How to Build an Editor Sub List

In my long journey towards trying to sell a book to a publishing house via my lovely agent, besides wishing they were more stories about being on submission out there, I also found myself wishing–hard–that there were better resources for finding editors, those mythical, possibly winged creatures who hold the scepter of publishing power in their hand and have the ability to offer you a million dollars for your book, or more likely, $10,000 (split into four payments spread over two years and minus your agent’s 15% cut and taxes), or even more likely, a kind email saying some version of “thanks but no thanks.” (tryna keep it moderately real here)

I’m guessing anyone who clicks on this post is in the biz or getting into the biz, but to back it up here for a second, when you’re seeking traditional publication for your book, the first step is to find an agent. This process is called “querying.” It hurts like a motherf*&*%$r. Still, maybe you get an agent one day! Yay! After revising your manuscript again with your agent, the next step is going on submission. For this, your agent will build what’s called a “sub list,” i.e. a list of editors who acquire manuscripts for their imprint (imprints are kind of like brands within the big corporate umbrella of the publishing house–each has its own identity and flavor). Editors also sometimes acquire across multiple imprints. The editors on your sub list will then get an email pitch from your agent, possibly with the manuscript attached up front. (Side note: unlike the ways of querying, agents can choose whether to attach the manuscript up front or wait for the editor to request.)

There are lots of rules involved in building this sub list. To state the obvious up front, the first thing is to determine which imprints within which publishing house are a good fit for your book. This will depend on the genre (literary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller, etc.) and age group (adult, YA, Middle Grade or Picture Book) of the book you’ve written. Once you’ve identified the imprints that seem like a good fit, you need to identify which editor at that imprint seems like the best fit, because you can’t submit to multiple editors at the same imprint. Some houses don’t want you submitting to multiple imprints within the house. You also may come up against a very fun limitation called “your agent has other clients” … as in, if your agent has another client’s work out with a particular editor, they will probably not want to send your project out as well, until that editor responds. (Also I should state here … I don’t worry about any of this as I do my search! My agent knows the rules and will figure that part out and whittle or modify the list and meld it with hers and redirect me where I’ve misfired until it’s perfect and targeted and law-abiding. Phew.)

Okay. At this point, you may be wondering–but if this is your agent’s job, why are we talking about sub lists at all?

Uh … yes, but lemme break it down for you … SOME OF US ARE CONTROL FREAKS. Yes. Some of us can’t seem to keep our dirty little paws out of the process. Very possibly we were also Those Kids who, in a group project in school, ended up taking control of and completing the entire project (scientific study has yet to confirm).

Actually for real let me rephrase this “control freak” business. So negative, isn’t it?? Let’s take a moment to reframe. I am actually a huge fan of knowing things! Yay! Knowledge is power. Or at least more power than not-knowledge. Plus, since I’m trying to launch a career as a writer, being familiar with imprints and editors has always seemed like something I want to know all about.

Anyway! Psychological meditations on group projects and the Value of Knowledge aside, when my agent thinks one of my books is close to being ready for submission, I pull out my handy dandy Excel sheet and I start to fill it in. It has the major houses as headers, with space for the imprints below. By the end, it’s a rainbow of colors. Gosh I absolutely adore updating these sheets as stuff happens, because That’s Who I Am. I’ll paste it below so you can get an idea of how to structure such a thing. The “Other” category is for independent publishers (such as Sourcebooks, Kensington, Bloomsbury, Amazon’s traditional publishing arm, Zando, Erewhon, Blackstone, etc.).

Now it’s time to research editors and add them to the sheet.

This is also where it gets dicey.

Dicey as in, you’re hurtling at top speed STRAIGHT INTO A BLACK HOLE, because …


*cue choking sounds*

*cue a scream so high-pitched no one can actually hear it*

I know.

My brain just exploded too, along with all my other major organs.

This, to me, is … insane. Every time we start *That Conversation* about transparency in publishing, one of my thoughts is always “let’s start with disclosing what editors work at what imprints AND KEEPING THOSE PAGES UPDATED!” It seems criminal in this digital age that there is not consistency across the board.

