Tag Archives: sheer terror

The Road Thus Far: Being On Submission

Welcome back to the Road Thus Far, an honest chronicle of what happens after you sell your debut novel.

Things in novel land have been going well lately. Some big exciting things are beginning to happen, things beyond just me staring at a computer screen, so this is all starting to feel alarmingly real. At this point, around a year before publication, I am starting to see marketing plans, cover ideas, and jacket copy. I also got my author photo sorted, which is a whole other blog post.

But this week, I am going to back track and talk about what it’s like to be on submission.

If you are not a writer currently chasing publication, you might not know what it means to be  ‘on submission’. Submission is the term for the period of time while your manuscript has been submitted to publishers—either by you or your agent—and is being considered by editors for actual publication. It is essentially the step before the signing of the book contract, and involves a lot of waiting, obsessive email checking, and alternately playing out worst case scenarios and dreamy fantasies about seven figure book deals and bestsellers. And then it usually involves a lot of rejection, and hearing all the reasons your book is not suitable for publication.

In short, submission SUCKS. It sucks. It never gets better, it never gets easier, it just sucks.

I struggle with bad anxiety. My mother likes to remind me that everyone has anxiety, but I’ve also polled enough people in my life to know that my anxiety often goes above most definitions of normal. It can be overwhelming and impossible to deal with. It can also be irrational, merciless, and consuming.

When my novel went on submission in May of this year, I knew exactly what to expect because I’d already done it once before—I’d had another novel on submission for almost a year with dozens of publishers.

And none of them wanted it.

It was crushing. And made it incredibly difficult to access my rational side when my second book went out.

After two weeks of being on submission and being so anxious about it that my anxiety started to manifest in physical symptoms, I decided I needed to do something. A technique that sometimes works for me when I deal with anxiety is writing letters from my rational self to my irrational self. It gives me a chance to unapologetically access the calm pieces of my brain and let it speak to the part of me that is freaking out.

So this is the letter I wrote to myself while I was on submission, with the note “read this if your book doesn’t sell” on it. Obviously my book did sell, but I still read it when I am freaking out sometimes, because there are things in it that apply to absolutely every step I have gone through—from being a first drafting, clueless writer to querying for an agent to submission to now going through the perils that accompany a book coming out. I hope other writers—no matter where you are in the process of writing or publishing—will find something in it. Or at least know you are not alone in your crazy.

Dear Self,

So your manuscript didn’t sell.

Knowing you, you are distraught over this and throwing yourself a big old pity party. Justified. You can be upset for like two minutes. Okay, maybe twenty minutes. But then you have to get up, turn off the sad music, and listen to me, rational Mackenzi, who you are currently incapable of accessing.

Does it suck that your book didn’t sell? Yes.

But here’s what that does not mean:

  1. It does not mean that this is a bad manuscript or that it was a waste of time and emotional energy to write it. Think about what you learned from working on it. SO MUCH. You will never be as bad as you were before you wrote this book. You are getting better with every book you write.
  2. And on the note of getting better, not selling does not mean you are a bad writer.
  3. This does not mean you will never, ever be published.
  4. You are not letting anybody down because this book didn’t sell. Not your agent. Not your professors. Not your critique partners or writing group.
  5. And not yourself either, because you wrote the best book you could write. You pulled no punches and took no prisoners. Not selling does not change this or cancel out the hard work or lessen in any way that this is the best work you can create at this point in your life.
  6. You aren’t accountable to anyone, unless you let this stop you.
  7. Sometimes books sell in two days. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes they never sell. Sometimes great writers have long and winding paths to seeing their words in print. The amount of time you are on submission or the number of manuscripts it takes is not a reflection of the quality of that work or your talent.
  8. Market trends and in-house factors suck, but are also totally valid and out of your control. Sometimes awesome books don’t sell for reasons that have nothing to do with their awesomeness.
  9. YOU DO NOT SUCK! As a writer or a person. It is so easy and comfortable to believe you do. Far easier than having confidence in yourself. Also remember that you have so much time to pursue this dream, or you will die young and this will be published posthumously and you will become a NYT Bestseller and you will be remembered as a tragic, misunderstood young genius. Win-win. This is not the last good idea you will ever have. This is not the only project you will ever care about. This is not the only thing you will ever be proud of creating.

Not selling does not equal failure. Not trying again or letting yourself fall apart over this does.

Chin up, sunshine. It will happen.

