I've written at least six or seven blog entries inside my head since my manuscript went on submission, but I'm honestly afraid of writing and then publishing any of them for fear they might make me look:
Angry (aka the angry mixed race writer)
Now, I'm woefully human, so realistically, I've probably been ALL OF THOSE THINGS at some point in my lifetime, trying them on like new baseball caps, but I'm always working on my shit, man. In the meantime, I'm writing this entry mostly for myself, but also for other aspiring literary fiction writers looking for blog entries about what it's like going on submission as a literary fiction writer. I think that's generically important because almost every blog I've found online detailing the woes of being on submission has been written by genre fiction writers, but commercial fiction for the most important has its own rules, some of which don't apply perfectly (or at all) to literary fiction manuscripts.
This is what I've learned so far:
Being on submission TOTALLY FUCKING SUCKS. There, I said it.
Even though this is absolutely the wrong thing to feel, as much as I hate saying that, I sometimes feel humiliated (isn't that weird? Isn't that absurd?) that almost all of my writing friends have books out or contracts and I'm still looking for my first break because it makes me feel like I'm on the outside once again, and I hate feeling that way. This also makes me feel like I'm not talented enough, even though I know that's not really the issue (or IS IT?). Furthermore, being in limbo for six months has made my irrational brain conspiratorial sometimes. You're not a NYC insider, it says. Unlike most of your writer friends who have books out, you're not a white woman writer, it says, (which is factually true but sounds controversial). You didn't get your MFA from Columbia or another university in New York, it says. You didn't grow up in the East Coast, it says. Shut up! I yell. Then there's a pause. Then this: You've never been to the Hamptons, it continues. Your R's are rhotic, it says, and you're woefully Midwestern. You've spent a good chunk of your life in the West Coast too, it says, (which is true, though honestly, I've always loved New York, I even lived there for several years, but it's never been my HOME). What do these details matter? They don't. I'm just grasping at straws as to why my novel hasn't sold yet.
I've stopped hoping every morning to get The Call, which is good because it doesn't hurt anymore the way it did the first three months when I didn't get any offers. On the flip side, this psychological response feels tragic somehow, like I've learned to cope with this romantically counterfactual alternative life by simply expecting nothing and hoping for less. That can't be healthy, right?
I've never been more ready for my writing career to begin as I am right now, which makes the waiting even more excruciating than being under-prepared.
There is absolutely no way to know whether your manuscript is going to sell or not. There just isn't. Not unless your agent is Nicole Aragi and/or you're a delusional celebrity who's written another insipid novel about talking animals and pseudointellectual Californians in the Bay Area and coffee-loving hipsters saying insipid shit at parties that better writers have already said for a lot less money and PR.
If you've made it to #6, then you already know this. This whole process is making me bitter AF! Oh my god, so bitter! Like, sometimes, I choke on my own bitterness (and I'm NOT the choking type. I actually hate choking). I mean, I'm talented. I have an insane work ethic (I wrote the critical portion of my dissertation in less than six months without compromising content). I do voice, place, romance, and characterization like a fucking champ. I write about mixed race identity at a critical point in American cultural history. I give fantastic readings. I honestly love people and love connecting with them publicly in all of my controlled social awkwardness. And I have other manuscripts that are ready to roll. I'm literally bursting at the seams right now and it doesn't matter.
The publishing industry can be insanely slow if you're not a delusional celebrity or if your agent isn't Nicole Aragi because editors are overworked and underpaid and nothing you do beforehand can prepare you psychologically for this agony, and that's partially because you've never been so close to selling your novel before, but also because technically, you're not any further along in your writing career (YET) than you were before you got an agent, or got accepted into your MFA and PhD programs, which bruises your soul and your ego and your understanding of time.
Having an agent doesn't speed up the submission process when it comes to submitting to the big 5. And it doesn't even speed up the submission process when it comes to indie presses and the glossies either (at least not until you're a delusional celebrity). I'm still waiting to hear back from two indie presses on a manuscript submitted ten months ago. Ten! I'm still waiting to hear back from a number of glossies for essays submitted 4-6 months ago. I honestly got faster replies when I used to submit unsolicited manuscripts to The New Yorker and Harpers because it's always faster to reject something, even with a few distilled words of praise, which is precisely why going on submission is such a slow and painful burn.
Maybe, I'll get good news tomorrow, maybe next month. Maybe, I won't get a single offer the whole year. Honestly, who the hell really knows? And that's the maddening part. You just don't know anything until you know everything.
TBH, I'm kinda scared that I'll feel like a complete failure if I can't sell this novel. I'm also scared that editors don't care enough about my racial bildungsroman/hapa romance or what's at stake in it. I'm scared that this novel will only appeal to bold editors and that this economy makes it difficult to be bold. I'm scared that I'm going to be THAT WRITER who never publishes his novels during his lifetime. Sometimes, I stay awake at night, worrying about that shit (and I don't normally worry about anything except death, poverty, and divorce).
Adding to the intrigue (read: horror), is the fact that unlike genre fiction, whose sales are much more robust but also partially affected by publishing and genre trends, literary (non) fiction was NEVER fashionable. Ever. Your greatest gift to an imprint is winning a literary award, because the sales numbers with literary fiction are just astoundingly bad overall, and at least awards draw more readers into your coven. So, in addition to all of the other shit that all fiction writers face when being on submission (irrational and untested hope, slow and unsettling disbelief, self-loathing, rags-to-riches-fantasies, primal jealousy, imagined NBA speeches to your mum, daydreams of buying a one-way ticket to Reykjavik and never looking back), literary fiction writers also face an additional burden, which is that their genre itself, not just the manuscript, is a gamble. This is not a jeremiad. This is the reality.
No one truly knows what’s gonna sell
So, if you're a literary (non) fiction writer and you're on submission right now, I feel bad for you, son. I've got 99 problems but my talent ain't one. For your sake, I hope your submission experience is faster and a lot less confusing than mine is. But if it's not, if's similar to mine, if it's NORMAL in any way, I'm here to tell you that you're gonna be okay. That eventually, the world will make space for your art. In fact, it might be doing that right now, so you need to hang in there until it's your time and something opens up. Someone has to get published, why not you? Why not me? And how long until this blog post becomes obsolete? A few more days? A few more months? Stay tuned, gentle reader, because I honestly don't know. What I do know is that good things have a particular smell to them, so take a good whiff.