Submission. It’s Not As Much Fun As It Sounds Like.

    by J.D. Rhoades

We’ve heard a lot from our fellow ‘Rati recently about Thrilling Deadline Heroics: prodigious word counts, grueling all-nighters, and, as Tess described,  overcoming the inevitable onset of ITotallySuckitis (or, since Tess is a more sensible person, ThisBookTotallySucksItis).


I laugh at these things. I laugh them to scorn. I, you see, am finished with MY book. And that puts me in an entirely different level of Hell. Because I’m, as I like to say, “between publishers.” My agent has cast my bread upon the roiled waters of the publishing industry, and we’re waiting to see what comes back. What that means is that I am in that very special VIP Room of Hades that’s known as




    As a trial lawyer, one of the most stressful times of your life is when you have a jury out. That’s when I and my colleague in the other chair have  presented all our evidence, argued all the finer points of law, made our stirring closing arguments to the twelve folks in the box,  and listened, trying not to fidget,  while the judge droned on and on, instructing the poor jurors  in the law according to the Pattern Jury Instructions, which even James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman couldn’t read in a way that makes them comprehensible to a layperson, much less interesting. Then the jury retires to their little room tp decide your client’s fate. And the waiting begins. And along with the waiting, the second guessing. Should I have left that kindly looking little old lady on the panel or bounced her? Should I really have argued a SODDI defense or gone with diminished capacity? Because, really…just LOOK at that guy.

      So you wait. And you fret.

     Being on submission is like that , for days. Sometimes weeks. You look at the phone, checking to make sure it’s on. You resist the urge to send an e-mail to your agent to remind her of the number, just in case she’s lost it. You dread seeing your agent’s e-mail when you open up your computer, because they call if there’s good news, only rejections come by e-mail. And you fret. Should I have shortened that sex scene? Is anybody really going to believe that action sequence? Should I really have killed off that character? He might have been a great sidekick if it ever becomes a series….



   Then, of course, unless you’re really lucky, the first rejections come in. Some of the most painful ones are the ones that go, “I really love this…but I have to pass.” They love the characters, but think there’s not enough suspense. The suspense is great, but no one’s buying this sort of thing  right now. Love the characters and the suspense, but the market is glutted because everyone already put out  a book like this. And so on. Before long, after getting a few of these, all of them saying something different, and some of them contradictory, you start to wonder if anyone in this business knows what the hell they’re talking about. 

And you tell yourself, this is the last time. It’s just too painful. If this one doesn’t fly, it’s over. It’s time to give up.



Eventually one of two things will happen. I’ll either get the good phone call…



Or I won’t. And then, I’ll get to work on something else.




Because, my friends, I am not a well person.


Wish me luck.


40 thoughts on “Submission. It’s Not As Much Fun As It Sounds Like.

  1. Dana King

    Good luck.

    I feel your pain, from the perspective of the unpublished. I've read enough–here and elsewhere–of the horror stories of what happens after the contract arrives that I have begun to seriously question whether I want to continue to submit. I like writing, and I know there's at least a small set of people who like what I write. It may be satisfying enough to me to go direct to Kindle for $2.99, market on my blog and wherever else will have me, and use the annual proceeds to take The Beloved Spouse to lunch. The more I learn about publishing, the more I question how much I want to alter my life to accommodate it. (Note: I am not delusional enough to think I will become a best-seller like this, or even to get a paper contract out of it. I'm just in the process of redefining my personal success so i can, to rephrase a famous Vietnam era quote, "Declare victory and get out.")

  2. Marion

    So if this is meant to be optimism to keep us motivated to stick out the writing and submission process, why sarcastically undercut it with the demotivational elements? Likewise, if it's meant to demotivate us so we get out of your pool and let you have a greater chance of reaching the deep end, why give us the impression it's worth the effort?

    I like you. You are indeed as you said, "…not a well person." By all means, good luck.


  3. JD Rhoades

    Dana: having had a taste of the life of being published, I can say: yeah, it has it's P's in the A, but on the whole, it's more fun than what I'm doing now.

  4. Alafair Burke

    I'm all for sarcastic undercutting, but I don't think your post is demotivating at all because of that end note. One of two things will happen, and you don't control which of the two will come to pass. What you control is how you respond – you might roll around on the ground like that cute, happy dog (I want to see that!) or you get back to work. Because you've got the sickness, dude. Good for you. We're all pulling for you.

