Wanted to make this post all fancy, but I am leaving today to go run around in the woods for a couple days and see this beautiful, unsettling and soulwise band again. To make a long (long) story short, I wrote a novel and it was published, but that publication didn’t happen by magic (not the bloodless, non-sacrificial kind, anyway). Publication happened because of luck and hard work, and because I found it a home it really belonged in. I’m going to talk about the submission process because my publisher is currently running an open submission period from now until the end of September and I figured talking about my experience might be useful to people who are submitting this time around.
First, some background: for those of you who don’t know/don’t pay attention to URLs, my name is Jenn Grunigen and I wrote a book called Skyglass. It was serialized by Sparkler Monthly from June 2014 through September 2015. (It’s been almost a year since the last chapter was released! What the Hel?!). The ebook edition was released in June 2016, the print edition should be coming your way this fall.
Skyglass is a strange novel. Like, literally wild. It has sex and space lobsters and cities powered by the brain juice of meditating elf slaves. It also has a diverse cast, and both main characters are queer. (Moss is an aromantic, very complicated asexual and Phoenix’s sexuality can only be described as Phoenix’s sexuality.) The story is messy and wacky and murderous and has lots of feels. So many, many feels. Here’s a brief summary of what it’s all about:
Four years after his human mother and elven father died by double suicide, Moss lives a shadow of a life. He’s an anorexic, aromantic drummer who wallows in apathy and inadvertently wooed his boss in a bathtub. But when Phoenix – a fire elemental turned human pop star – lands on earth and decides to move into his apartment, his stale life gets torched. Phoenix is on a manhunt to find and kill her father, and she has no problem dragging everyone around her into the fire.
…this collision of post-apocalyptic science fiction and sexy rock gods tells the tale of two mismatched roommates, their volatile take on friendship – and the messy path to self-actualization, with some intergalactic stardom along the way.
When I saw that Sparkler Monthly (who describe themselves as ‘committed to promoting inclusive, fem-positive, and…are particularly interested in entertaining, engrossing stories that tap into the variety and diversity of fandom’) was having an open submissions period, I knew they were the perfect home for Skyglass. Apparently they thought so, too, because they published it.
But not at first. What follows is an account of my submission process, including all the materials I sent in. Both times. Both times, because they rejected the novel first time around. Be Ware: some of these materials contain spoilers for the book, so all the spoiler-y things have been included as linked PDFs, meaning that you can avoid them if you so desire. Granted, the documents are only spoiler-y if you read them in full, which is definitely not necessary for you to find them useful, so. Access them as you will. Also note that some of Sparkler‘s submission guidelines may have changed, so certain things (format, content, etc) maybe not apply. So just READ THE FUCKING SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Just do it. Read all of them. If you have questions after that, ask questions (the folks at Sparkler are seriously some of the most kind and generous people I have ever met, so don’t be shy)–but read the guidelines first!
First, the email I sent with my submission:
SUBJECT LINE: Prose Submission, Grunigen, FABLE
Greetings, Chromatic Press!
Attached is my prose submission for my completed novel, Fable (including cover letter, resume, writing sample, and chapter outline).
Thanks much for your consideration!
As you may have noticed, the title of my novel changed. When I first submitted, it was called FABLE. Later, due to content changes, FABLE was no longer an appropriate name for the book, so I renamed it Skyglass.
The following are the documents I submitted as attachments to the email above:
(I just submitted a regular old resume, edited so that it highlighted my relevant experience)
(basically spoiler free because the final novel is so different from the story outlined here) NOTE: I would recommend NOT using this outline as a reference (see Sparkler
‘s response to my sub below for an explanation as to why). Instead, use my second outline (again, see below).
(again, spoiler free, because it’s basically just an unedited version of the novel’s first two chapters. And, again, the sample found below may be more useful in terms of using a model for your own submission)
I submitted the email and its attached files on June 30th, 2013. On July 2, 2013, I received confirmation that my submission had been received. Then I waited and waited, because this is publishing and things take an understandably really long time. (My advice: be patient, put your pending subs out of mind and get to work on something new.) On September 18, 2013, I received the following email from (my future editor!) Lianne:
Hi, Jenn! This is Lianne from Chromatic Press. Sorry this response took so long…we got more submissions than expected for Sparkler Monthly and it’s taking some time to work through the pile.
I have good news and bad news for you. Bad news first: I’m going to have to pass on your novel Fable at this time. But the good news is I think the book has promise, and if you’re interested, I’d like you to retool it and submit it again after you make some changes. I have a few major reservations about the book now, but if you can address these in a revised pitch, I’d be happy to take the revised Fable to the other editors so we can make a decision to publish/not publish as a company. If you’re not interested in changing your book to meet our particular company’s criteria, no hard feelings, and we wish you the best of luck with your novel and whatever future plans you have for it.
STYLE: I like your writing style quite a bit. It’s wild and energetic, and your world-building is comfortably built around your characters and plot (which is one of the hardest parts of writing sci-fi/fantasy). I do think it could use a bit of tweaking, since…
(Read the whole editorial letter here.)
(BONUS-RELATED MATERIAL: Screen shots of what Lianne’s line edits look like. Didn’t receive these particular edits at the time of this email, but they’ll still give you an idea of what the revision process looked like eventually, when we reached a line-by-line level. PAGE 1 | PAGE 2 | PAGE 3)
Basically, the response I received above was really fucking exciting, even though it was, ultimately, a rejection. But the fact that it was a thousand-word rejection was very encouraging–I knew there was hope, that I had a shot, so I was sure to respond to Lianne’s email immediately (and humbly, too–at this point, I was aware what a mess the story was…also, listening to the wisdom of editors is generally a good idea):
Absolutely everything you mentioned makes sense. The story I’m most interested in telling is Moss’ and Phoenix’s, anyway, so I’m actually quite eager to refocus the story. To be honest, it’s a little embarrassing that I sent my proposal as it currently stands–for awhile now, I’ve been painfully aware of my tendency to stuff my stories to bursting with unnecessary, confusing details. I’ll try my best to streamline everything in the new pitch!
Speaking of which. I’m assuming you’d like me to redo everything in the pitch, with special attention paid to the summary, and chapter breakdown? Anything else I should be aware of? Anyway, let me know when you’d like it back by, and I’ll be sure to have it to you by then!
Many, many thanks–
Lianne responded the same day:
What a fast response! 🙂
You don’t have to resend your resume or anything; the “new” pitch should mostly be a new plot summary/chapter breakdown, yeah. If you can revisit the excerpt, too, to revise with a few things I mentioned in mind (such as toning down the intensity in some places, pulling back on some of those sentence fragments so the prose is a little easier to read), that would also help. I want your new pitch to be as strong as possible before I bring it to the other editors.
As for a deadline on this…hm, maybe 3 weeks from now? Is that enough time for you?
Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!
My response is as follows. Again, note that I made sure to respond as quickly as I could (also note that I told Lianne when I would send my revisions by; it’s good to show editors that you can set deadlines for yourself–and stick to them, too, of course!):
Heh, I try my best to be prompt. Thanks!
Anyway, sounds great. I’ll polish up the excerpt, rewrite the summary and chapter breakdowns, and get it all back to you by Wednesday, October 9th.
Thanks so much for your candid words about my story, and for your patience as I get it back on its feet–