Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick: Submit! The Discovery of My First Year as a Full-Time Writer

By Carol Coven Grannick

One word permeated my first year as a full-time writer: “Submit!” I added an exclamation point because it deserves one. I’ll explain….

On June 3, 2018, I left my retirement job (having previously retired from my private practice as a Clinical Social Worker) at a beloved and extraordinary early childhood center to work for the first time in my life as a full-time writer.

My body—and therefore, I suppose, my mind—could no longer sustain the 4 a.m. wake times with an hour or so to write before work at 7:15 a.m., and I was even less likely to make it to the gym after my end time at 3:15 p.m. I had tons of energy on the job, but was exhausted by evening, not great company for my spouse, and ready for sleep after a couple pages of reading. A book that a few years before would have taken me a few sittings, now took a month to finish.

In early 2018, I’d imagined the full-time writing life to come. I’d write for hours each day, having finally discovered a new, intense project that would hold me captive the way Reeni’s Turn (Regal House/Fitzroy), my middle grade novel in verse, had done.

But I’d also have time, at last, to submit a lot of work waiting in my files. I casually crafted a plan in my brain: Wake at 5 a.m., have my coffee, check email and the news, then head to the gym.

Afterwards, I’d shower, have a quick breakfast, and get to work by 8:30 or 9 a.m., knowing my creative mind is best in the morning hours.

In the afternoons, I’d research and submit. Never a fun thing, but at this point, necessary. It was a lovely plan, with some joy and some busywork. Just perfect. But I was in for a surprise.

In the first two months of this new life, I signed up for Heidi Bee Roemer’s summer poetry workshop. I wrote and revised dozens of poems for the very young, and found it absolutely joyful.

Still, I kept experiencing what’s next? ennui that had accompanied me since finishing (I thought) my novel in verse (more about that, here.)

I didn’t want to stay in that vague and floaty place, but I knew I couldn’t force passion for a new project. My experience told me to just keep writing because something would click with my deeper soul sooner or later. I also turned toward the “busywork” part of my plan.

Most days, the weather cooperated, and I sat on my balcony for at least four hours each day, tweaking or revising each poem, essay, and picture book in my files, researching markets, then submitting every piece I could.

Serious research took hours—many more than I’d imagined. If I subbed one or two pieces a day, I was satisfied. With children’s and adult poetry, a few picture books, and Reeni’s Turn, I filled my Submittable account with “Received” blue buttons, and my Submissions Notebook with listings.

Carol’s submissions notebook.

I’m about the last person who would encourage a writer or illustrator/artist to focus on submissions instead of her work. After all, around eight years ago, I put away my submissions notebook because the rejection framework in children’s publishing had changed. “If you don’t hear from us, assume we’re not interested” triggered so many “you don’t matter” feelings from childhood, that it became too disturbing and distracting.

I asked myself what I would do if I never published a book, and after a minute of shock and tears, I answered my question: I’m a writer. I’ll keep writing. I’ll write exactly what I want to, everything I want to. This worked beautifully for me, and I spent almost two years focusing solely on my work.

I wrote poetry, essays, picture book revisions, and blog called “Today I Am A Writer” that chronicled a writing life devoid of submitting.

Then Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Prize competition opened with Katherine Applegate as the judge. I loved, admired, and learned from her work. I pulled Reeni’s Turn from my drawer, revised it and submitted it. It was awarded Finalist, and began a new journey, which is a story on its own. I was able to submit it without much emotion, but took pleasure in treating it as a matter-of-fact business necessity.

But my first summer of full time writing took revising and submitting to a different psychological place. I noticed that I reveled in using Submittable and watched my submission list grow. I realized I smiled as the slate blue “Received” buttons popped up. I felt a warm glow when the buttons turned to teal-colored “In Progress.”

Sure, I saw lots of grey “Declined” buttons, but then here came a green “Accepted” for three Jewish poems for adults, and for one of my children’s poems I’d written and revised during and after Heidi’s poetry workshop! The greys didn’t seem to matter much.

I was having fun! Every day, I’d click the orange tab on Submittable, press “Send” in my email, or drop snail mail subs at the post office, and positive emotion zinged through my body.

What I’d begun feeling was exhilaration. Why? I wondered. What is this?

The answer was clear: Exhilaration meant hope. That’s why I added an exclamation point to my title word of this post. Submitting—not the waiting that ensues, but the act of submitting—kept my mood high and upbeat. And as someone who tries to collect positive emotions to balance the wondering, worrying, wishing once work is out there, I liked that. I liked it a lot.

Each shot of exhilaration made me want to get another.

So I continued into the fall, my Submittable account gathering pages.