  5. Debbie

    Dusty, I want to write something uplifting but all I can think to do is acknowledge your pain. I'm sorry that the process works this way and that you're going through it right now. If you are unwell, we all are. That makes this a support group and thank God it exists. Until now, I looked at it as information and community. Now comes the revelation that I'm nuts? Hmm, recalibrating. 🙂

  6. rashda

    OMGoodness, I love this post. Just what I needed since I'm going through the same thing…except this is my first time ever to be on submission. I've literally sat on my hands to keep from e-mailing my agent at times…so it's nice to see that a multi-published author goes through something similar.

    Thanks for making me smile and putting things in perspective Dusty! Wish you the best of luck 🙂

  7. Dudley Forster

    Sounds like you need a safety word. <g> I hate juries. As a commercial litigator, the law and facts are so complex that a bench trial usually makes more sense (though, I will concede that in PI and criminal defense juries are the way to go.) The big problem in Idaho is the jury demand must be in the complaint or answer so you don’t know who the trial judge will be and there are a few judges where I’d rather have a jury of amebas. Washington lets you file a jury demand later and gives you some opportunity for judge shopping.

    Since I have not gone down the submission road I’m not sure editors are as random as juries, but I would hope not. BTW, a love Demotivators, so much better that the saccharin Successories, though I did have a Successories baseball figure that said, “Sometimes you have to play hardball.” I kept it next to my acrylic encased rattlesnake head on my desk.

    I hope you will soon be a happy puppy.

  8. tess gerritsen

    Yet another great reminder that this job is harder than it looks. Not just the writing part but the emotional turmoil that goes along with it.

    I was just in my local bookshop to autograph stock, and the bookseller told me that a Really Famous Author who lives in town also stopped by to sign stock. And this Really Famous Author has called off Christmas at his house because he is in a panic over his deadline. (And I am talking Really Famous, with a top literary award to match.)

    I thought at his level of success, with all the world's respect for his work, he would be immune to such insecurities. Nope.

  9. Eika

    Oh Lork, it doesn't end when you get an agent?! Not what I wanted to hear. I kinda hoped that, once I got an agent, I could just bury my head in the sand and sing ditties about the submissions they're doing. Keep writing, keep editing, but not have to wonder about that gory detail any more.

    Well, I'm sure you'll get that contract. But hey, as long as you keep going, right?

  10. Gar Haywood


    To hell with wishing you luck, I'm going to say a prayer or two for you. Can't hurt.

    The thing that bites most about rejection today is that it often has nothing to do with the writing. More and more rejection letters now start off with, "We really loved the book, BUT…"

    Well, once upon a time, there were no "buts." If an editor loved a book, he or she bought it, period.

    Don't get discouraged, my man. Anybody who can turn the phrase, "cast my bread upon the roiled waters of publishing" as effortlessly as you just did is bound to get a book contract eventually. And sooner rather than later.

  11. toni mcgee causey

    Well, I can honestly say, having read an earlier draft of this book, that the publishing industry would be friggin NUTS if they didn't grab it and run with it and promote the hell out of it.

    That said, I love the blog. I will be in that same boat in about a month or so. I would almost rather run with the bulls.

  12. judy wirzberger

    I love reading Murderati. The words of wisdom, black on white, confirm the joys of the publishing life. All good things that have happened to you will one day happen to me, and all bad things that have happened to you, will never befall me because I have read your words of wisdom and dire warnings and stories of angst and disappointment are warnings on a pack of cigarettes read by a teenager.s

    Lord, lord, what have I done when I first typed Chapter One.

  13. Allison Brennan

    Everyone goes through ups and downs in this business, published and unpublished, and I love this blog. I was on an agent hunt this summer and did a TON of research about who I thought I would like to work with, who I thought would like my books, and who I thought would be the best agent for this point in my career. I had three rejections (and yes, they read my newest book at the time, which was Love Me To Death.) Being rejected is humbling, no matter where you are in your career. I had settled on six agents–the first three to get back to me rejected me. Believe me, when I heard from #4 I thought, "It's another rejection."

    My oldest daughter's basketball coach told her recently, "Keep your head up and work hard." I think that's the best advice I've heard lately.