Love, Rational Mackenzi

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The Road Thus Far: Turning in the Book

Hello, I’m back, and trying something new. I’ve been thinking a lot about how when I was a pre-book deal writer, I was always curious about what happens between the ‘being offered the book deal’ and the ‘seeing shiny new hardcover on bookstore shelf’. The whole process seems very secret, but really it’s not! Well some things are, but mostly I think what happens should be talked about rather than shrouded in mystery. So this is a start of a new series I’m calling The Road Thus Far, in which I will chronicle with as much honesty and transparency as I am able the process of getting a debut novel published by a large house. Feel free to ask questions in comments, and I will do my best to answer them!

So, first and foremost in today’s publishing-related news, I turned in my book1!

It has happened! After editing like mad since my book sold in June, the final manuscript is sitting in my editor’s inbox! And while the journey is far from over, the manuscript itself is now basically out of my hands2 and will soon be off to people who will make it more book-shaped and do things with it that I couldn’t do by myself, like inserting commas in the right places and spelling laboratory correctly3.

Don’t worry: I’ve already thought of at least five things I should have done differently. And it’s only been a few hours since I turned it in. 

This was essentially my last chance to change anything with the manuscript. Okay, sure, there will be copy editing changes because I’m a nightmare of a grammarian who did not realize until a few months ago that suit and soot are two different words, and as I’m reading over those, I will probably find some sentence I just can’t stand and beg them to let me rewrite it, but really the big stuff is now solid and fixed. And after tinkering with this book for basically a year and a half, this is terrifying.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if there were better choices for the characters, or more realistic turns for the plot? What if my world-building just makes no sense and I never realized it? What if my writing is interchangeable with that of a third grader? Or what if my writing is actually worse, because most third graders know the difference between soot and suit, don’t they? And I know you have to trust your editor, trust your agent, trust your critique partners who would have told you long ago if these things sucked. But those voices are so quiet compared to the ones in my head that tell me I have done everything wrong and will probably regret letting other people read this weird thing I wrote. It is so hard to trust myself, and almost harder now that I know people are going to be reading it at the end of all this.

Because really, books are never done, are they? We could all keep tinkering with our manuscripts for the rest of our lives4. So is this version I’ve ended up with really the one that I want to put out into the world?


Some celebratory coloring after I turned in the book.

For a long time, I told myself the lie that as soon as I got a book deal, I would feel like a Real Writer. Maybe even (gasp!) an author. All my anxiety would go away and I would feel confident in my skills and the choices I made for my book. Spoiler alert—that didn’t happen. In fact, sometimes I feel like more of a fraud now because I have tricked everyone into thinking I’m good enough to be published when I’m really not. As a writer, I don’t feel any different than I did the night before I got my book deal, or the week, or even the month. I don’t feel competent or qualified. Writing is still hard, and still makes me anxious, except now I think about other people reading this thing that is hard and anxious for me. And then I want to throw up.

But something sort of remarkable also happened during this process of sweating out my final draft. Somewhere, in the delirious Diet Coke-fueled haze that comes with doing final edits on your debut novel, I started to feel okay about what I’ve written, and started to remember why I’d written it in the first place. I started to love my characters again, and thinking things like, “If people don’t like these choices I made, who cares? I like them!” There were a few places I actually felt good about what I had written. And even one moment when I thought, “Hot damn, some genius wrote this!” Though admittedly, when I thought that, I was reading the Frankenstein quotations that appear in the manuscript rather than something I had actually written. But still.

And then these stupid little things keep happening that send me into fits of delirious joy, things like my editor sending me the flap copy that will go on the inside of the book jacket, and asking me to write my bio, and giving me the name of the person who will be designing my book. These little things that didn’t happen when writing was just me, my computer, and my anxiety. And as frightened as I am to release this monstrous thing I have created into the world, it is infinitely more exciting, and I am trying not to run from it and instead let myself enjoy it.

Have questions about my road to publication thus far, or what happens to a debut novel after it sells? Leave them in the comments! Just please don’t ask a question that requires me to answer with the words suit, soot, or laboratory.

  1. I feel like I need to admit that I am actually writing this days before I turn in said book, though by the time it hits the blog, it will have actually happened. But I do sort of feel like I’m taunting myself by writing those words without actually having accomplished them yet.
  2. Unless something went horribly wrong and my editor hates all the changes I made.
  3. Which, in spite of the fact that I’ve been writing a Frankenstein book for a year and a half, I still can’t do.
  4. And some of us do. I’m looking at you, Tolkien.
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in which one fear is conquered, another realized

Fears. We all have them.

Mostly, they suck. They hold us back, they cripple us, they keep us from doing things we want to.

Me, I don’t have many conventional fears. Spiders? Not a problem. Rats? Fine. Heights? Bring it on! Snakes? …okay, yeah, I’d rather not. I have other things that terrify me, things like oblivion and anonymity and uniformity, but as far as normal, rational, tangible fears go, I don’t have many.