Anyway. Enough about that, eh? Lest I release another scream that breaks the world.

So. I’m going to list a ton of links below, but only to free resources (i.e. not Publisher’s Marketplace). These are the places I’ve scoured over the years to help build my sub lists. If I’m missing obvious ones, please feel free to add links in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate into this post.

As round #1 of sub proceeds (yes, there are usually multiple rounds), I stay busy updating my Excel with editor response times (verrrrry helpful for future reference) and creating my round #2 list (and of course writing the Next Book because that’s what one does on submission, right, my darlings? okay).

Disclaimer–publishing houses change, pages lapse, imprints close, houses merge, and editors move around a good bit. So if you pop in here and find outdated info, feel free to leave a comment and I will try to update them as things change! Also, this list is certainly not exhaustive; it’s just my starting point, and I hope it’s helpful to someone out there.


First, here is a handy flow chart (last updated a year ago) designed by Ali Almossawi that lists the houses and corresponding imprints. It’s huge, but here’s the little section of it corresponding to HarperCollins so you can get an idea:



Click here for PRH list of imprints, some of which link to editor lists, and some of which … don’t. For example, Razorbill (children’s/YA) has an editor list here! Yay. However, Good luck.

Click here for PENGUIN imprints, then click on the imprint to see their editor list. You can use the upper right hand to navigate–here’s a screen shot of the drop down for the adult section. To its right, “PENGUIN YOUNG READERS” also has a navigable drop down (or click here).

(the above includes editor lists for Avery, Berkley, Putnam, Dutton, Pamela Dorman Books, Viking, etc. on the adult side, and on the Young Readers side, Dial, Kokila, Putnam Young Readers, Razorbill, etc. )


Click here for an S&S list of imprints and editors, with a very cool tool that lets you filter by genre (this includes Saga Press, Atria, Margaret McElderry, etc.). THANK YOU S&S FOR PUTTING THIS PAGE TOGETHER, I LOVE YOU FOREVER!


Click here for a list of HarperCollins imprints

Click here for HARPER editors

Click here for Harper MARINER editors

Click here for the HARLEQUIN division, which includes imprints like Park Row, Inkyard, etc. This is an incomplete resource; for example, at this moment, Claire Stetzer is an editor an Inkyard, but she’s not listed anywhere.

Click here for AVON editors.

Click here for Harper Voyager editors, though I don’t believe it’s up to date … for example, Julia Elliott acquires for Harper Voyager but isn’t listed (she also acquires for William Morrow).


uh … Macmillan may be the worst of the bunch regarding editor transparency. Flatiron has a list! And Pan Macmillan (UK) and Celadon! But hello St Martin’s, Wednesday Books, Tor/Forge, Feiwel & Friends … can you throw us a crumb?

Click here for Macmillan imprints

Click here for a list of St Martin’s imprints

Click here for Flatiron Books editors

Click here for Celadon editors

Click here for Tor imprints … I have yet to find an editor list

Click here for PAN MACMILLAN TRADE (UK) editors


Click here for Hachette’s imprints

Click here for Grand Central editors and here for their imprints (which includes FOREVER among others)

Click here for an unofficial place to find Orbit (adult sci-fi/fantasy) editor tastes


There are too many independent publishers to list here, but I’ll list a few reputable publishers that I have submitted to in the past and that have graced us with handy editor lists:

SOURCEBOOKS – Click here for editors organized by imprint

ZANDO – Click here for their editor list

AMAZON PUBLISHING – Click here for their editor and imprint info

BOOKOUTURE – Click here for their editor list

KENSINGTON BOOKS – Click here for editors and here for a list of imprints

EREWHON – Click here for editors

ALCOVE PRESS – Click here for editors

CROOKED LANE – Click here for editors

Additional Resources for Finding Editors

For imprints without official “meet the team” style pages or, ehem, pretty much any information about their editorial teams (hello Bloomsbury … hello Scholastic … *COUGH COUGH*), I use a few methods to dig deeper:

Publishers Weekly Rights Report (click here for an example), which is a weekly round-up (comprehensive, I believe) of all children’s book deals (PB, MG and YA) from that week. This is a great resource for finding editors as well as seeing what is selling right now (which is different from what’s hitting shelves–those deals were frequently made 2 years prior!). I wish this was available for adult book deals too!

