention her police captain is her father, too?) It wouldn't make sense for her to be chipper and smiley and mild-mannered.
One editor agreed with this -- she loved Lulu's snarky voice. Another editor specifically didn't like Lulu -- she found her to be judgmental and unlikable. (Mini tangent: I wonder, if Lulu had been male, would I have received this same note?)
So, what am I supposed to make of that? Do I listen to editor 1, or editor 2? Who's "right"?
Trick question! Neither!
I learned to take everything an editor says with a grain of salt, and I resisted the urge to revise my entire book based on the feedback of one person. (Here's where having an agent really came in handy, as she helped me discuss the validity of all the feedback we received, and reiterated that she believed in my work as it stood).
While I'm on the topic of editors, here's another #onsub lesson that hit me in the face: Getting an offer takes more than an editor loving your book. I think this one might've been the toughest pill to swallow. I always thought securing an offer of publication was as simple as getting one editor to adore your book. They hold all the power, right?
WRONG! Getting an editor to love your book is a necessary step, but it doesn't end there. They need to get their entire team on board. They need to make sure their publisher doesn't have another similar book coming out anytime soon. They need to make sure they have the budget to take it on. They need to make sure they know how to market the book effectively.
Sadly, I learned this lesson the hard way, several times. When I was about two months into the sub process for Another Day, Another Parter, I received the following rejection from an editor:
This is such a great read and I'd so love to offer for it, but unfortunately I was unable to get the team on board, so it's a reluctant pass.
While amazing to hear that an editor wanted to make an offer, I was legitimately crushed by this. It wasn't fair! Why did "the team" say no? How did they have the power to kill my dream?!
I received a similar rejection while on sub with my second novel, Bad Press. An editor wrote that there was "a lot to love about this," but essentially, she wasn't sure how to successfully bring the book to market, and thought it'd be better off in the hands of another editor.
When you wait for months on end for feedback from editors, near-misses like the ones above can be devastating. Which brings me to lesson four: Be prepared to wait. For like, a really, really long time.
You thought timelines for hearing back from agents were bad? Double or triple that, and maybe that'll put you in the ballpark for hearing back from editors. Especially in pandemic times with limited resources and burnout running rampant, you need to be extra patient.
The longest an editor ever had my manuscript was five months -- and we only received an answer then because my agent alerted them we'd gotten an offer elsewhere. We could've been waiting a lot longer if we hadn't nudged them.
While waiting months and months and hearing nothing, it can be easy to make yourself crazy. You start to overanalyze the silence. Is no news good news? Is it taking so long because the editor is passing the book along to the team because she loves it? Is the manuscript simply sitting at the bottom of a very tall stack of other people's books? You have no idea!
Looking back through all this, it sounds exhausting, and I have no clue how I survived the process twice. But, lesson number five comes into play here because securing that offer makes it all worth it.
I realize I was lucky here because, so far, every book I've had on sub received an offer. I don't know what it's like to have a book die on sub, so my viewpoint is biased, but going through the waiting and the near-misses and the conflicting feedback all seems trivial once you have your signed publishing contract.
I hope this resonates with other #onsub authors, and gives #amquerying authors an idea of what to expect next -- and I hope we can all continue supporting each other, no matter where we are in our publishing journeys, because this process is rarely easy at any stage.