MANUSCRIPTS ON SUBMISSION 101
STEP ONE: Once we've been through revisions and have a clean ms to send out, I will re-read the project. As I read, I think about the style of book it is. With a book that is really submission-ready, I'll be able to visualize what I think it will look like on the shelf. Does this FEEL like a light and fun paperback? Does it FEEL like a beautiful epic fantasy with maps and fancy gilt edges? Who will buy this book most - Librarians and teachers? Teens? Hipster parents? Doting grandparents? Based on these calculations, I narrow down the list of publishers to those who would be open to publishing this type of book. I'm also thinking about who amongst my editor acquaintance might also like the story.
STEP TWO: I create a submission list and share it with the author to see if they have any input. For example, if they worked with a certain editor before, or something of that nature. My submission strategy is to target wisely rather than widely. I don't, for example, go to multiple people at the same house. I like the editors to whom I send projects to feel they've been selected especially, as indeed they have been. You can read much more about choosing imprints and the fun game of crafting the editor submission list and all that goes into that in this post from the archives.
If I an torn between who at a given publisher might like a project, I might email or call either the boss or the editor I know the best and ask their opinion. Yes, this works. Everybody WANTS to connect successfully and find projects they love!
STEP THREE: I either call or email the editors (unless I happen to have a meeting or lunch scheduled with them in person during this time-frame in which case I pitch in person) -- and ask if they'd like to see. 99%* of the time they DO ask to see -- I like to think I know their taste well enough and they know mine well enough that they know I'll at least show them something worth looking at, even if they end up passing. Even editors I don't know well will generally agree to look at the project because, you know, they are polite and they work with our agency a lot. :-) Annnnd then I send it out and we wait for responses!
(* The 1% of the time they don't ask to see, that is usually because they have something too similar already in the pipeline -- like, I had a chapter book about a certain historical event go out and one person passed on looking because they have a book about the same event already coming out in 2015. So, obviously, I targeted them correctly, just somebody else was faster! That's OK, it happens.)
How do you decide between giving an exclusive and making it a multiple submission? For me, it is nearly always a multiple submission. If I were to give an exclusive, I would explicitly state it to the editor and give a time-frame, and it would be because:
1) The author has worked with an editor before and this is the next logical book -- let's say, you have a YA fantasy out, and this is a new YA fantasy in the same world - even if we don't HAVE to show the current editor contractually, we WOULD, because it just makes sense. I like to keep good relationships going! ... or
2) We have an option that we need to fulfill (ie, in the contract it is stated that the publisher gets first crack at anything new) -- in which case they'd only have it exclusively for whatever term the contract specified, say, 30 days ... or
3) You've discussed the project at length with an editor and you think they will LOVE it, or it was inspired by something they said, or written specifically with them in mind, or something of that nature -- in which case I'd let them know that they have a limited window head start. Not that they HAVE to get back in that amount of time -- but we'll be going out more widely after that time.
If none of these apply, then it is a multiple submission.
So what should I, the author, be doing while you, the agent, are waiting for responses? You should be working on the next book. WORKING ON THE NEXT BOOK. Oh heavens, please be working on the next book. Outline a sequel if you like - but I wouldn't get too married to it until you have proof that somebody wants the first book. I'd rather you be working on a completely new, shiny and different project. Something you are excited about and thrilled to write! So that you will not be obsessing over the thing that is on submission.
And will you share all the responses you get with me as you get them? When I first started as an agent, I always shared all declines immediately with my authors. But then I realized that the authors were getting majorly bummed out and oftentimes this knowledge would derail them from their work on their happy-shiny new projects! So I changed my stance on this and started doing it a little differently.
If I get an OFFER, or a request for revision, of course I share it immediately. The same goes for a really kind/complimentary or otherwise uplifting decline. If it makes me happy to read, it will probably make my author happy to read, too, and I share. If, however, I get an ambivalent decline, a nonsensical (or even mean) decline, or just generally non-helpful decline, I just mark it in my little book as a "pass". At a certain point, when the round is winding down, around the 8-12 week mark, I'll compile all these and just give an update and 'state of the ms' report. If an author wants more frequent updates, they can ask me at any time -- some people want to know what's up more often, and that's fine. And some authors REALLY REALLY want to know every gory detail as it happens - that's fine too, they can just let me know. I happen to think it is a bit unhealthy for the majority of authors, but of course I will send as my author prefers.
How long does it take to hear back from editors, and do you nudge or give a deadline? I don't give a deadline unless we have an offer on the table. I usually hear back on picture books and short chapter books within a few weeks -- sometimes, for novels, a few months. After 8 weeks, I'll nudge people as needed. There are often a couple of outliers who don't reply unless shaken vigorously, but the bulk of responses will come in by 8-12 weeks.
What happens if we get an offer??! If we get an offer, I nudge everyone who is still looking immediately, letting them all know that we have an offer and that I need their responses ASAP. If that's the case, usually everyone replies immediately to either pass or express interest, and we go from there. If we do get two offers, I'll compare and contrast, and ask for improvements as needed, and the author will decide. However, if I know other offers are coming. . . .
OMG!! What if there are MULTIPLE offers?!? IS THAT AN AUCTION?? If I know we are getting multiple offers, we call an auction. (You theoretically CAN call an auction any time you want -- but I would hate to throw an auction and have nobody come! I personally only declare an auction when I know there is significant interest from more than two parties.)
The agency has "auction rules" that define what we want offers to look like and include, so that when it comes time for the author to decide between offers, they are comparing apples to apples. I'll set what's called a Closing Date (usually a week, week and a half, depending on the time of year and such) -- by which time everyone needs to come to me with offers if they are going to. Different kinds of auctions are structured in different ways, but usually auctions are either "best bids" (one round, everyone just gives their best possible offer and the author decides) or "rounds" (in which the agent can go back and forth and ask for improvements and the author decides). There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and your agent will make sure you understand what is going on when it happens!
So auction means BIG MOOLAH, yes? $$$$ WOOOOHOOO!!! $$$$$ Sorry to disappoint. Despite sounding V V Fancy, Auction doesn't mean the book will automatically sell for a million bucks. Auction just means there are multiple offers, but it does not define what those offers might be. Everyone COULD offer pocket change and belly lint! But usually auctions inspire editors to at least TRY to put their best foot forward.
What if we send it out and get ... no offers :( ? This happens, too, even to manuscripts I love and think will sell -- and they often DO sell, just perhaps not in the first round. Nothing to worry about. What I'll usually do is compile the feedback we've received and see if there is anything useful to be gleaned from it. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. We'll discuss whether you want to revise or not, and I'll send the work out to more people and begin a new round of submissions.
What if we never ever get an offer? At what point do you consider a ms completely shopped? Well... depends on the book, and depends on the feedback we've been getting. If we're just getting nothing useful, or no responses at all, and I don't feel I have anywhere else to go with it where the results will be different, that is quite dispiriting, and it might be time to back-burner the ms for a while and try something else, maybe revise with fresh eyes at a later date. If we're getting THISCLOSE but just not quite putting it over the top, like every editor is saying they "love it but..." -- well, then I'd be inclined to keep going even longer. I have sold books in less than a day... but I've also sold books that took a year, two years, or longer, over multiple rounds with revisions and tweaks in between. Sometimes it just takes a long time to get to that yes! So, there's no magic number of editors -- it's a case-by-case situation. The good news is, you have a lot more stories to tell, right?
Is there any question about the submission process that I forgot to answer? Ask in the comments!