Google the house or imprint with words like “book deal” or “deal announcement” and see if you can wring an editor name from that search. Then, search for that editor name and see if you can wring out additional info on their taste, other titles they’ve published, etc.

Search for an editor name paired with “meet the team” or “bio” or “editors” or “editorial team” to try and locate the imprint home page where they work

Use the “Find editors” tool on The Official Manuscript Wish List site. It’s hit or miss as to whether any particular imprint is represented, but there are some gems! I’ve also, er, literally gone through every single editor entry and clicked. Like I said … knowledge is power?

Use the MS Wishlist tool, which displays tweets of what agents or editors are looking for and has handy filters

Google books that you’ve used as comps for your own book, or are within the genre you’re writing, and try to find the acquisitions announcement for that book, where you can then find the name of the editor(s) who bought it. You can use handy search terms like “book deal,” “deal announcement,” or “acquisitions announcement.”

Again, leave additional links in the comments if you’d like to help build this post as an even more helpful resource, because I’m sure I’ve missed a ton! Love you all and here’s to us getting our work OUT THERE!

What it’s Like to be On Submission with a Novel … or Six

The number of times I’ve scoured the internet for posts about submission is, at this point, probably in a World Records book somewhere. Spoiler alert, I have not sold a book yet …

… but I am on submission with multiple projects, so I figured it was time to add my drop about submission to the ocean of the internet, so that as the rest of you also scour for stories about what it’s like , there is one more drop of moisture for your thirsty selves. After reading this post, you should know exactly how long it will take you to sell your book, how much money the auction will drive your advance up to, and also how many copies your first royalty statement will–


Sorry … I know. Bad Jenna. Not funny. These are our hearts on the line, and trust me, I know your pain, because your pain is my pain, and it kills me to tell you what you already know, even though you probably clicked here to hear it again because, like me, we can’t seem to accept the truth:

*cue sobs*

No one can predict how quickly editors will respond, though I’m told that it’s not during the summer publishing lull, or any time leading up to the holidays (i.e. from about October 10th through New Years), or during book fair season, or on February 11th, March 15th-17th, odd days in April, or any date in May with the number 1 in it. No one can predict if your book, no matter how brilliant, will sell … *whispers* … at all. For anyone who has not been on sub yet, I know that is a HUGE downer to read this horrible, horrible statement, and you’re probably hoping with all your heart “please don’t let that be me, that can’t possibly happen to ME” and my darling, that is also my hope for you, that you will sell quickly and painlessly and never know the disappointment of having the treasure of your heart trompled on by editor after editor.

But as someone who is shelving manuscripts left and right, let me also tell you that shelving a manuscript IS NOT THE END. Not of you as a writer, and not necessarily of that manuscript either. Manuscripts can go through revisions years after the fact … if you, the writer, want to do that. They can be resurrected and redone, like one of my agent sibs is doing as they rewrite their YA project into a more lush adult version. My agent likes to remind me that “No manuscript ever has to be dead. We can come back to it.” And that is one of the reasons I love her.

Speaking of my agent, I signed with Lauren Bieker (of FinePrint Literary) in June of 2019 after querying for nearly five years … yep, since fall of 2014. During those 5 years, I wrote and queried five different books, accumulating well over 500 rejections. The 5th book, a YA mystery we’ll call NTOYT, landed me two offers, and I signed with Lauren with a stomach full of butterflies and eyes full of stars.

We revised NTOYT during the summer, and it went out in October of 2019.

