Monday, March 22, 2010

The submission process

by Jane

In the comments last week, Joan Swan asked us to review how submissions are done. I raised my hand to offer this explanation:

I submit proposals and manuscripts on a multiple basis nearly all the time. While the proposal or the manuscript is being completed, I am talking about the project with various editors who I think might be interested. If they are, I add their names to a submission list, and when we deem the proposal or manuscript ready to submit, I set a date and tell the author when I am planning to send it out.

All of our proposals and manuscripts are now being submitted electronically as opposed to only a short while ago when they were sent in the mail. We find this is far more efficient and it has helped us streamline the process. With nonfiction proposals, we generally go to at least 20 publishers at a time. With fiction, we submit to 5 or 10. On the day of the submission, I sometimes call editors to say the material is coming to give them a heads up--editors receive so much material from agents and authors, I don’t want our submissions to get “lost” in a crowded inbox.

With nonfiction I usually begin following up, if I haven’t heard back from editors, about a week to 10 days later. With fiction I will wait for two weeks as reading an entire manuscript is bound to take longer than just a proposal. I ascertain the editor’s level of interest (and, yes, I collect their rejections) and then I gently try to press for when we will have an offer. If more than one publisher makes an offer, I usually try to have an auction.

Sometimes this process takes only a couple of days; sometimes it can take months depending upon how many interested parties I have and how many rounds of publishers I have to go to.

If I feel after the first round that more work needs to be done to improve the proposal or manuscript, based on feedback from the editors, I will suggest that to my client and share the comments that I have received from publishers. It is up to the author to decide whether he or she wants to make any changes.

Depending on the project and the comments I receive back from publishers, I decide just how far I will go in terms of submitting to more and smaller publishers. Sometimes we go to a number of rounds and sometimes we don’t. I do find though that I am persistent enough to sell a very high percentage of the projects I take on.

I am happy to answer any specific questions on this process if you have them.


  1. My question is sort of strange and hopefully not so specific answering it would be a waste of time. I had an agent who subbed manuscript A. It was turned down by 9 editors. I parted ways with agent (not over that, over something else). I got a new agent. New agent liked Manuscript A, but didn't think it was a great debut, even if I revised it, so went with Manuscript B, one I'd written in the meantime. Agent sold it!

    Here's the editor who bought manuscript B was one of the ones who turned down Manuscript A. And now the question:Is manuscript A dead?

    I now know a lot more about writing and would love to try and fix it, but with a next book option clause, is there any point? I haven't bothered my agent with this idea yet, but I hate to trash it because I think it has tons of potential (oh, and trust me, there are lots more manuscripts in the drawer, so this is not a case of me not wanting to let go of my very first book or anything - I'm fairly objective about my writing). Thanks.

  2. Regarding fiction submissions: is there a time of the year when agents like to go on submission? I've always wondered if there are times of the year that are better than others.

  3. That was very helpful and interesting. Thank you.

  4. I wouldn't consider manuascript A dead. If I were you, I would discuss the whole thing with your agent who should then take a look at the letters which came back with your turned down material. Then probably the agent (and you -- depending on your relatonship with your editor) should go to the editor and be totally transparent. Mabye there is a way to go forward now with manuscript A. Or maybe the decision you and your new agent make is to wait and see what happens and then resubmit some time down the line.

  5. There really is no special time of year to go out with fiction as opposed to non fiction. The times of year we try to avoid for all submissions are during the Christmas holiday season when everyone is away and usually at the very end of summer when again, everyone is away.

  6. Thanks for your post! Here is a quick and silly question. Are electronic submissions usually handled as a PDF or doc? I have a couple of agents waiting to see my novel based on my other work, and I am not sure how to send it. I ask because I am one of those jerks who does not write in MS Word (I use Nisus Writer Pro), and I worry about formatting issues.

  7. Electronic submissions should be handled as a MS word Doc

  8. Very informative post. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  9. Great post. Thank you for demystifying an often mysterious process in such a clear way.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing. I've been very curious about the process and your post really helped.

  11. Thank you for the post. I found it very insightful.

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