    Good luck, Dusty.

  14. Louise Ure

    "You dread seeing your agent’s e-mail when you open up your computer, because they call if there's good news, only rejections come by e-mail." Oh, Lord, do I ever remember this one.

    Looking forward to your Happy Dog Dance.

  15. Jake Nantz

    Damn Dusty. I was going to make some smartass "get a tutor's help" joke, but now I don't have the heart. If there is one thing you must be certain not to forget, it should be this: It's one thing to have friends who are writers tell you, but you need to hear it from fans even more (and I was a fan long before I really started to focus on being a writer) – You are a fantastic storyteller. If editors and publishing houses are too busy throwing darts at a wall full of covers to see which one they can recycle and claim will be the next bestseller to see that, fuck 'em. It doesn't change the fact that your characters tell us the stories in your head, because you are not-well enough to make the whole damn thing come alive.

    Even if you are a lawyer and a tarhole. ;D

  16. lil Gluckstern

    I, too, love reading Murderati. I get a glimpse (or more) of you guys being human, and I have read more new to me authors than I can count. I am crossing my fingers, and sending good wishes to you, and vibes, and prayers-hope you <i>hear</i> soon!

  17. Rob Gregory Browne

    Hell, I feel that way every time I show a book to ANYONE, let alone someone with buying power. A writer's ego is a fragile thing…

    Good luck, Dusty. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you get the phone call instead of the email.

  18. Jake Nantz

    "Thanks, all! With all this positive energy, I'm thinking the odds just went up."
    — Dusty

    "Far out, man. It's like, with so many positive waves, maybe we can't lose. You're on!"
    — Oddball

  19. Connie Gillam


    I too am in that region of Hell.

    So far, I've had four rejections. (none of them for the same reason) I'm beginning to believe my writing sucks.

    But being the nut or optimist that I am, I've started another book.

    Good Luck.

  20. Ruth Harris

    JD: You're in what I call Butt Mode…as in butting your head against a stone wall and, of course, Pain In The Butt mode. As New York Times bestselling author, I have been there…accepted and rejected, published and unpublished. The agent loves it butt…the editor loves it butt… It's crazy-making — if you pay much attention to their opinions which, over many years, I've learned not to.

    William Goldman, the novelist and screenwriter (Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy, All the President's Men) famously said, "No one knows anything." He was referring to the movie business but his observation applies to the publishing biz, too.

    After all, (and this is hardly an original thought), if they knew what sold, then every book would be a bestseller.

    What's changed, though, is that if the Butts prevail, the author has the option to self-publish via Kindle, etc.

    I have no advice, only sympathy and compassion…Going from 100% control (when you're writing) to 0% control (when your work is being judged) is excruciatingly difficult.

  21. Reine

    Aw, JD – I love your post today. I love the dog, I love the scullers. I love the gallows humor. But then I was born in Salem, Mass. I guess it's in my blood, at least from that part of the family. One of my ancestors, Philippe Langlois, thought he would be spared hanging for witchcraft because God would save him. Mary, my umptieth whatever great-grandmother basically said something like, '… so you think only the innocent are punished?' He apparently got what she meant after they were transported to Boston and the ministers visiting the condemned suggested they escape. They did, and Governor Fletcher of New York put them up until things cooled down in Salem. That part of my family has been laughing ever since. Don't know why, but it always gets a laugh.

  22. Grace

    It's no wonder I follow Murderati faithfully every day. The sharing of such wonderful writings – so honest, so open, is not to be missed. A supportive community is not to be missed, loved your post and like others, I believe you will be doing a happy dance.

  23. Sarah Woodbury

    This was very funny–and sad and true–and thank you for articulating it so well! My latest rejection: "very nicely done but there's no market for this right now . . ." Bleh.

  24. Mark Terry

    Dear (fill in here):
    Thank you for your consideration, but unfortunately your rejection does not meet our needs at this time. Please do not view this rejection of your rejection as any reflection on the quality of your editorial acumen.

    We apologize for the form letter, as we prefer to respond to each rejection with a personal note, but unfortunately the volume of rejections now makes this impossible.

    We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors.

    (fill in here, too)

  25. JT Ellison

    So my Internet was down and I missed this. But Dusty, darling, I am sending huge bucketfuls of good vibes to the editors reading you right now. I have faith!

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