I was sure it would sell within weeks. Probably at auction. One of my comps was One of us Is Lying, which was doing soooo well, and I could see where it would fit on the shelf and imagine the miniseries and the soundtrack and and and …


While we waited for editor responses, I realized I had to work on something else. Because of my long querying journey, I did have 4 other manuscripts I still believed in, so I looked at my options and decided to resurrect my YA horror, AEN, which had gotten VERY close with an agent, but Lauren had never seen. It took me a couple months to get that one into shape, and it was in Lauren’s inbox by February 2020. By then, we were talking about a second round for NTOYT when … you guessed it. COVID hit, and Lauren and I decided to press pause on new subs until we got more of a sense of what the heck was happening with publishing and if very possibly this was the end of books, human existence, and toilet paper.

We jumped into working on AEN. By the time it was ready to send, I believed in AEN even more than NTOYT, and since they were both YA and we couldn’t sub both to the same editor pool, we decided to press pause on NTOYT and go full throttle with AEN.

In August 2020, AEN went out.

AEN got a super complimentary rejection from a top editor at a dream imprint which I can’t help but sharing (anonymously, of course) mainly in order to boost my own spirits: “I kept coming back to this submission, as Jenna’s prose really stood out to me. She has a poetic style of writing that is hard not to be impressed by, as are her high-concept ideas … [okay then there’s the part where she rejects it] … Jenna is such a talent. I’d love to see anything else she writes!”

Ugh, the GUT PUNCH of those fabulous rejections when they tell you how great you are but you also walk away heartbroken, holding their words like broken treasures in your hands! We must coin a word for this very niche feeling, because I swear, it is … something.

AEN came close enough with another editor at a major imprint that there was an email exchange between her and my agent about a few of the plot points that led to a flurry of text exchanges between me and Lauren that I was SURE would lead towards further conversations with the editor in question which would lead to an offer …

yeah no uh-uh. But it’s okay because I was reviving ANOTHER project from my querying days that I realized I was definitely still madly in love with and dadgum it had sequins and motorcycles and ice-hearted gangsters and daredevil girls and … THIS WAS THE ONE! SO COMMERCIAL!

March 2021, my sequins-and-motorcycles YA speculative thriller, KC, went out. It was definitely on the edge between YA and adult, so we sent it out to a combination of adult and YA editors with a focus on editors interested in crossover titles. Editors loved the voice! “Strong voice,” in fact, was a theme … in their rejection emails. One editor said “It’s such a fun premise, and it was easy for me to get into the plot,” and another said, “Jenna’s writing is super accessible, and I got sucked into this character’s voice from the outset.” But still no bites.

I had to write something else.

Now solidly in 2021, as AEN and KC made their way through further rounds of editors, I found myself pivoting away from the YA age group. I had this fantasy idea that could skew adult, as well as some middle aged characters for a women’s fiction idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d never written for adults before, but … why not try? I wrote both during that year. The nice thing about writing for a new age group, adult readers, was that a whole new slew of editors was open to us.

In October 2021 we went out with my women’s fiction, BBB. I’d also wrapped up edits on my adult fantasy, OAFQ, so as rejections for BBB rolled in, Lauren and I were deep in revisions on the fantasy.

As we prepped the editor sub list for the fantasy (I looooove being involved in creating this list, btw), which I was SURE would sell, I discovered that there are alarmingly few editors for adult fantasy. Like … whoa. And since my agent reps other writers who do fantasy, the list of potential submissions was even smaller than I was used to since she tries to avoid simultaneous subs. But still–I loved OAFQ and I was convinced THIS was the one. New age group, new genre, my best writing to date–this was gonna be it! We went out with OAFQ in February of 2022.

As rejections came in, I started feeling a bit panicky. After all, this was the 5th project Lauren and I were sending out together, and for the first time, I didn’t have the ‘next thing’ in progress. I was used to moving my emotional eggs into the next basket as soon as a project went out, which is my best armor against rejection, kind of like an emotional game of leap-frog.

The rejections were, again, so complimentary. One dream editor said, “This is a tough one for me, because it came very close. I read all the way to the end, which is rare for me these days, because I really liked the characters and relationships that Jenna set up—[cue the rejections parts]. Still, Jenna has some real talent, so if you do not find a home for this one, then definitely keep me in mind for her future work. There is a lot of potential here.”


