Part of a series about writing and publishing from the point of view of an author with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
I haven’t written a blog post about anxiety for a few months, because — you guessed it — I’ve been suffering from anxiety. Well, not badly… a bit. I was diagnosed severely hypothyroid and was basically asleep most of the time as the meds gradually kicked in, then my beloved Nanna died. Throughout all this I was finishing editing a book on tight deadline, teaching, and editing. I’m telling you this because this series is all about being real. I’m writing another post about how to write right when everything else goes wrong. Watch this space!
So…submission. I give you permission. The world gives you permission. Now give yourself permission.
Here, take the slip, fill it out and pin it above your desk.
You are allowed to struggle with submission.
Submission is horrific. Creatively you wrung yourself out until you didn’t even know where the drips were coming from. You toiled — maybe for years — at the expense of sleep, your day job, family time, and your social life.
Did anyone else find it this hard to write a book? Probably not (oh yes they did). You often doubt that you should have bothered. Family and friends might be supportive but may be slightly alarmed by the work going into this and the uncertainty of it ‘paying off’.
Your writing does not have to ‘pay off’, ever. People outside of publishing can’t handle this concept. To be honest, if we are talking money or kudos, many authors would agree the external rewards don’t make writing worth it. It’s the act of writing that is The Thing and always will be. Hold that fact close, always, it’s untouchable.
So now you are sending your book out into the world to be judged, if you are lucky. Because a lot of agents might not even read it, and it will certainly feel like it is being ignored. Your book isn’t being ignored if you sent it out following the guidelines (follow the guidelines!). Your work is being looked at, and some agents will see it’s not right for their list, it doesn’t chime with them, or they already have something similar. They will send you a form rejection. Some will send nothing. Feels so rude…but it happens. It will hurt. It will hurt worse if you researched that agent and feel certain they are right for you. I wouldn’t do too much of this, just enough research to personalise your submission, then leave it be. I received 20 form rejections on my first round of submissions. The ONE personalised email meant so much to me, because I’d started to think no-one was reading it.
After reading over 80 submissions last summer for #writementor I understand submission better. It takes time to read. I shortlisted about fifteen out of those 80 but then when I read a little further I could see they weren’t right for me. I replied to a handful of those 15 but — being honest — I genuinely didn’t have time to reply to all. I felt really cruel about this because those people’s writing caught my eye and I didn’t tell them all. But replies really DO take time and I appreciate that now.
I used to think ‘how long can it take to write a few personal lines that change someone’s life?’
Anxiety would reply: ‘no time at all if there was any value in your work whatsoever.’
The real answer: ‘Quite a long time to say anything meaningful and it also opens dialogue that takes even more time to engage in.’
Form rejections do not mean your work is being ignored or it is unpublishable. Never ever be embarrassed for trying. Let rejections hurt. Accept them and don’t reply to them unless they are personalised. Every single author gets rejected. Now you are in the gang. Rejection by one agent means nothing.
For me, rejections were never the worst part. The one thing that triggered anxiety the most, out of anything was WAITING. Oh my, the waiting.
I hated waiting so much that I welcomed a rejection email over an empty inbox. I’m talking in the past tense, because I’ve got a lot better at this. I think — for me — the waiting was so hard due to the lack of control. When I heard nothing, my anxiety would spiral and I’d create reasons whyI’d heard nothing. Maybe the agent is on holiday or preparing for a bookfair, maybe I’ll just check on twitter to see if they are reading submissions …this was a very bad way to cope. It just highlighted my lack of control over when and if my work would be read. But acceptance of the unknowable in this business is important.
You are in control. You wrote a book, my friend, there isn’t much more of a considered and controlled choice and action than that! Then you decided when and who to send your work out. The only thing you control now, is what you do… NOW. So concentrate on that.
Lack of control is a key cause of my anxiety. I manage it by boxing things up, taking the control where I can. I had a submission system that helped.
- Agents listed in a table (I hate spreadsheets), in order of how much I think their rep would suit my book.
- Send of batches of six submissions at a time, write dates in table.
- Record replies, write dates in table.
- Nudge after 12 weeks, record this.
- As rejections come in, send out the next submission.
- Make a separate column for requests – dates.
It gave me as much ownership over the process as I could get. It meant that if I was unsuccessful nothing was wasted because I’d know what to expect next time.
You might have noticed that I have not given the advice people often give: ‘when on submission just write something else’ – I said that in a silly mimicking voice because I found this advice SO ANNOYING.
Don’t get me wrong, it is excellent advice. You are going to need to write another book. But it is SO HARD. Definitely write something else – if you can. I didn’t feel like writing when I was on submission. I speed drafted a book in anxious furious obsession and never even ended up editing it, it was such a hot mess. I don’t regret it as I learned about myself.
‘Work on your writing career’ is a kinder distraction from submission pain that forcing yourself to draft another book. Major pressure! Be kind. Give yourself permission to watch films, take research trips, plan and dream, write when you feel like it, fill notebooks with scribbles.
Find a way to make peace with the pain of submission, because you can’t make it go away. It IS horrible to send your work out into the world to be judged. It is horrible to be rejected, and to have to wait and wait and wait and wait…everything takes a really long time in publishing. Ignore tales told of overnight success, people are much less keen to share their longer journeys, and there are many more of them. Don’t aim to be ‘snapped up’, it’s incredibly rare and no indicator of success.
Recognise when social media is making you anxious and limit your time there. Tales of success and the newly agented can be tough if you are on submission. It doesn’t mean you are being unsupportive of the community if you need a break.
It’s more often months to get simple replies, that is just how it is. And every single author experiences this, even once published.
I’m waiting for a response on my proposals for book 3 while writing this, but luckily, I’m absorbed by copyedits… and this blog post. But still…Grrrrrrrrrr.
Lindsay is a tutor on our Upper Middle Grade course, starting 13th February. More details here.
She is also leading our writing weekend in Brighton on 22nd/23rd February. More details here.
And she is guest on our 12 month novel course. More details here.
Lindsay’s first book The Secret Deep came out in the UK in 2018 and the next is to be published in early 2020. She writes YA, MG and has adult and younger fiction works in progress. She reads in all genres and loves to edit, she is an experienced mentor plus a critique partner of published authors.
Lindsay came late to writing, self-taught, after a career teaching which is now part time. She is a slush-pile (talent pool!) conqueror who came from nowhere and had no contacts and – although it took a while – had the first ever book she wrote published by the excellent Chicken House.
An experienced teacher, Lindsay’s workshop style is upbeat, constructive and focuses on the practical. She is sensitive to those at different stages of their writing journeys and the courage it takes to share work. Her workshops have a positive supportive atmosphere, intended to empower writers. All questions are welcome.