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In Control: On Sub
I’ve been on sub for 1.5+ years now, which means 1 year of feeling like I had absolutely no agency and only about 7 months of finally getting my sense of self back
For me, sub was/is worse than querying was.
There’s so much about sub that’s better: your agent is an expert to guide you, you have someone (a professional!) in your corner to cheer you on and filter harmful rejections. But control-wise, I felt even more powerless. When I was querying I had the power to choose agents, to create a strategy, to nudge people directly, tweak my query, keep my own spreadsheets and email correspondence, and I knew all the decisions I made were ‘right’ because they were for me. Now it’s someone else who receives my rejections, writes my pitch, chooses editors, sends nudges, etc. I value their expertise and they often know better than me about strategy, which means I don’t really get to make my own decisions and don’t want to because my agent just knows better. This is all not to say I don’t have say over my pitch and editor list and strategy, I do to an extent, but I’m in a position where I can’t acquire enough expertise to do everything myself, so I have to trust someone else.
That’s tough, and I’ve been on sub for 1.5+ years now, which means 1 year of feeling like I had absolutely no agency in the whole thing, and only about 7 months of finally getting my sense of self back. No one tells you how easy it is to lose that. No one tells you how confused you can get about your own book—did I do something terribly wrong? Was this the wrong story to tell? Maybe I should implement every single bit of feedback given to me even if I don’t agree with it or it contradicts, because someone else is saying it and I just want to sell. Everyone seems to know more/better than me, my fate is in someone else’s hands.
My fate is in someone else’s hands, but my book and its story are in mine. So, here are some suggestions to try and regain a sense of control on sub:
GO GET ANOTHER HOBBY
Understand that the first drafts of your book may be for you, but the moment you intend to write for traditional publishing you are deciding to write for a market. Definitely hold true to your ultimate vision, but you are going to have to shift your books to be understandable to other people. I can perfectly understand all of the worldbuilding in my world because I created it, but when other people say some aspect is confusing, I need to clarify it, because I’m trying to make the book legible to an audience beyond me. I find it very freeing to understand that.
Keep writing. Not continuously, I definitely took some breaks, but I kept writing books and in doing so proved to myself that I. Can. Write. Books. No flukes involved. It also helped me understand that no one book is the answer. If one doesn’t sell, I’ll write another. And so on and so forth.
Related, write something new and weird and funky. Experiment, grow your craft, and have fun with your writing again.
Give back to your community as much as possible. I looked outwards. I joined a bunch of mentoring programs and did everything I could to help others navigate the industry. This both made me a better writer and allowed me to build confidence in myself and my skills, which translates back to my viewpoint and my writing.
If you’re comfortable with this, build your community and online presence. Part of it is just making friends who will support and challenge you, part of it can be a business decision. What brand do you want to create? What audience do you want to serve? I did this network-building work via Twitter and this newsletter. I think of it as engaging with community and better setting myself up for that book deal one day by having done some promo not for a specific book, but for myself as an author. You can also revamp your website too, etc
Communicate honestly with your agent. If you have a sub strategy idea, pitch it. If you think a certain editor would be a good fit, pitch it. Set up a schedule for receiving updates that works for you. Don’t try to micromanage, they’re professionals, but so are you. This is your writing and your journey, advocate for yourself.
Plan out a future as if you already have the deal. A lot will change, absolutely, but being able to conceptualize the next steps means that when you do get a deal you’ll be able to hit the ground running. Keep a list of potential future marketing ideas, stay on the lookout for editors who might be interested in your work and send them to your agent. Develop a writing process that will allow you to write even on deadline.
Join communities that are going through something similar. There are Facebook groups for writers on sub, people on Twitter to talk to, etc etc.
And/or, disengage. Turn off your email notifications, take a step away, and find other areas of your life where you can successfully exert influence.
In many ways, these methods of control are the same as the ones for querying. In other ways, they’re very different. You have to disengage with the actual process of being on sub more than you may have with querying, but you are absolutely a step closer to a book deal than you were while querying. No nudges, no new queries sent because you’re antsy. You have to get comfortable with the silence, on sub.
In the end, I suppose it all comes down to: take yourself seriously. Have fun, but take your career seriously. Take your writing seriously. Set up processes and scaffolds for success and begin the process of thinking about publishing as a business rather than just a pipedream.
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