FINE. I had to write something new. AGAIN.

I’d been reading a lot of adult thrillers, with the intent of getting to know the genre better and exploring if maybe I’d want to/be capable of writing such a thing. But … was I smart enough to plot?? I’d always been such a pantser, but that didn’t seem like it would work for a complex plot. Then an idea struck. An idea that was HELLA commercial. I’d never written anything so high concept. I could see it as a book. A miniseries. A movie. I could see myself in a gown at the movie opening (again). I tentatively opened an Excel sheet and I called it “THE PLOT.” MFY was born. The book is basically The Bachelor meets The Stepford Wives, with murder. I wrote it from March to May 2022. My betas read and commented, I edited, I sent it off to Lauren, I edited some more, and then some more. We went out with MFY in July 2022, the one bright spot in a summer that was otherwise very emotionally dark, as my youngest sister died at 34.

And … here we are. September 2022. MFY has gotten a few rejections so far (4 to be precise, why not). It’s still out with plenty of editors, some of whom have already rejected BBB and OAFQ (hahaha you can’t get rid of me that easily suckahs!).

Let me say this loud and clear: I am out with my sixth project.

Not my first … certainly not my second … my sixth.

Meaning, I have 6 precious book babies that have gotten nothing but no’s. (And, if you’re keeping track, 3 book babies that never have–and probably never will–see the light of sub, for a total of 9 completed projects).

I always laugh when writers post their sub stories with comments like, “when we sent this one out, I KNEW this was the one!” Hahahahaha. I’ve thought every single one of my six sub-babies was “the one.” I have since learned not to trust my gut … at all (traitorous little whatsit). Even so, I can’t help feeling that heady rush when a new project goes out, and letting that delightful “I think this is the one” feeling wash over me. Ya know, the older I get the more I realize, life sucks plenty. Why not enjoy the good feelings while I can, whenever I can?

Some of you, at this point, may be wondering “where are the stats?” You know, the average response times, number of editors per round, how many rounds until kinda-shelving, and all that good stuff. Let’s see:

Response times: Response times have been as short as 10 days and as long as never. Most responses come between 2-3 months, with outliers in the 4-6 month range. And I hate to say it but … there is a lot of ghosting. I know. Terrible thing, ghosting. But it happens more frequently than I would have imagined.

Editors per round: We like to do around 10 editors per round, I’d say, for the average project. That said, we’ve gone smaller, and we’ve gone wider. It depends on a lot–the project, the genre, what other editors may still have your work. This is also affected by what editors my agent has other subs with (I know SHOCKER Lauren does have other clients). Then we have to wait until that editor responds about her other client’s work. This has been especially painful for my fantasy project, since the editor pool for adult fantasy is sooooo limited. So yeah … factors.

How many rounds until mostly-shelving? I’d say two big rounds and a third smaller round, usually. Then, it’s the odd editor here or there that tweets something or posts in their manuscript wish list, and I might be like “omg Lauren let’s send X project to Y!” and, if Lauren agrees, out it goes.

How to stay sane during this madness? By reading posts like these, obvi.

JK. By writing the next thing. Sorry, but you knew I’d say that.


Where do things stand now with my submission journey? MFY is in week 7, with plenty of people left to hear from. OAFQ is on round 2, with a handful of people left to hear from. BBB is out with a couple people. NTOYT and KC and AEN are each out with at least one new-to-it editor.

So I’m in the same place as usual: we’ll see.

And if you’re really, really wanting to be a writer, especially a traditionally published writer, “we’ll see” is the name of a desert-land where you’ll spend a lot of time. So take off your shoes, get comfy (as you are able), and allow yourself to keep hoping, writing, creating, not creating, resting, dreaming, crying, and when all else fails, reading other peoples’ submission stories like the bad little addicts we are.


