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3 Things I Learned Going On Submission With My First Book

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In 2018, I went on submission with my first novel, The Body Myth, with my agent Stacy Testa. At the time, I was still shocked I even had an agent in New York who wanted to represent my work and had done multiple levels of edits with me over a couple of months.

I had no idea what to expect about the submissions process, but soon, I’d not only know everything the internet had to say about it, but I would become obsessed and relentless in wanting to know everybody’s submission story.

My agent was very warm. Her process was exceedingly considered and organised. She had created a list of top editors as her round one and then a couple of other publishers/editors she wanted to try if round one didn’t work out.

In the very first week or two, I got two near misses. One editor from a big five almost loved it enough but ultimately just wrote an excellent rejection. I got a couple of glowing-praise-in-some-feedback letters, but they were still all rejections. After a flurry of these nice rejections that came in very early, an eerie silence descended upon my inbox.

TLDR, we had to wait till round two of submissions and a total of 5 months before I got my acceptance from Unnamed Press. This was followed by multiple offers from all the Big 5 publishers in India, and India rights were sold to Penguin India after a 5-way auction!

Well, it’s been 3-and-a-half years since The Body Myth was published. It’s always nice to tell people your story after it has a nice enough ending. But those 5 months? They almost killed me.

I read whatever blogs were available about authors (bless their souls) who wrote about their submissions process in great detail. I even read some brave authors talk about their experience of going through the entire process and ending up having to shelve the project.

I checked my email even when I knew there was no way my agent was up (I live in India). All I knew was that my good/bad news would come by email because of our time difference. My Inbox was the alter that I paid my respect to every hour of every day.

I stalked editors on Twitter; I tried to read into random tweets. In short, I lost any reasonable sense. I did have some fellow pitch-wars authors who were on submissions simultaneously; those email exchanges were life-affirming. We could share our angst and excitement.

Finally, one night, when I least expected it, I got that mail from Stacy saying, “Great News! Read below!” and it was a note from the editors at Unnamed Press detailing why they loved the manuscript and asking if they could they set up a time to talk with me.

Now, let’s come back to 2022. After 5 months of editing and feedback with my fantastic agent, we are on submission with my second novel. Things are a bit different in how we approach it this time, but it’s still the waiting game.

Here are 3 things I know now about the submissions process that I am applying to my second novel:

1. Trust the cliché; every submission story is indeed different. The submissions process is a complex universe holding many factors together. Variables like the kind of book you’ve written, the time it’s gone out, the mood of your editors and the possible relationships your agent might have with some of them all play a role.

What you expect rarely happens, and even if you do get a book deal, I assure you it will be in a way you didn’t think of/imagine. The details of ‘how’ and ‘when’ your good news comes will almost always surprise you. If you are one of those rare ones who sell overnight, your stories are fun to read (and we’re rooting for you), but it’s never the norm. My advice? Sure, let yourself imagine and daydream how your submissions process will run its course, but also keep a steady mind and tell yourself that it’s a great idea also to live out this period preparing to be surprised by how it plays out.

2. Make BIG plans for the next 6 months. A lot of authors encourage you to work on your next book. I really can’t do that. Personally, my clarity and energy won’t serve another book when I am still obsessing about the book on submissions. But if you are one of the few that can, do that. Otherwise, I highly recommend taking up a new project or renovation, taking a course and basically signing up for something that will force you to put your energy and mental space into something new. Learn a language or how to knit. Take that time out to do that ‘side hustle’ you‘ve always wanted to do. Being distracted is the best way for time to pass, and believe me, most of us will have to let a lot of time pass.

3. Pass on the community love. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Writers need community, and we need solidarity in so many ways. No matter what genre you write or how you approach your writing career, kindness and giving can be fulfilling to you as a human being and as a writer.

Mentoring, helping, and sharing experiences can create more spaces for people to consider investing their talents in a writing career. There is an abundance of opportunities in writing, and whatever is meant for you will come to you. Sharing tips, resources, and even networks will only allow you to create more positivity and good writer karma in your life.

It’s essential for all of us to remember that your work and voice are something that nobody can replace. So have confidence in who you are in the writing world and lend a hand to other writers where you can!

I will obsess a little over my submissions, but it’s better this time. And I know my path will show itself eventually.

Are you on submissions for the first time? What’s your experience? If you’ve been on submissions with multiple books, I’d love to know your experience and advice, too!


About Rheea Mukherjee

Rheea Mukherjee is the author of  The Body Myth, (February 2019/ Unnamed Press).  Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in several publications including Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Out of Print, QLRS, and Anti Serious among others.  She is the co-founder of Write Leela Write, a design and content laboratory in Bangalore, India. She spends most of her spare time eating and making vegan hipster things. Learn more at www.rheeamukherjee.com, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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