On Submission

Ed. Note: In our spring/summer series – “The Tough Times, and How I Wrote Through Them” – one of this site’s regular contributors will write about a complication they’ve faced in writing and/or publishing, a complication you’re likely to experience someday, and they’ll disclose how they got past it (alcohol may be part of the answer but, no, it’s not the whole answer).

By E.A. Aymar

Here’s how weird I got: I wrote down my agent’s phone number on a post-it note and taped it above my phone at work.

My book (the second I’d written, the first to receive representation) had just been sent out on submission, and I was expecting a phone call any day – really, any moment – with an offer.

Those first few weeks were a near-certainty that the phone would ring and my caller ID would flash her number; my heart raced every time a 212 area code showed up. And then the next month was spent in disappointment. Honestly, it was agony. Rejections had been received. No one else had responded. My highs had turned to lows.

Waiting is hell for writers. You’ve spent so long working on a book, finally written something pretty and polished and publishable. At any moment (seriously, any moment) you could receive word that you’re going to become a published author. You check your e-mail after meetings. Rush through voice mails. Worry about how often you’re bugging your agent. Every day you wake up excited, have that excitement wane through the day, and go to sleep disappointed. After a while, that nightly disappointment seeps into your days.

That book didn’t sell, and the agent and I amicably parted ways afterward. It was my third book that finally got published, and the fourth that landed the right agent for me. But that first rough submission process scarred me, and taught me some tips on how to handle waiting:

1. Do something for others. Publishing is a hard, lonely business. You’re not the only one who feels that way; it’s occasionally like that for all us. So give other writers encouragement. Read and share work you like on Twitter or Facebook. And do it altruistically – don’t expect or seek anything in return. Nothing is more irritating than when a writer tells you they like your work, and immediately asks for a favor – “I really loved your book and left a review on Amazon. Would you consider reading mine and leaving a review?” It’s shallow and clumsy. Don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy.

If I enjoyed a book, I try to always post something about it somewhere with a buy link. I’m 100% sure I’ve promoted authors who won’t do it for me, or don’t even like me. I don’t care. If a book’s good, then others should read it. Make that your mantra.

2. Write something else. It’s not uncommon to get creatively stuck when you’re on submission; after all, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe an agent or editor will contact you and ask for minor rewrites. Maybe they’ll want you to take the story in an entirely different direction. Or maybe your plans for a second book are contingent on what happens with the first. If you can’t work on your next book – for whatever reason – then write something else. Blog posts. Short stories. Articles. Essays. This helps in two ways.

First, it keeps you writing, which is always a good thing. And if agents or editors are eyeing you, it doesn’t hurt to be an active writer with a beefy CV.

Second, it gives you a much-needed sense of reward. Your novel is going to draw rejections. Some acceptances for other things you’ve written does a nice job of helping you tread water. I went back to school for a Masters after that second book failed to sell, and the immediacy of the “study hard = reward” class system was a nice reminder of what I’d been missing – you work hard on an essay and, a week later, receive an A. Publishing, um, rarely moves that fast.

You need validation that your hard work is paying off.

3. Go away. Some people need to shake a book loose after its written. Maybe you’ve been planning to take a trip once the book sells as a reward to yourself, and your bag is sitting packed in the closet, waiting. That’s not helping. If you can do it, take some time away. Get out of your head, out of your story, and distance yourself.

4. Don’t let depression swallow you. Listen: I’m serious about this one. You love this book and the characters and the work you put into it, and this book represents much of what you believe…but you’re more than your book. No matter how much blood and sweat you put into it, someone is going to look at that work – before and after its published – and shrug. That’s a fact of life with art and artists. Happens to all of us, and it doesn’t matter.

No book is worth a life.

If you’re feeling depressed, if suicide is beginning to seem inevitable, please get help. Talk to someone. Talk to a lot of someones, but don’t mistake depression as some sort of artistic necessity. If it is, then you need to change what you do or how you do it. And there are lots of people who can help. Find them. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your loved ones. Hell, you owe it to your characters.


As it happens, I’m on submission right now. It’s the fifth book I’ve completed, ideally the third that will be published, and definitely the best one I’ve written. Will it get published?

I think so, it’s good. It impresses me, which is a nice thing when it honestly happens with your writing.

But I truly don’t know. What I do know is that, at the end of the day, I’ll keep writing. Because no matter the irreplaceable excitement that comes when you learn you’re going to be published, or the affection you feel when someone loves it, or when you win some sort of long-sought acknowledgement or award…none of that ever feels like the singular moment when you know you wrote something good.

And no one can control that moment but you.

E.A. Aymar is the managing editor of The Thrill Begins. His most recent novel is You’re As Good As Dead, and he also writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books. His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of top crime fiction publications. Aymar is also involved in a collaboration with DJ Alkimist, a NY and DC-based DJ, where his stories are set to her music. For more information about that project, visit www.eaalkimist.com.

To learn more about Aymar’s latest novel, click on the cover below:

Previously in The Tough Times (And How I Wrote Through Them):

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same, by Wendy Tyson

Going Bananas, by S.J.I. Holiday

Dirty Little Secrets, by Jennifer Hillier

Parting Ways – DDWID (Don’t Do What I Did), by Gwen Florio

The Tough Times, by Tom Sweterlitsch

Writing Through Rejection, by Elizabeth Heiter

Writing Against Deadlines, by Rob Brunet

Facing Your Personal “issues” and “Issues,” by Shannon Kirk

Shutting Down Places Like Eliot Ness, by J.J. Hensley

On Time Management, by Mark Pryor