Three fabulous places to read about being on sub:

Diana Urban’s What it’s Really Like to Go on Submission to Publishers

Kate Dylan’s awesome compilation of anonymous Sub Stories

Mindy McGinnis’s legendary Submission Hell, It’s True series

Also, follow me on Twitter, where I post brilliant writing tips such as:

On forcing a new project out of your unwilling fingertips

A couple years ago, I had huge writer’s block, which I documented here. I couldn’t seem to commit to a project. I had a bunch of ideas, but none of them really grabbed me in the heart … except for one, which I attempted to write pantser-style in a great rush of inspiration. Then I hit a brick wall 50k words in and the whole thing went to pot. Inspiration was gone. My faith in my ability to write new stories was cracking. Apparently I lacked discipline. Vision. Probably both.

I eventually returned to a previous project that needed serious work, and decided to rewrite from the ground up. I spent a gloriously satisfying time getting that into shape over about nine months. But last fall, when I was ready to query that one, I started getting writing anxiety.

Because here I was again, about to enter the mushy time when a project ends and another must begin (for my optimal happiness as a human person thingy). But which project? How? Forthwith and henceforth? Was I going to get stuck again?

I was scared. I didn’t want to go back into writer’s block land.

So I decided to try an experiment. I’d commit to one of my ideas–didn’t matter which–and September 1st, I’d start pounding out the words. It didn’t matter if they sucked. Nothing mattered except the pounding out of the words. I’d write 50k words in the month of September. Then and only then, I promised myself, would I allow myself to take a step back and consider if this was the project I wanted to continue on with.

Worst case, I’d spend a month on something only to trash it.

But even in that worst case, I’d be working on my craft instead of dithering about wondering what should I work on today?

“It’s an experiment,” I said to my husband as I put my word count goals up on the fridge for all to see.

Then I picked a project at random. Last time I’d gotten stuck, it had been in a complex high fantasy with a magic system I couldn’t begin to explain to myself. So this time, I’d do a murder mystery. That felt straightforward, if tricky. I wouldn’t overthink it, either. Hot blond gets murdered in the woods. Bam. Go.

I already figured this would be my most superficial story ever. It would probably be cliche, full of tropes, and totally expected. But it didn’t matter. I was going to grab onto it like a lifeline and write my way through September come hell or high water.

50k words felt like a fair shot for any story line. I applied myself to the task.

By the end of September, I had a big old mess of 50,000 words. It wasn’t a coherent story. The order of scenes made no sense. The characters weren’t doing the right things. There was kind of a mystery. And there was kind of a murder.

BUT! I had done it–no small thing amidst the daily duties involved in three small kids and a full-time job. Aaaaand I had characters. They had names, and were starting to have personalities. There was something like a plot brewing.

I was going to continue. October 1st, I scrapped the first document and started a fresh, blank new one. Same story, same characters, but now I knew a little better where I was going. Two more months of writing followed. The structure got ripped apart and rebuilt. Characters completely changed.

Then, some time in December, my sister read it. And . . . hated it. She would never say that, but yeah. Her exact words were, “It was like watching a train wreck. I couldn’t stop reading, but it was not fun.” Then she added, “Oh, and I have no idea who your main character really is.”

WHAT? Not fun? And a COMPLETELY BLAND PROTAGONIST? As soon as I recovered from this painful (but productive) blow, enter another huge rewrite. INSERT MORE FUN. Insert humor. Make it less dark. Define Main Character. And on and on.

Then my husband read it. More problems were identified. More tears were shed. The structure had to be changed . . . again. After a day of crying about my story’s problems and the lack of love it was receiving from my readers, I set to work again. Over Christmas, I problem-solved, wrote new material, and changed the beginning.

But by the end of January, I had a manuscript I was proud of. I was ready to query.

The little project that started as a FORCE YOURSELF TO WRITE experiment had turned into an actual finished story. With characters that I loved. Themes that moved me. A plot that made me giggle madly.

And most importantly: the story gave me five happy months of work that stimulated me, made me excited to get up in the morning, and added that extra layer of joy and interest to my life.

