7.1.2 ON SUBMISSION TO PUBLISHERS: SIMON JAMES GREEN
By the time you reach this point, there’s a high chance you’ll already feel like you’ve been through the wringer. Whatever your journey so far has been – editorial feedback, contests, submitting to agents, rejection from agents, meetings, signings – buckle up, because the ride is far from over yet.
The process of my first Young Adult novel, ‘Noah Can’t Even’, going out on submission, was, frankly, traumatic. But it’s bound to be. This will be a project you’ve not only invested your heart and soul in, but also a good deal of time, and possibly a fair bit of money. The stakes are high, and you’re desperate for it to happen – it’s your dream, after all.
Beyond your control
The first thing to recognise is that there is nothing you can do. I’ll say that again. There is nothing you can do. No amount of worrying, analysing, fretting or praying is going to influence the numerous decisions that the team at a publishing house need to agree before they will make an offer.
Yes, an editor really gelling with your work is the crucial first step, but there are other things at play that you simply have no control over: what’s already on their slate; what they would like on their slate; the state of the market; what they think will be popular in one, two, or three years time; what Rights think will sell in international markets; what similar titles have done well (or badly), and so on, and on.
Try to forget about it
For this reason, the best thing you can do, to preserve your sanity, is forget about it. Work on some different ideas. Start a new project. Crucially, go easy on yourself. You probably deserve a break from writing – so have one. Use the time to replenish, regroup, and when you’re ready, start thinking about what you might like to do next.
Try to manage your expectations – there’s no roadmap for how this stage looks. Some authors hear back quickly; others don’t hear for months. Occasionally, an author will land a huge deal – six or seven figures – but most don’t. It doesn’t matter. The alchemy of a successful novel doesn’t depend on the size of the advance or how soon it’s snapped up, and neither is an indication of your talent.
Meeting with a publisher
It might be that a publisher is interested, but wants to meet you first. This is exactly what happened with me, so Jo, (my agent), and I, popped over to see Scholastic. This is a chance for them to get to know you a bit better, perhaps see if you’re the sort of author who they’d like to work with, and possibly sound you out about any editorial changes they’d be looking to implement. Top tip: just be personable. Be someone who is easy to get on with. People in publishing are (generally) extremely nice. They like working with other nice people.
You might have multiple meetings, and if several publishers are interested, your book might go to auction. Your agent will handle this, but it basically involves publishers submitting bids for your book while you look on in sheer disbelief that anything this amazing could possibly happen to you.
Receiving an offer
If a publisher wants to make an offer – great! You’ll have a very memorable phone call with your agent, which you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. I certainly do. I was so het up by this stage, that I was physically sick. As I say – memorable.
You might get an ‘offer letter’ from your editor, which is separate from the actual contract. The is an editorial letter, which will usually tell you how excited they are about your book, but will also highlight any areas they are wanting to change. The contract might be conditional upon you accepting the points of the letter. This is likely to have already been flagged either in the meeting, or via your agent, but make sure you are happy.
Navigating publishing contracts
Once you have an offer, this is where your agent really comes into their own. Publishing contracts are complex, and there is much to consider. Your agent may well want to go back and negotiate a larger advance, but there is also negotiation to be done on royalty rates, and who controls the foreign, audio and TV and film rights, among a whole host of other issues. Be guided by your agent here. They are used to dealing with this, they’ve done it before, and they know what’s acceptable.
Negotiations are normal, so don’t panic that the publishing company will take offence and withdraw their offer – they’re used to agents coming back and trying to get the best terms possible for their clients. Once complete, you’ll get a finalised contract to sign – and that’s the moment you should crack open a bottle of something lovely… (or have some cake, depending on your preference). Seriously, enjoy this moment, because against all the odds, (and, let’s face it, the odds are not in any of our favours here), you did it!
Continuing the marathon
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if your book is turned down by everyone? This is not a reflection of you, or how good your book is. It’s unfair, but sometimes a lot of luck is involved. If a publisher happens to be on the look out for an LGBTQ+ Young Adult, and you just happen to come along with one, that’s going to be in your favour. If everyone’s on the look out for some blisteringly funny Middle Grade, and that’s what you write, you might well find that your book goes to auction.
But fashions, priorities, and even personnel, all change. What’s in one month can be out the next. If you’ve bagged yourself an agent, you can be pretty confident that you can definitely write. You have the talent. But hitting the market at the exact moment so everything aligns is super tricky. Getting a ‘no’ at this stage can be devastating. But you have to pick yourself up and keep going.
Even getting a ‘yes’ is no guarantee of success…the only thing you can be sure of in publishing, however brilliant it often is, is that you need to be in it for the long haul. It really is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s your resilience alone that’s really going to make the difference and determine if you’re going to be writing books next year, in ten years, or for the rest of your life.
You’ll mourn. You’ll probably be angry. But you’ll be sitting down at your laptop again soon. Because this is what you do. It’s in your blood. And you’re going to keep on going and do whatever it takes.
Simon is a Carnegie-nominated, award-winning author and screenwriter. After an eight-book deal with Scholastic, his picture book Llama Glamarama was published in June, with a Young Adult Heartbreak Boys and a Middle Grade Life of Riley: Beginner’s Luck to follow later in the year. His Noah books have also been optioned for television, and he contributed to the PROUD anthology.
Simon is also a Spark Mentor.