Since the coronavirus has upended the professional and social practices we all used to take for granted, I’ve seen a lot of writing-community chatter on Twitter wondering:
Should I query during coronavirus?
Should I go on submission?
Are editors even responding?
And I can tell you from someone currently on submission: Yes! To all of it!
It took me three and a half years to write my memoir, Matched, the story of my obsessive search for a baby in the ultra-competitive world of domestic adoption, and how my son’s adoption served as the catalyst for finding the woman who’d given birth to me. It took me nine months of querying to get an agent. From there, it took another four months to get my proposal where it needed to be, which mostly consisted of beefing-up my platform (more on that later).
Finally, everything was exactly where we wanted it; my agent—the fabulous Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates—was ready to send my book on submission the third week of March. The same week schools shut down, and shortly thereafter, the country. It was…not ideal.
Jacquie and I talked strategy.
“Are editors still working?” I asked.
“Don’t know yet,” she said. “Maybe not. Or maybe because they’re working from home, they’ll have fewer meetings, and actually have more time to read. Or editors with kids might not have time to read at all.”
“Mmmm…” I said, the accuracy of her statement stinging as my six-year-old chatted non-stop in my other ear about the latest FGTeeV video he’d watched on YouTube.
I imagined my dream editor—a middle-aged mom with a sharp mind and an indelicate sense of humor—with her feet kicked over the arm of her favorite chair, reading my proposal. I hoped she had teenagers who could mostly fend for themselves.
“We could wait until this is all over, but who knows how long that’ll be?” I said. “I don’t know.”
“Me either,” Jacquie said. “But, ultimately, it’s your call.”
One side of my brain was screaming, Go for it! As a hopeful author, “going on submission,” was the dream—the moment I’d been working toward. Would my voice, my story, speak to a publisher strongly enough to snag a book deal? If an agent had connected with my writing, it wasn’t such a stretch to think that an editor might, too, was it?
But another voice, a quieter one, said that waiting was the safer move. If Matched went on submission and failed to sell—not because of my writing, but because the world was on fire and editors had stopped acquiring anything—I would’ve still blown my shot. But that was fear talking. The manuscript on my desktop could still be the next Wild; a manuscript on submission was going to receive criticism and rejection. A Michelle Obama quote I’d seen on Instagram had stuck with me and nudged me forward: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”
“Let’s send it,” I told Jacquie.
She sent my proposal to the first group of editors. Responses trickled in. It was hard for Jacquie to follow-up with editors via phone because they weren’t in their offices. But then, in April, publishers seemed to adjust to their new normal, and responses started rolling in.
And they were big, juicy, personal responses! As a hopeful author, I found myself encouraged by the rejection letters—they held thoughtful feedback on my book from big-name editors at big-name houses, people I followed on Twitter:
“Denise Massar is a really good writer! I have no doubt that there is an audience for Matched, but I don’t find myself excited enough about the subject to make an offer.”
“I have finally had a chance to read Denise Massar’s very well done proposal for Matched. Denise seems wonderful—thoughtful, smart, writes with an unflinching eye but a lot of compassion. But I’m afraid I just don’t have a vision for how to publish this book in a big way. It feels rather journalistic to me.”
“I admire Denise Massar’s frank and punchy tone, and the holistic lens she brings to adoption. In the end, though, I just worry this isn’t a fresh enough look at the issue to break through in the market. So, sadly, this is a pass for me, but I appreciate the chance to read all the same.”
“Thanks for sending along Matched. I like the book a lot but I couldn’t get enough enthusiasm from my colleagues.”
“At this point, I’m going to pass on all rights, but should you find a print publisher and are able to retain audio rights, please circle back! I’d be interested in making an audio offer.”
(Okay, I’ll admit, that last rejection above was brutal. She was an editor I would’ve done anything to work with and she’d gone to bat for me!)
On a Thursday, I received this rejection: “I’m afraid this leans a little too commercial for me.” And Friday, this one: “…just didn’t have that commercial pull we look for in memoir.”
As crazy-making as it sounds, the contradictory comments about Matched served as a reminder that writing is subjective, every editor has different tastes, and to keep going.
If you’re still wondering if sending your book on submission in the middle of a pandemic is a good idea, consider this: Doing so allows you to shift your energy—full time—from manuscript and proposal (always one last tweak, right?) to platform. Platform is a bigger deal than most authors realize, and ideally you’ve been building your platform all along. It’s an important factor in an author’s appeal to a publisher because an active online network equals built-in sales of your book. If a publisher is enticed by your proposal, they’re going to click around your website or social media to see:
- How many sales can the publisher assume before they spend money marketing your book?
- Is your website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram (etc) presence fresh, or was your last blog post in November 2019? (I think my agent’s exact words were, “Perhaps this is more of…an article than a blog?”)
- What articles have you published? What podcasts have you been on?
- What people or organizations or sites are you partnered with or connected to?
Editor responses during the coronavirus have been steady, generous, and thoughtful. If you’re nearing the querying or submission stage, I encourage you to move full-steam ahead. Make your decision based on hope and possibility—your wildest dreams just might come true.