What to do as you wait to hear back on your submission

How to handle this excruciating interlude

Photo by John from Pexels

Finishing a novel brings an unparalleled feeling of satisfaction. You’ve worked so hard, and there it sits, glowing with potential. Hold on to that feeling for a moment. Because if you’re seeking traditional publication, life is about to get frustrating.

Agents and publishers are overwhelmed with submissions, all around the world. An agent I know tells writers her average response time is twelve months. A friend of mine has recently been waiting longer than this for a response from a publisher (they have confirmed it’s still under consideration, at least). My debut novel took about twelve months from being sent out by my agent to getting an offer.

And that’s if you ever hear back at all.

It’s not always the way. Some lucky authors stimulate a buzz, and publishers clamour to be the first to offer on the book.

We’re allowed to feel envy over those kinds of life-changing deals. But sometimes there is a flipside for those authors. The expectation that they’ll make back their advance, for example. The huge pressure on writing a follow-up that’s just as ‘buzzy’. (Notice I didn’t say ‘just as good’ – at the top of the game, marketability is a massive part of it.)

Big deals are not at all the norm. Most authors have a more steady shuffle towards publication and then, after that, more books, rights deals, film/TV options, and other fun things.

What I want to focus on here is the excruciating wait. Once you’ve sent your manuscript off, it may seem to others as though you are functioning normally. You’re going about your work, talking to people, caring for kids or loved ones. But inside, you’re waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. You might get cranky for seemingly no reason. You might feel blue. You might have a bout of insomnia. You will most likely experience some terrible feelings of inadequacy, fraudulence – aspects of imposter syndrome. As time ticks on, these feelings may get worse, or you may end up on a rollercoaster: moving from inadequacy to denial, flickers of hope (and wild fantasy), and moments of more tempered reality – where you realise you do have other eggs in your basket. (You do.)

Photo by Akshar Dave from Pexels

But this is so important to you. I see that and I know the feeling, deeply. I sympathise.

Here are some strategies I’ve developed for dealing with that time of horrendous, eternal waiting:

-        Start the next project. Begin to gather books for research, cast about for a great idea; allow your brain to get excited about the next world you’ll be diving into. Starting a new work keeps you grounded and reminds you that the real stuff happens at the desk (or wherever you work!).

-        Send out other work. Polish up that short story sitting in your docs, work on a poem, aim to write something for a themed competition: just have multiple works floating out there in the ether. I know it heightens the feeling of rejection and difficulty if they come back, too, but having multiple works out there also increases the hope and sense of possibility. If you’ve got some good stuff sitting there, revive it!

-        Do a short course. Whether it’s writing-related or not, doing a short course can be a great way to stimulate your brain and gain a short-term reward (knowledge!), and it will also distract you from the waiting.

-        Catch up on reading for fun. Go to the bookstore or library and pick out some books that are not related to any current project, and give yourself a little reading holiday. Reading outside of the genre of your submission might help you to not gather more food for the imposter monster. Read and remind yourself why you even bother doing this in the first place.

-        Look after your health. For some, it’s running that gets out that anxiety. For me, gentle daily yoga has become a must. I’ve also found that some natural sleep supplements work really well for me, when I am very anxious. These methods work better in the long term than, you know, whisky… (but hey, a celebratory drink after all your hard work is certainly earned!).

-        Catch up with friends and family. Get out of that writing cave (this can be a metaphor for your headspace, not just the literal area where you work) and send some texts. Check in with people. It’s really healthy for your grey matter to be social. If you’re a workaholic like me, this may be hard (not to mention the increased social isolation of the pandemice), but I’m sure loved ones will be pleased to hear from you.

All these activites will help not only with the wait, but to also temper any rejection that may be forthcoming – they will help you remember that you are not just one manuscript.

Opportunity of the month

As you may recall, I previous won one of Mslexia’s wonderful women’s fiction competitions (resulting in my published novella, Joan Smokes). Prior to that, I was once longlisted for the novel prize. This year, Hilary Mantel is judging the adult novel prize. Wow. There are also categories for a short story and flash fiction. Check them out here.


Take care, stay safe, and get in touch if I can help with anything,

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