Monday, December 13, 2010

Elizabeth F.: What to Expect When You're...On Submission

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When your agent tells you the names of the editors on your submission list, it’s a little like learning that you’re pregnant. Male authors should be sure to wallow in the experience, because it’s the closest they’ll come to understanding the personal bouleversement of that other state of “expecting.”

As soon as you hear the exciting news, you do what every expectant mother does: you go online and research the hell out of your condition. You read interviews of each editor, you look at their recent publications, and finally you ditch all decorum and stalk them on facebook.

And then you wait.


Or so it seems. In fact, it’s such a small portion of your life that in Ordinary Time you would have blinked and wondered where those weeks went.

But when you’re pregnant you feel that baby inside you every moment of every day. The expectation weighs so constantly, you start to exhibit early signs of dementia. Where did you put your keys? What was the end of that sentence you just started? Why are nouns suddenly elusive? This causes impatience on the part of your loved ones. They spend approximately no time imagining what the baby looks like, calculating how much it weighs, and wondering whether it will arrive early. The baby amuses them, in small doses. If you talk about it once too often in a given day you will annoy the crap out of them.

Meanwhile, there are internal flips and amniotic hiccups and actual, distinguishable tiny feet pressed against your abdomen that heighten your anticipation to distraction. These are the bits of information that you cajole out of your agent: an editor met her at a cocktail party and loves it so far; another is sharing it with a colleague; it was slated for an editorial meeting, but they didn’t get to it in time. You try hard not to burn the dinner again, and you fail.

Eventually you hear that it has passed its first acquisitions meeting. Panic mixes with joy: this baby is happening to you. But your agent is in charge, and all you can do is work on a different manuscript, eat right, and elevate your legs when they swell.

The sale itself is dizzying: a mystical, euphoric agony that ends like Dorothy’s house thudding in Oz. Your husband pops open the champagne, your writing partners abuse exclamation points, your mother forgives you for ignoring her, and you, who anticipated this the most, are suddenly flummoxed.

In a few weeks the novelty and well-wishers are gone. Your baby is whole and miraculous, but also a little troll-like, you admit. Not to worry; you nurture it until the umbilical stump has fallen off and the facial acne has healed and it’s truly beautiful. This, after all, is your natural sphere: surrendering yourself to your work. You are far better at this than you are at waiting.


  1. Yep. That pretty much sums it up exactly!

    Congratulations on your sale!!!

  2. Glad it worked well for everybody!

  3. I love "Your baby is whole and miraculous, but also a little troll-like, you admit." Hilarious! Thanks for a great post, Elizabeth :-)

  4. Ah, perspective. Thanks for such an illuminating view of the process!

  5. So perceptive. I have all the symptoms but alas I don't think my own baby will make it.

  6. Oh, wow. Now I'm *really* looking forward to it. Does it also compress your bladder? ;)

  7. fantastic post! how well you capture the experience, and here's hoping there will be many more healthy, beautiful babies down the line.

  8. Well at least now I can't say I'll never know what it feels like.