In conclusion: if you’re stuck, like so many writers before me have said, just write. Practical ways to do that:

  1. Give yourself a goal. If you’re externally motivated, share it with others.
  2. Pick a genre and story line that doesn’t intimidate you.
  3. Free yourself of ANY EXPECTATION other than words on the page. Your story has permission to suck. Your scene progression doesn’t have to make sense.
  4. Write a stupid scene, just because you can. No one has to see it. Write a stupid character. Don’t worry, you can erase it later if you want. Just write. And I can promise you . . . by the end of your goal, there will be something there.

Creativity doesn’t always start with a bright shiny idea. Sometimes it starts with you, casting yourself into the mud of a new project and thrashing about. It feels like a mess. And it is. But it won’t be a mess forever.


Ah, Ye Querying Trench of Hellaciousness

Querying. Ah, querying. It’s a necessary part of a writer’s life when they’re seeking traditional publication. It’s that exciting next step that happens when your novel is DONE. You’re contacting agents–lovely people–and opening the door to the opportunity of making that magical artistic connection with someone who will further your work in so many ways. So I can’t be dissing on it too much, despite the lurid title of this post.

But I gotta tell you, I haven’t been as blue as I was the other night in a loooooong time. Here’s what’s going on: I just started sending out batches of queries for my new project. The first week, even as the first rejections flowed into my inbox, I was mostly like, “lalalala, oh yeah, this is what I expected, look at me, I’M TOTALLY FINE, I’ve done this before and this time it’s not affecting me AT ALL, let’s just HAVE A GOOD TIME lalalala.”

And then, on day #8, a rejection came in and just walloped all the la-la-la’s right out of me. Maybe it was the couple specific things the rejecting agent mentioned that hurt. Maybe it was because I let my first feelings of insecurity have a voice, and what they said was oh my word my novel is CRAP AFTER ALL. No one wants it and no one is ever going to want it. Or maybe it was just time for the happy-charade to be burned away to reveal the truth: that rejection hurts. Even when you expect it, you can’t fully armor yourself against it. We’re humans for goodness’ sake, not killing robot cyborgs.

So. Here I am. No longer in Happy Queryland. It turns out that querying sucks and was always going to suck.

But instead of going on some kind of depressive rant (okay maybe I did that a teensy bit already but I’m totally moving on), I’m going to use this opportunity to remind myself of a few things to celebrate.

  1. I wrote and finished a novel. YES I DID. After a huge episode of writer’s block and a year of creatively fallow ground, I kept at it and finally did it. THIS IS AWESOME.
  2. I have put my work out there. Yes, I am getting rejected, but I am strong enough to take it. It hurts, but it’s not killing me. THIS IS AWESOME.
  3. I love my story. I wrote something I would proud to put my name on. THIS IS AWESOME.
  4. I know that the writing in this manuscript is so much stronger than my first manuscript four years ago. I have progressed as an artist and as a writer. The evidence is in these pages. And my progress doesn’t stop here–my next manuscript will be even better. I can keep growing and improving–the rest of my life! THIS IS AWESOME.

I have to admit, upon further reflection, that part of feeling blue and depressed the other night wasn’t the querying and rejection. Honestly, compiled with that was a feeling of listlessness and lack of purpose. There was a moment when it hit me, once the kids were in bed and I found myself in the mood to write, that I had no project to work on. *cue horror music and creepy shot of steep stairway leading to dark attic*

Yes, for a writer, having nothing to sink their teeth into can be scarier than a chainsaw-wielding maniac in the attic.

And realistically, I won’t have that for awhile (the project) (the chainsaw-wielding maniac is more in the ‘never’ category) (one hopes). Because I have to make something new from scratch. Unlike a lot of the rewriting and revising work I’ve been doing this year, now when I sit down at the laptop, what’s looking at me is a blank document. I don’t have characters I’m comfortable with, or a world I’ve built, or the basic outline of a plot waiting for me. I’m at square one. Make that square zero.

Gosh, Square Zero is uncomfortable.

At best, it’s like climbing the sliding side of a mountain. You try to make some progress but slip back down. You’re not even sure what mountain you’re climbing, or why, or if you’ll reach the top or if you should find a different mountain.

