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Submission Purgatory

After the hunt for an agent and the work to improve your manuscript comes the next hurdle: Submission. Some hacks on how to survive.

Waiting is one of the toughest tasks for humans. We're designed for movement.

I initially expected this post to belong to the Musings category. Perhaps a look-back on the journey, on how stuck one feels in the middle of it. But after writing and deleting several paragraphs over and over, I realized that is precisely the risk of the submissions period, the sort of philosophical meandering which is deadly during this stage.

So instead, let's talk actionable. Let's focus on what can be done during the high expectations, high emotions, I-chew-my nails-to-the-quick-and-crash-after-every-no time while editors consider your manuscript.

SHORT & SWEET: Be Kind to Yourself--and Move


Four actions that can ease the wait:

  • Focus on the Next One

It sounds cold-hearted. Like telling a mother who's just delivered a baby and is fretting whether she's got five fingers and five toes that she should think about the next one--how about a sibling?

Harsh, indeed. But true.

Authors aren't expected to write a single book throughout their careers, after all. So however attached you might be to your last work, you ought to be focusing on the next story. Not a second installment in the series either. A brand new concept. And if it is entirely different from the manuscript under submission, you get extra credit.

Authors are expected to write more than one book throughout their careers.

You probably sighed from pure discouragement. We all understand. If the idea of going through the whole process again (multiple drafts, editing, polishing, critiques, back and forth, etc.) sounds too overwhelming, try instead the "Keep it Simple Approach" (see post here), or the "Draft 0" trick (see post here).

Whatever you do, write something new. Start small, with low expectations and without hard targets. Be gentle to your overworked, over-worried, over-neurotic self. And soon, the enjoyment of writing will carry you, and you'll become excited again, new energy and hope bringing back the oxygen the wait took away. And in the end, whether you hear great news or not, you will have something fresh to fall back on.

  • Focus on your Brand

I know--or rather I've heard--there are writers out there who love to promote themselves. They are mythical sort of creatures, with the talent of social media gurus, the intuition of a savvy publicist, and the impeccable taste of the best website designer.

I've heard such paragons exist. I've never experienced a sighting of a specimen myself, but that doesn't disprove their existence--like the case of aliens.

Most authors I've met are shy-ish, humb-lish (or at least plagued by self-doubt-ish), and not fantastic at creating a platform, marketing materials, coaching webinars, etc. Self-promotion feels to them (ahem, us) like the worst Zombie nightmare combined with an awkward dinner at the in-laws, while naked. Unfortunately, that is no excuse.

The development of your brand should not be the hurdle to sink your dream as an author.

Consider this: while sitting in your cave counting and recounting rejections (don't pretend you haven't), you are visited by the ghost of Christmas future. How would you feel if he said: You were so close, but you never worked on your brand and...

In other words, if the development of your brand is a hurdle to your dream as an author, will you let it stop you?

Maybe it isn't. Perhaps you will succeed regardless. It is just a stone in your path, and you can walk around it and be fine. Do you want to risk leaving that one unturned, though?

Because I am not an expert at this, and I fumble along with the best of us, I recommend thorough research on how to proceed. Take the submissions time to build onto what you already have, or to create something new.

You need a brand, friend. And online presence. And a platform. It's a bitter pill. But if the reward is a healthy writing career, isn't it worth facing those brain-eating corpses?

  • Focus on your Craft

This one is iffy, but worth mentioning because when it works, the results are outstanding. So proceed with care. You are probably already second-guessing yourself, and your critical judgment is set to max. Don't revisit what you could have done better. Be kind to yourself.

With that caveat out of the way, consider digging into areas of the craft where you are weakest. Study. Research. Practice. Combine what you've experienced in your last effort with fresh insight about how to do even better. Borrow (shoutout to my public library) some new books on writing, preferably in an area offering a completely different perspective from yours. If you are a plotter, explore pantsting; if you are a panster, try the opposite. Not for a whole novel, for a short story perhaps. Complete some writing prompts. Dig into editing. If you struggle with grammar--horror--learn more about that. This advice is not for everyone. Many people out there are experiential learners and won't do well with traditional methods study. But for the control-freaks around us, it works wonders.


The key to this period is patience. And patience is hard for humans. We're designed for action. So wish your project well, know you've done everything you could for it, and let go. Refocus your energy on something else. And move.

Use the wait time wisely. And when in doubt, do.

Dare, always. Keep writing.

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