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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Worth the Terror: When You Don’t Hear Back on a Submission

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, an editor is reviewing one of my books, a paranormal romance about what might have happened to Little Red Riding Hood if she hadn’t lived happily ever after. Last week, I realized that the maximum time length had passed when I was supposed to have heard back about my submission.

Naturally, over the past nearly two months now, I’ve attempted to ignore a tight knot of anxiety over this submission. The editor, who I’ve exchanged some emails with, has been exceptionally friendly, positive, and prompt, which is why that knot grew unbearably tight as the silence stretched past a month, then past six weeks and when my critique partner, Jessi Gage, who sent her submission the day after me, heard back weeks ago. (She was accepted by the way, and I’m so proud of her!)

I have a very good imagination, which serves me well as a writer but can also prove a bane to my tender psyche. When waiting for a response on a query or, in this case, a full manuscript, I invent all sorts of reasons why I don’t hear back. They range from the positive (The editor is in love with my story and going out of her way to get everyone in the house to agree to accept it. I imagine a valorous battle of wills and clever rhetoric until, at last, everyone sees the editor’s good judgment and agree to make an offer for my book.) to the negative (My story is so awful she shoved it out of her mind and has forgotten to suffer through writing the rejection letter because even recalling that my story exists sends her into epileptic spasms of disgust.). When it’s a query I snail mailed, I think up all sorts of interesting places it might have gotten lost in the office: behind the copier, jammed in the back of a filing cabinet, stuffed deep into a drawer. I imagine my poor letter wasting away wherever it’s been forgotten. The worst images center around what an editor or agent’s opinions of me might be. They tend to resemble whatever my opinions of myself are at that particular moment.

All the writers I know, myself included, tend to ride through life on extremes. We soar, giddy on the currents of triumph, which involve such moments as finally finishing a work, getting praise for a story, or receiving an acceptance. They often sink to the point where our poor spouses are forced to boot us out the door of our hovel of self pity just so they can tolerate living with us another hour. These extremes serve us well in some regards because they allow us to grasp emotions and weave them into our stories that riding along at a moderate, tempered state of mind would probably never allow. These extremes can be brutal when waiting for a response from an editor or agent.

Many agents I’ve queried have a policy of only responding if they are interested in a work, so in my log of queries, which has grown quite long, I have quite a few entries where I never received a response. After a certain time, I accept the fact that silence means rejection and move on. (Moving on is an important skill for a writer, by the way, perhaps one of the most important.) So I was faced with a new prospect last week when I went back over the submission guidelines for this particular publisher and realized that they always send a response. So where was mine?

Coupled with mood extremes, writers are often paranoid, at least writers like me. The prospect of sending an email to this editor to inquire about my submission was daunting. What if I sounded pleading and needy? What if I came off as arrogant? What if I proved myself an utter imbecile and she decided to reject my story on general principle? Yet if I wanted to give my book a fighting chance and be professional, I had to compose that letter and send it. I cannot tell you how many times I rewrote and revised it. In the late night hours, I finally asked my husband to read it over and made my finger click the mouse to send it. Email is not like snail mail. You can’t claw a letter back out of the mailbox by your fingernails. You just have to stare at the screen and pray you didn’t make an utter fool of yourself and try to sleep that night.

Another thing about writers like me, we tend to be overdramatic when anxious. This editor, in her usual prompt and kindly fashion, wrote back the very next morning full of apologies and grace. Due to a number of very understandable reasons and the fact that she’d put my story in a place on her computer where, unfortunately, she wasn’t always reminded of it, she’d forgotten to get to it. She promised to make it the very next thing she read. I breathed a sigh of relief and once again reminded myself that, really, I hadn’t any reasons to feel as anxious as I had, really the whole world wasn’t conspiring to keep my book out of print.

I hope to hear very soon about this submission, but until then, I’m much more at ease and my fanciful speculations have taken on more rational forms. Whatever this editor decides regarding my book, through her honesty, promptness, and generosity in her correspondence with me, she has earned my respect and appreciation. In my turn, I’ve been reminded once more that taking those little risks like politely inquiring after a submission I should have already heard back on really is worth the time, effort, and bit of nerves that go with it.


  1. I understand how nerve-wracking this process can be but you did all the right things and my fingers are crossed for you!

    1. Thanks! I really appreciate the support!

  2. I am so proud of you for sending that email. And by the way, this post if chocked full of absolutely beautiful wriitng. It was a joy to read. You are bound to be noitced and published! The sooner the better!

  3. I go through the same roller coaster when applying for jobs! I believe trusting one's fate to the critical eyes of another is often one of the most mentally taxing things humans have to endure.