Except one. But since moving to Chicago, I am proud to say that I have almost completely conquered it.

However, it has been replaced by a new and even more crippling one.

Friends, I am no longer afraid of elevators. But I am now terrified of revolving doors1.

Let’s start with the elevators. Until about a month ago, they scared the crap out of me. My irrational fear stems, as most irrational fears do, from a childhood trauma: when I was eight years old and my parents took us to Disney World for the first time, where I faced the Tower of Terror. Though I did not even ride the Tower of Terror, I watched the little information video that comes with your travel package, and that was enough to turn me off of all elevators2. Even those that aren’t in lightning-struck hotels trapped in time.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about elevators that bother me so much3. If I’m in an elevator with a group of people I know, I’m generally okay. Riding elevators with strangers makes me queasy. Riding an elevator alone reduces me to borderline panic.

In Logan, Utah, a city made up of buildings exclusively four stories and shorter, the elevator thing wasn’t ever a problem. In Chicago, a city of high rises, conquering my fear quickly became a necessity. After only a week here, I had already been in countless situations where I had no choice but to ride the elevator. I knew that my summer was going to be much less productive and much more tiring if I wasted large chunks of it walking up miles of stairs when I didn’t have to. Plus then I’d never make it to the observaiton deck at the Sears Tower.So I became determined. My love for Chicago would not be dampened by my hatred for elevators.

And I am proud to say that, in a mere month, my fear of elevators has all but vanished. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because I just barely found the stairs in the WBEZ building last Friday, so I have been forced to face my fear twice daily, and facing fears generally helps you get rid of them. Maybe because I am, in the words of the Book of Mormon heroes, fixed in my mind with a steadfast resolution. Maybe because I just realized there are some things that are much more worth the fear.

Like, for example, revolving doors.

As a child, revolving doors were a most wondrous thing, probably because there are only like three in the entire city of Salt Lake. When I was a kid, I could spin around a revolving door until the security guards dragged me out. Then, between the ages of ten and twenty, something inexplicably shifted, and I have ever since been gripped with a paralyzing fear of revolving doors.

Because, let’s face it, revolving doors are terrifying.

Anything could get caught in those things; purse, clothes, hair4. Worse – hands, legs, noses. I could have an arm ripped off, 127 Hours style, on my way into Wallgreens. And who the hell knows what you’re supposed to do then? And it gets worse – dart between the spinning jaws of death at the wrong moment and you could find yourself sliced in half like Darth Maul. Even worse are those jail ones in the subways that I’m certain could slice me like a meat grinder. To make things worse, they lock behind you, creating the very real possibility that you could get stuck. The image of me trapped in revolving doors in the subway keeps me up at night.

Revolving doors also create no end of awkward situations. How do you know when to get in? What do you do if someone is coming out as you’re coming in? What do you do if the person ahead of you gets something caught in the revolving doors, or gets their arm ripped off ala James Franco? Do you pick it up for them before you go through the doors yourself? What do you do when your roommate Nevada jumps in behind you and you have to ride the whole way around with her giggling behind you?

Chicago has an inexplicable love affair with the revolving door. They are on every. freaking. building. It really makes no sense to me. I cannot think of a single argument for revolving doors over normal ones. And yet, they are everywhere. There are also normal doors, oh sure, but when I beeline for those, I always discover they are locked. Why, Chicago? WHY!?

Are they more efficient? Cheaper? Do they look spiffier? Seriously, why do you torment me?! Why do you lock your normal doors? At least give me the option of keeping my extremities intact! This is borderline psychological torture!

In the end, conquering my fear of elevators has been a big deal, and I’m rather proud. Not great for my fitness, sure, because now I don’t take the stairs as much as I used to.

Now, on to the next enemy. My archenemy, as it were.

The revolving door. I shall vanquish thee yet.

  1. I googled the term for both fear of elevators and fear of revolving doors. Neither of them exist. The closest to elevators is “sursumdeorsumphobia,” which is a fear of up and down. When I googled fear of revolving doors, answers.com told me that’s most likely classified as an anxiety disorder. Awesome.
  2. I have since ridden this ride on multiple occasions. Though fun, it is the only theme park ride that has ever genuinely freaked me out beyond the point of the typical theme park adrenaline rush. For emphasis, please enjoy the look of absolute fear on my face in the following picture, taken on the Tower of Terror, especially compared to the rest of the car. For further amusement, observe the Noah Puckerman looking bemused on the other side of the shot.Image
  3. It’s not, as you might expect, the enclosed space thing that bothers me. It definitely has more to do with that little sliver of light you can see between the normal floor and the elevator floor.
  4. Observe, Heidi Klum:


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