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  • Writer's pictureJessica M. Simpkiss

It's like a unicorn riding a comet ...

When my first novel, The Spaewife’s Secret, was picked up, not only did I not understand what it meant to work with a publisher, I honestly didn’t care. I was just excited someone other than my mother saw promise in my writing (shout out to all the mother’s reading half-finished manuscripts out there).

What followed was a lackluster experience that resulted in a book cover that made publishing the book feel more like a flop than a triumph. I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (pun intended!) but when it comes to literal books, a cover is everything and mine felt like a nothing.

So, let’s talk submissions and how you avoid the pitfalls that befell my first book.

My recommendation (based solely on my experience) is to strive to work with an agent and not the publisher directly. An agent, remember, only gets paid if you do. A publisher works much the same way, but smaller indie publishers where your book it print on demand like mine was, aren’t out any significant up front costs and in my experience, don’t work as hard to sell your book as an agent would. Plus, the BIGGIES don’t read non-agented writers, so if that’s the goal, get an agent.

My first pitfall – I didn’t understand (nor was I prepared) for lack of control I would have during the process and who I was willingly giving it to. This was a big eyeopener.

When I finished, Spaewife’s Secret, it felt like I had birthed a second child, and I thought I would be as fiercely protective of it as I was my first and actual child. Come to find out, I threw her to the wolves the first chance I got, and they cut her hair and gave her a new look and at the end of the day, all I could do was scream “what have you done to my baby?”.

It might only be because this was my first novel (as I didn’t feel quiet so jilted with my second). Firsts for everything seem to stick with us longer. First loves, first kisses, first times … we all remember those more vividly that the second or third or tenth. So why should the publication of a novel be any different.

When I thought I was ready to start submitting (I emphasize the word thought), I assumed it was a numbers game. The more places I sent my work to, the more likely someone would say yet. and that’s all I needed, right. Just one person to say yes, and I would be on my way. Oh, I could not have been more wrong.

I must have submitted my manuscript to at least a hundred agents and publishers, alike, just waiting for that one yes, that was going to change my life. And finally, I came, and it changed my life and started me on a journey I am very thankful for, but there was no shortage of bumps along the way.

Red flag #1 – I received a response from the publisher of the same day I sent my query. (we’re going to ignore the horrendous mistakes in my query email and letter itself like a complete lack of genre understanding, work count, subject line formatting, and revisit that later this month.) Not only did I receive a response the same day, I received an email requesting to acquire the title less than three hours after I submitted it. Again, blinded by my purely emotional response, this little idiosyncrasy escaped me until recently. And it’s not like my manuscript was a quick read, it was just over 115,000 words. Now, maybe an experienced agent or publisher could read that many words in three hours. MAYBE. I know I couldn’t, but I’m sure there are some. But more likely what happened was, an acceptance email went out manuscript partially read or unread altogether. I then had 60 days to review the contract and while I did employ the assistance of my father (former corporate world VP) to help ensure I wasn’t literally promising my first born to them, I had the contract back to them in 10 days, and away we went.

So what’s the lesson I’ve learned from this experience and my time as submissions editor. It’s not a numbers game. It’s more like a unicorn riding a comet that crashed into the exact perfect agents lap at the exact right time. That’s how I would describe landing an agent. 😊 The influx of us writers out there flooding the market with all kinds of great stuff has only made their jobs infinitely more difficult, and caused them to become more and more selective, because remember, they only get paid if you do. They have to be able to sell your book. That’s really what it boils down to.

So the lesson, one more time … put as much effort as you did into writing the book as you do trying to find it a home. Start with half a dozen or so agents. Research them, their likes, their wish lists, look at their catalogue of writers, follow them on social, follow their writers on social. Do anything you can to arm yourself with the best ammunition possible so that when you sit down to write that query letter, it’s genuine. We can feel that on the other side of the send


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