Unsolicited Submissions – Horror or Hope for Writers?

*Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Two years ago, I took a chance and sent a submission to a publisher who had opened its unsolicited submissions program. As you know, if you read my blog, I have a little dream. I was really excited, it is a well-known publisher with awesome books in its portfolio. And that gives many aspiring writers to try their luck without having to find an agent first.

So I sat down and wrote my hands off to put an idea into writing. Of course, I didn’t imagine myself to be that lucky to be selected. As you probably know, if you’re here, English is not my native language, so I cannot achieve the quality of the writing a native writer would.

Still, I decided to take a chance. Nothing to lose, right? Also, a good chance to work hard to finish something and not give up. It took the publisher 581 days to return a rejection. I don’t know if the novella has even been read, only that for whatever reason it’s not suitable for them.

Do I regret waiting for 581 days to get a 3-sentence long No I expected? No. Those nearly 2 years of waiting had their lessons, and I hope I’ve learned them.

The Hope Unsolicited Submissions Give

Two years ago I had a very romantic perception about unsolicited submissions. I thought that:

  • It doesn’t matter who you are;
  • It doesn’t matter where you’re from;
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re not a native;
  • It doesn’t matter if you have previous publications;
  • It doesn’t even matter how good you are, you can try your hand.

All that is required of you is sit down and write. In reality, most of these elements matter, including how lucky you are.

In the light of the zero feedback and the 3-sentence No, I’d rather think I wasn’t lucky enough, instead of not good enough. It’s not unimaginable that it was rejected just based on my submission letter. Who knows? I, for one, don’t. But that’s one of the horrors born out of hope.

The Horrors of Unsolicited Submissions

What I’ve noticed across publishers is that they’d rather you didn’t submit your work anywhere else, if you’re going to submit with them. Average response time is never less than 3 months, which is understandable given the amount of work slush pile readers have to go through before they send a single manuscript to an editor.

I was content with waiting as long as it was necessary. Many have probably decided to withdraw their submissions after the initial response period was over, and move one. I was hell-bent on getting an answer because that was the first time I’ve ever approached a publisher and wanted to know what it feels like.

So, I waited. Six Months. A year. A year and a half. And I finally got my No. Can’t say I’m happy, but I’m not sad or down either, and I don’t regret waiting. I still made plans about self-publishing, worked hard on a novel that’s almost finished and going strong at 150,000 words.

But my participation made me realize that unsolicited submissions can be either useless or stressful. From where I stand today, it’s better to try and find an agent, or altogether self-publish than rely on blind luck with unsolicited submissions. Here are some of the horrors I faced:

  • The waiting and not knowing. It made me postpone as much as possible editing my manuscript and expanding my world because it might turn out to be unnecessary.
  • The lack of feedback. While I realize it’s impossible to give feedback on thousands of manuscripts, the lack of even a couple of sentences might tell some people they simply suck.
  • The generic response. I mean, it’s not unexpected, but it’s still disappointing. I felt let down by a publisher I like, and it was the last drop in officially shattering my romantic perception of unsolicited submissions.

There’s Some Good & Some Bad

Like with any experience, making an unsolicited submission is not for everyone. It definitely wasn’t for me. When I finally got my No, a week or so ago, I felt relieved. After 581 days, the wait is finally over.

I’ve decided to print out and frame the rejection (when life returns to normal in Bulgaria), and use it as a reminder that at least I tried. If I ever try my hand with unsolicited submissions again, at least I know I can’t be disappointed. And my approach would be quite different from what it was this time around.

There’s some hope, there’s some disappointment, there’s, above all, relief. After all, it’s the experience that counts. What do you think, are unsolicited submissions right for you or you’d rather go a different way toward publishing?

I’m a copywriter by work, reader by heart, writer by night & a daydreamer all year round. I dabble in graphic design whenever time’s left. I breathe words and try to weave worlds.
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