This is the fourth installment of my mini-series on the traditional publishing process. Previously, in Part 3, I discussed the process of working with an agent to prepare your manuscript for submission. Now, let’s look at what comes next: the submission process itself.
As always, keep in mind that this information is based solely on my own experience, both as an editor and an author. This process can vary widely depending on a huge number of factors, and everyone’s submission experience is different. Therefore, consider this representative of only my own experiences.
So, once your manuscript is ready and your agent has compiled the submission list (which I discussed in Part 3), then it’s time for submission to officially begin. Now your agent will either call or email the editors on the list (or possibly even meet in person) and ask if they’d like to see the manuscript. If the editor says yes (and, in my experience, they usually do), the agent sends them the pitch letter and manuscript. And then you wait.
And wait. And wait.
How long you’ll have to wait depends entirely on the editor, but generally speaking you might get a response after 8-12 weeks. You might, of course, get a response sooner, but that’s rare. And sometimes you might have to wait even longer, depending on what else the editor has going on. Even the time of year you go on submission can affect response times. (For example, when my MG manuscript was on submission last summer, the process was much slower than it might have been otherwise because many people were on summer vacation, including not only the editors we submitted to but also others in-house who needed to approve the offer or attend acquisition meetings. When we got the first offer, even my agent was on vacation. I imagine you’d have a similar experience during the holidays or during major industry events like BEA.)
All of this waiting is the most difficult part of the process for many writers, which is why I highly recommend focusing on something else during this process. In fact, I suggest working on a completely different project—not a sequel or a prequel or a spinoff, but something shiny and entirely new. Not only will you have the creative fulfillment of working on something new, but you’ll also have the reassurance that you have something else in the works if the first book doesn’t sell. (If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a lot of time worrying that the first book won’t sell.) This doesn’t work for everyone; I know some writers find it impossible to focus on something new while on submission. But I do recommend giving it a try, as I found it to be a helpful distraction during all the waiting.
Another way in which the submission process is different for each writer is whether or not your agent shares the editor’s responses with you. Your agent will, of course, share if you get an offer; but your agent may or may not share all of the rejections. Some writers like to see every rejection as it comes in; others prefer not to see any of them, as they find it too stressful. Personally, I asked my agent to give me a general summary of the responses, but I didn’t want to see every rejection letter, as I knew they would distract me from working on my shiny new project. Whether or not you’d like to see all of the responses is something to consider beforehand and discuss with your agent if you have a specific preference.
Now, let’s take a look at the responses themselves. Here are some potential outcomes:
- A letter of interest
Usually, you will first receive what I refer to as a “letter of interest,” where an editor lets you and your agent know that they’ve read the manuscript and are interested in it. They might also mention some things they’d like to revise or change, to make sure upfront that you’re comfortable with them and want to proceed.
However, you don’t yet have an offer. The editor must now take your manuscript to an acquisitions board for approval. The acquisitions board can vary from house to house, but it usually consists of the editorial team, the publisher, some representatives from sales and marketing, etc. The editor will pitch the manuscript to the board and explain why they want to acquire it. The acquisitions board might decide to pass on the book for any number of reasons. This is pretty crushing for both the editor and the author, but it does sometimes happen. If the editor gets approval, however, then you’ll receive the offer and move on to the next step (which I’ll be discussing next time in Part 5).
- An R&R
Just like with querying, it’s possible that you’ll get a revise-and-resend request from an editor. This means that they see a lot of potential in your work, but it isn’t where it needs to be for the editor to acquire it. It could be that the editor doesn’t feel they can get it past the acquisition board in its current condition. Or they might want to see some major changes before they’re sure they’d like to acquire it. At this point, you will need to discuss your options with your agent and determine whether you want to revise or keep submitting to other editors.
As with querying, it’s not at all uncommon for most of the responses to be rejections. After submitting to the first round of editors with no offers, your agent will likely have a list for a second round, a third round, and so on. Between rounds, you and your agent might assess the responses you’ve been getting so far and discuss whether there’s anything you want to revise before sending it out again.
As for how long you’ll keep the manuscript on submission, that’s entirely dependent on the circumstances. You and your agent will continue to assess the feedback you’ve been getting to determine whether or not to continue. It’s possible that you’ll get an offer after being on submission for a long time—I have a friend who got an offer after more than a year, and I know authors who got offers after two years or more.
But do keep in mind that many authors don’t sell the first book that goes on submission. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never sell anything, or that your agent is going to give up on you. The submission process often depends as much on luck and timing as anything else, and sometimes it doesn’t quite work on your first try. This is why it’s a good idea to focus on a new project in the meantime, so you’ll have something else ready if the first one doesn’t sell. Also, there’s always the possibility that the manuscript you can’t sell right now will perfect for the market later, so you may wish to set it aside and try again in the future.
So, let’s say you’ve survived all of that waiting and received your first offer! What happens next? And what happens if you get multiple offers? And how do you negotiate a book deal? I’ll discuss all of that next time in Part 5!
In the meantime, I highly suggest reading this post by agent Jennifer Laughran, which discusses the submission process from an agent’s point of view. I also highly recommend this series of posts on author Mindy McGinnis’s blog, where numerous authors share their experiences of the submission process.
Have any questions about submission? Have any tips for surviving the process? Let me know in the comments!