Lots of grey “Declined” tabs, as always, but they caused only passing “Mmm, okays.” They didn’t distract me. The exhilaration of submitting more work carried me right through.

During these months, I did one last big revision of Reeni’s Turn (yes, there was a big, interesting journey in between then and now) that returned it to the book I wanted it to be—a quiet novel in verse about a loud issue, as my sister describes it, with its Jewish content integrated and driving part of the main character’s growth.

Esther Hershenhorn

I had multiple partials and fulls out to agents who had requested my work, but continued to receive what I call beautiful, buts.

Response times seemed longer than ever.

I’d been through many revisions and almosts for years, with and without an agent, I felt an end point coming: I’d either put away the book or take my career into my own hands and search for small, traditional presses that might be interested.

My inner engine was purring, but it needed revving. I consulted with Esther Hershenhorn and Carmela Martino for support and about the benefit of small, independent, traditional publishers.

Carmela Martino

I knew them both through SCBWI-Illinois, and had followed their online posts for years at Teaching Authors. I was ready to go!

I spent December researching. I had hundreds of names of small presses, many founded by writers and editors who wanted to create options for publishing good work.

In January, I submitted to multiple small publishers. In March, a press I respected because of their literary and social justice mission responded to my 50 pages of Reeni’s Turn and requested the full.

Then they offered me a contract the afternoon the editor finished reading it.

In fact, the entire process, from first submission to final contract signing, lasted about six weeks. Submittable went “Green” for Reeni’s Turn, now due to debut in September, 2020 from Regal House Publishing/Fitzroy Books.

I continue to submit as much and as frequently as possible.

When a poetry rejection arrives in my email, I send out one, three, even five new poems. I took a chance on a new children’s magazine because I loved their mission. If it’s a picture book rejection, I send it—and perhaps another—to an appropriate editor or agent. I’ve had a handful more of acceptances, and they delight me in a quiet, satisfied way.

The exhilaration and hope from submitting helps to fuel my writing life—the precise opposite of how I felt eight years ago when I temporarily stopped submitting. Go figure.

A significant component of my emotional resilience, much of which I learned as an adult, is keeping my brain open to surprise and change. It wasn’t a sudden change, and it was the result, long ago, of deliberate hard work and practice to change my thinking from a pessimistic framework to an optimistic one, thanks to the work of Martin Seligman and other Positive Psychology researchers.

Whether you’re thinking about full-time writing or looking ahead to a chunk of time you’ll have to devote to your work without distraction, you might ask yourself these questions, all of which have unique answers for each of us:

  1. Do I have a plan for the time that’s clear but flexible? Or am I comfortable just transitioning and letting things unfold as they may?
  2. Can I keep my brain open to surprise, creative solutions to problems, and detachment from words and ideas in my work that do not serve the story or poem (yes, I believe this is connected to keeping an open mind)?
  3. How do I want to spend these days, hours, minutes of my time? When do I need breaks from my work, and how do I want to nourish myself during those breaks (with or without another person or people? in a particular activity?).

When I set about the task of researching publishers and submitting work, it was with the memory of long, long ago hesitant submissions and long periods of recovery. I wasn’t there anymore, for sure. I was in a purely this is part of my business mode.

But the surprise exhilaration from “Submit!” fueled me, created energy to do and create.

For me, persistence, practice, and productivity underlie and are benefits of emotional resilience, with hope and positive emotions holding them all together.

I had no idea that I’d discover a single thread of exhilaration and hope that could hold together the tapestry of this first year of full-time writing, a year filled with plenty of other life challenges, as well. I’m ready and eager for this second year to unfold, drafting new work that peaks my interest if not my passion, but always—always!—open to surprise.

Cynsational Notes

Carol’s submission system resulted in 12 poems and her novel in verse being accepted this year.

Carol Coven Grannick says of herself:

I love words, written and spoken, that connect us to the world we live in and to one another.

I love the times words come out ‘just right’ but I also love working and re-working words until they become ‘just right’.I love reading stories to and with children, and having conversations with them about how the stories connect to their lives.

As children’s author and clinical social worker, I’m particularly interested in the creative inner journey, how we navigate and negotiate the ups and downs of our writing journeys and lives. Perennial resilience holds me steady as a writer in a business and a world that requires endurability.

My MG novel in verse will debut from Fitzroy Books in 2020, and my poetry and fiction for very young children appears/is forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, Hello, Roar! Magazine for Kids, and once on the north suburban Chicago buses!

I am a columnist for the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind (“The Inside Story”) and Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog (“The Writer’s Heart”). I am honored now to be a member of the wonderful GR.OG. (group blog world)!