With this new Square Zero stuff, I’m also trying to get some positive perspective hammered into my thick skull:

  1. Yes, there’s a lot of uncertainty when you’re in between projects. So ENJOY it. Experiment. Get that one crazy idea out of the box and flirt with it for a night or two. Is it annoying you? You have permission to toss it aside. This could be fun, if you let it.
  2. Focus on recharging, artistically speaking. I’ve been so focused on writing this year, I’ve only read ONE BOOK. ALL YEAR. This amounts to criminal. I need to max out my library allowance and read, read, read. I need to watch some movies. See what shows are out there. And through it all, open myself to inspiration.
  3. I need to remember that my worth is not measured by what I’ve written. As an accomplishment-driven person, these periods of what feels like “non-accomplishment” are especially hard. What a great opportunity to ground myself again in what really defines me–which is never my output.

Are any of you in the query trenches? Any of you at Square Zero creatively? I’d love to hear about where you’re at and what you’re learning.

Drafting: fast and messy or slow and clean?

I’m experimenting with a new way of writing.

In the past, my story ideas have resulted in explosions of speed-writing, typing as fast as my fingers can because I have to get the story out. I’ve done it this way three times, and all three of those it’s been intensely enjoyable. And let’s face it–there are definite advantages to doing it this way: it gets done. Powering through until you type the very last sentence, without questioning yourself or what you’re writing, is like riding a roller coaster. You almost feel like you’re being carried away by something stronger than yourself, and there’s nothing you can do but hang on tight and ride it to the end.

However, writing that way does produce a messy, messy draft. And let’s face it–messy drafts can be a bit overwhelming to tackle during revisions.

I went back to one of those stories recently, determined to whip it into shape and make it query-ready. What I found was discouraging–a villain who didn’t deliver, a plot that didn’t get as exciting as the lead-up promised, overly verbose descriptions of this and that, all-over-the-place POV (point of view)–holy cramoly. It felt too messy to salvage, and every time I tried to revise in a significant way I felt trapped by a heroine who, upon further reads, I realized was unlikeable.

At this point, I could have shelved the story. But honestly, I never considered shelving it. I loved the story and the characters as I knew them in my mind–it just wasn’t translating to the page. So. I’ll scrap it, I decided. And start fresh. Same story, same characters, new writing. New, awesome writing. New, awesome, super-tight writing.

I’ve been working on it for a couple months now. It’s a very different experience, because I already know the substance of the story. I (roughly) know where it’s headed. I know the characters. So it’s more of a matter of getting there in the right way. Finding the right scenes. Knitting them together in the right sequence.

This time, my focus isn’t GET THE STORY OUT AS FAST AS YOU CAN. It’s get the story out right.

It’s slower. A lot slower. It involves combing over material that I’ve already written and messing with scenes–their content, style, sequence. It involves deleting stuff that doesn’t work. Tweaking, finagling, squinting at a line and just sitting with it. The writing, compared to my fast and messy drafts, is leaner and tighter. But it’s taking a looooong time. Sometimes a couple hours’ work only results in one tiny new scene. Or a couple scenes slightly revised.

One of my fears in going about it this way was that it would be a passion-kill. That by going at a snail’s pace, somehow all the excitement would bleed out of it. That hasn’t been the case. True, it’s not the fit-of-passion of my speed-writing, but it’s very enjoyable. When I open the manuscript, there are no rules like there used to be (go go go go go FAST!). Instead, there’s latitude. I might do some new writing. I might go over some old writing. I might focus on the opening scenes (again). I love the reminder that, in writing, there are no rules. As long as I finish it, it doesn’t matter how I got there. And that is very freeing.

By the end, I think (I hope) it will be a relatively clean draft. Of course it will require the usual post-draft steps–revisions, critiques from readers, more revisions, resting time, more revisions, and all that good stuff. But I’m excited to produce something that isn’t a mess.

What about you? Do you write slow and clean, or fast and messy? Do you find one way better than the other?