The first rule of Sub Club:
Don't Talk About Sub Club.
No, authors don't talk about being on submission. No one does. OK, I'm doing it right now, but it's an act of bravery/ desperation and will likely throw me into a tailspin of self-loathing akin to the time I ate an entire box of Little Debbie Peanut Butter-Chocolate Wafer Bars (a total of 12) and didn't even have the sense to throw up afterwards. It really is that bad. I mean, it's actually a perfect analogy because you think it's going to be so good, but then...
Here's what happens: your book is finally getting out your door. Not just out your door, really, but out your agent's door and into the wider world of publishing. It seems delicious, enticing. The world, as Tom Petty sings, is wide open.
For me when it started I looked up every editor interested in reading my first manuscript. I spent time thinking about how wonderfully we could work together, how perfect my book would be for his or her list...then I'd get a rejection. Maybe not even from the editor I was fangirling over, but from someone. Some other Editor of Power and I'd feel as sick as if I'd eaten a whole box of Little Debbies. This can only go on so long before you walk right past the Little Debbies in the bread aisle, glaring and mumbling under your breath about how they had it in for you right from the start. And I stopped thinking about which editors had my books (and I swear I threw away all of the voodoo dolls too).
And, like most authors, after a few rejections I let being on submission slide to the back burner of my mind and worked on my next book. This is the advice they always give--those who have been there and then been published tell the tale: "yes, my first book was never picked up" or "no agent would even touch my first book on query round" but then... "I worked on the next book even harder and it sold!" And people listen to them because they know more than other people who haven't gotten THERE yet. But I did that. I did what they said. And now I have two books on sub--and it's just as horrifying if not much more horrifying, because now I don't just have five years of work out there, I have seven years of work out there. And it's freaking terrifying.
And here we come to it: why no one talks about Sub Club until they either publish or disappear into the archives of Twitter to be deleted by a heartless bot at some future point (probably while hiding under a duvet strewn with chocolate peanut butter crumbles): it's the end of the line. All the hopes and dreams that have built up as you've queried, been rejected, queried again, been rejected, then finally gotten offers and signed and edited and huzzah'd as the book was sent to editors--well, when those books die, there's no reviving them. The daydreams of colorful books displayed in shopfronts, witty banter at cocktail parties where you say things like, "well, when I was writing my first book--o-hoho! I had no idea what I was doing but now that I've a Printz and a Newbery, well, I can give you a bit of advice I suppose," where you meet kids who love your characters as much as you do? Well, they're gone for good once you hit the last possible editor and he or she is like "I loved the writing and the concept, but I just could't connect to the characters enough to..." Which is their job, and it's an increasingly tough market as editors need to be more selective and careful about what will sell. Authors get that, and we accept that not every book sells. But how do we go on from there?
Some of you might be thinking, well, why not just self-publish or try for an independent press? But that's actually been shown to harm a career, and if a writer is truly dedicated to being an author not just for a book, but for their life, then it's wise to wait until a known editorial group embraces one of your books. So what to do if it is the end of the line, or if it just feels like the end of the line?
My agent, who is wonderful, always writes nice things on my rejections like: I still believe in this book 100%! which can keep me going. Tell your agent to be like Rena. But I know with every rejection my book is one step closer to disappearing into a file on my computer that will shame me every time I come across it. So, the only thing to do is to keep writing. Yeah, it's the same advice two paragraphs later. (I'm listening to "I pick myself up and get back in the race" at this exact moment.) But it's much harder to keep writing when you're not sure the words you're typing will ever see the light of day--especially when it felt like you had a good chance. What's required to keep writing is something much more elusive than the laptop: confidence. Faith in yourself. The knowledge that your stories are worth writing down, that your words are worth reading.
So how does that happen?
Often, through writing--like writing a blog post about how you feel like a complete failure for not yet having a book published even as you watch writer friends sell three and four books, hit the NYT bestseller list, or have their concept turned into a coffee table book. Or sometimes it happens by reading another book-maybe one you've been thinking of for awhile, but when you pick it up you just keep thinking: I can write a better book than this. Or maybe it happens through reading a book that's in the genre of your book, and paying attention to how the author's pacing the world-building, and taking notes, and rekindling the love of the genre and of the learning and of the process. Because in any given moment we might be published and writing our next bestseller in our She Shed, or we might be writing anonymously in a cafe, creating something that will never be read by anyone other than our writing group or our agent, but the one thing we all have in common is that we're all writers. We all love the process that is book-creation.
So it isn't the writing you need, really. It's the love. When you're on sub, you don't have to talk about it. What you have to do is rediscover your love for words, for characters, for worlds only you can create. Remember the first author who made you want to write. Re-read his or her work. Read it aloud. Jump around while you do it. Then--yeah.
Go write another book.