Top 10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving on Sub

Yes oh yes, I am indeed on sub! Also known as being ‘on submission’ to editors, who are currently considering my manuscript for publishing. Cross your fingers for me!

Before I went on sub, the process was a complete mystery to me, despite searching for blog posts about the process. From the outside, it seemed like books just…happened. An author would announce they’d signed an agent, and after some amount of time, they’d post a book deal pulled from Publisher’s Marketplace.

What the heck happened in between, I wondered?

Honestly, the process of going on sub reminds me very much of querying agents, only now, I’m not the one sending out my book into the world. My agent is! There’s still a good amount of waiting, wondering, and hoping.

Which is the real focus of this post: how to not only survive, but thrive, while on sub.

After years of trying to secure an agent, I was over the moon that I was finally going on sub! My dream of becoming a published author was closer than ever, and it was the first time that editors, many of which have edited books on my shelves, would be requesting and reading my work. I was so, so excited!

Then I started posting on social media how I was very close to going on sub, and the responses back were…mixed, to say the least.

Many wished me the absolute best, that they were crossing their fingers for me, and that they believed in me. But there were many others who talked about how it was “a nightmare,” the “worst thing in the world,” and how it was generally a horrible experience. Some of these comments weren’t directed to me, but to sub as a whole, and the resounding takeaway was that sub was going to be horrific.

This is extremely deflating. I’d worked so hard to get to the next big step, and the next big step was…a nightmare? 

Here’s the thing about sub, and querying, and generally going toward anything having to do with publishing. It can be incredibly emotional, putting yourself out there, being so close to getting the thing you’ve been dreaming for, and ultimately getting rejections or simply silence. And a lot of being on sub is silence and waiting, unless you’re a unicorn and get that coveted deal offer in two weeks. It can wreak havoc on your emotions, and many turn to social media to share those feelings. This might help them work through it, so if that’s their process or yours, then great!

But for me, I found it incredibly disheartening. I hadn’t even gone on sub yet, and I was projecting the many negative emotions I was seeing out there onto my own work and my own emotional state. I’d nearly forgotten how excited I’d been in the first place.

After that, I made a conscious decision that sub would not break me or my spirit, and I’m grateful to say it hasn’t. I still find it beyond exciting every time I get a request, and I shake off rejections quickly. Waiting is hard, of course, but it doesn’t hurt me. It’s simply there. It’s not a negative thing, but part of the process.

I’ve compiled my top 10 tips to both survive and thrive on sub below. Everyone is different: consider taking the advice that might work for you, and leave the ones that don’t. I hope this helps you at whatever stage you’re in!

  1. Consider keeping your initial list of people you tell to close friends and family. This was a big departure from my original plan, which was to proudly announce on social media that I was officially on sub. I ended up sticking to a small group of close friends and family, and their boundless enthusiasm ended up being so good for my mental health. They were nothing but supportive and encouraging, and I didn’t have a single negative thought in my orbit (even the ones that are trying to be encouraging and end up not quite being that way, the ones like ‘Good luck, you’ll need it!’ or ‘You’ll survive!’). I’m so glad I kept it quiet early on, and I eventually told more people when I felt more confident that my mental health wouldn’t take a hit.
  2. Consider telling people not to ask for updates unless you give them. This sounds small, but I was afraid of getting tons of rejections and having to tell friends over and over that it wasn’t going well, which might knock my confidence. Instead, I kindly asked my close group to please not ask for updates, especially since it’s normally such a long process, and that I’d let them know if anything wonderful happened. This kept me from having to repeatedly answer the “how is sub going??” question, and they were very understanding. Eventually, I’d give more updates as I felt comfortable.
  3. I asked my agent for rejection updates every two weeks, not any time they come in. I have anxiety among other things, and I knew I’d be checking my email *incessantly* for updates like I did while querying. Worse, I knew rejections would be more frequent than glorious news, and I didn’t want to have to worry about constantly checking my email for updates that would have disappointing news. This helped me be more mentally prepared when rejections were coming, versus them coming randomly when I might not be ready for them.
  4. Remind yourself that rejections are mostly subjective, and they say nothing about your book or you as a writer. I often play a little game with my reading list: I’ll take five or six out and choose one to read. The book I pick isn’t better than the others, it’s just the one I feel like reading at that particular moment in time. That’s how I see sub. Editors have so many projects to consider, and just like me, they might be feeling something at one time more than something else. That’s human! And it’s not personal. If there are editorial notes they share, then those are something to discuss with your agent, but most rejections aren’t saying anything about work or you as a writer.
  5. So much of timing is luck, and you shouldn’t compare your timing to anyone else’s. Assume it’ll take a while, and if it doesn’t, that’s fantastic. I told myself from the beginning that I’d be on sub for a long time, which has helped me keep my expectations measured. I’m not feeling bad for not reaching some extremely unlikely feat (getting my book picked up in two weeks). I know my book isn’t necessarily a super hot trend right now, so I didn’t expect magic to take off immediately. If it gets picked up, it won’t matter how long I’m in the sub trenches. I’m waiting for the right editor to find it, and I don’t care how long that takes.
  6. Celebrate the win for where you’re at now, not where you want to be or aren’t yet. We’re always striving to get to the next thing, the next win, the next accomplishment that we often forget that our past selves would be SO PROUD of where we’re at now. You made it to editor submissions! Editors are *reading your book!* They’re considering you and taking your work seriously! That is absolutely something to celebrate, and don’t let the draw of accomplishing the Next Thing take away the win you have right now.
  7. Work on another story while on sub. I started quickly working on another story once I was on sub, because I wanted something to focus on that wasn’t my sub book getting picked up. I have no control over when or if that happens, but I can control doing the thing I love most: writing stories. And for me, it helps take the pressure off the sub story if you know you have another iron in the fire. 
  8. Remind yourself that you’re more than one story. Your sub book feels like *the one,* and that can put a lot of pressure on writers, especially if they feel they can’t write anything as good as the one on sub now. You are so much more than one story, so keep writing. Remember the process. 
  9. Let yourself dream, but try not to obsess. Dreaming is amazing. You bet I have an elaborate launch party planned in my head, a book tour (including specific locations), swag, the types of cookies I want at my launch party, and so on. Dreaming reminds us that these things truly can happen for us if we keep going. For me, the difference is not letting the dreaming go so far that I forget to be happy with where I’m at now (hello, number 6 on this list). Sometimes dreaming about what you want makes you feel bad about what you don’t have now, and that’s where I try to stop myself and recalibrate.
  10. Last but not least, to quote my favorite line from Ever After: “Darling, nothing is final until you’re dead, and even then, I’m sure God negotiates.” I use this line all the time about books, and the potential of my book “dying on sub.” It’s very possible my current book on sub won’t sell, because the publishing industry is incredibly tough to break into, and so much of it is luck and timing. But it doesn’t mean my book will be “dead” forever, it just means it’s not happening at this exact moment in time. I had a book I love “die” in the query trenches, and I fully intend to work with my agent to get it on sub down the road. It didn’t die, it said “see you later.” I now see my backlog of books as opportunities to succeed and take off at different times in my career. 

I hope these tips help you thrive on sub or whatever stage you’re in. I’m rooting for you!

Sending extra gooey s’mores,

Note: the above image is of my home library

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