Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Five Things No One Talks About: Submission Q&A

There was a bit of an uproar yesterday when I writer announced she had been agented and landed a book deal in a single day.  The story turned out to be a cruel joke, but as I read her tale there were so many red flags I felt like I was walking through a Soviet airport.  The trouble is this author, like so many others, has not been given much insight into the other side of the publishing experience and what to expect once you land an agent.  We hear about whirlwind success stories all the time, so there's no reasonable average of time it takes to get a book deal.  So here's some info on what to expect when you are going out to editors.  Fact is knowledge is power, and with the number of scams attacking hopeful readers, the more you know going in can help you spot problems.  And I'm doing an all weekend Q&A in the comments.  If I can answer your question, I will.  I'll be popping off and on, so feel free to ask away.

After you land the agent and before you announce your deal is submission.  It's supposedly called submission because you are submitting your manuscript for acquisition, but, really, I think its because you might as well submit to the torture now.  Now before you tar and feather me, I know my story was a fast one, but I still went through many of the things the average writer will experience during submission.  And, seriously, Einstein was right, time is relative.  Time spent on submission is roughly akin to being locked in a deprivation chamber except you're allowed an empty inbox and a silent phone.

1.  You will probably be advised not to talk much about it.  You might say you are going out on submission, but unlike the query process, your agent won't want you to share too many particulars.  Depending on the situation, you may be asked to keep your mouth shut completely.  Why?  Well, it's all about timing and playing the game.  Editors may be checking up on you and reading your blog or googling you.  If you say a big house has the book and offered a pre-empt, then another editor may lose interest pretty fast.  You want info on what's happening with submissions to filter through your agent not the world wide web.

2.  You may or may not talk with editors on the phone.  If there is multiple interest, you should absolutely get a chance to talk with each editor, but I'd go so far as to say all authors should get a chance to talk with the editor buying their book before you sign on a dotted line.  I know this isn't the norm, but I would advise it.  You don't want huge editorial letter surprises after the deal is done.

3.  Things can go slow.  Nathan Bransford discussed this in a recent re-post.  It can take months to get your book read.  Why?  It's not just one editor's decision, others have to sign off on it, which means they will also read it.  There is often an acquisitions meeting where editors pitch books they want to buy.  You could have an extremely enthusiastic editor get shot down at this point.

4.  Things can move fast.  Ok, no matter how fast some deals go through, it almost always take a few days to put together an initial offer, even when everyone is moving super fast in house.  There are still signatures and meetings.  An editor may call a special meeting to pitch a book if a title has garnered lots of interest already.  But even once the initial offer has been approved and submitted to the agent, it can take hours to up the bid in the event of an auction, because new amounts have to be approved as well.  It's publishing's version of checks and balances.  In the event of a preempt it could happen overnight or just a few days.  Even when it seems like a book sold super fast, you better believe the agent primed editors for it by building buzz that something hot was coming their way.  Even a book that sells in a few days was probably put into editors' heads much earlier.

5.  Permission as to when you can announce varies greatly.  Some agents want the contract to be finalized and signed before the deal is announced.  That means you could wait months!  Some publishing houses/imprints employ similar perimeters.  Most often you will be given the go ahead when the deal has hit Publisher's Marketplace or Publisher's Weekly.  Although not all deals are announced that way, many are.  This gives a chance for the agent to accept the offer, let other editors with the manuscript or offers on the table know, and for the publisher to put together a press release.  If it's a big deal for a hot item, this could be done same day.  Sometimes it takes a few days or a week.  Ask your agent for the all clear when you can spread the good news.

When in doubt, ask your agent.  It's why you pay them.  It's why they took you on.  It's expected and it's totally cool.

So what are your questions about submission?  I will answer them if I can.


  1. Hi Jen! Fellow QTer here. I understand about not discussing things publicly, but are you allowed to tell friends/family about the submissions process? or do they even frown upon that? Thanks and have a good weekend!

  2. Wow... that's a lot. Thanks for giving us the rundown!

    So, when you say "auction," I'm picturing a room with your agent at a podium and a mallet, and obviously this isn't the case. Is it a meeting with editors from different houses in a room, or is it correspondence via phone/email/etc. between your agent and the editors? This might be a really silly question, but these kind of things really throw me for a loop.

    Thanks in advance, Gennifer! :)

  3. PS. When you mention buzz about a book among publishers, I imagine them having their own version of an internet where they tweet about it on a plane we don't have access to. Which leads me to another question: how does this buzz spread? :)

  4. @Kimmy - If your friends/family work in the industry, probably, maybe. But since most of the people I know have never heard of Publisher's Weekly, I was pretty open about it. My parents, in-laws, and husband all knew every detail of the process. As well as my closest friends. I definitely had to talk with someone about it!

    @Kathryn - auctions are most commonly conducted via email these days and sometimes phone. Some are formal where rules are sent in advance i.e. specific bidding rules, auction closing out. Others are more informal where everyone submits a bid and the agent lets them know if they have a better offer. The house may also submit a marketing plan or speak with you over the phone about their ideas.

    Buzz can be built through emails or phone calls or lunch dates or drinks. It depends largely on how your agent operates. It may be something as simple as dropping a line to an editor that the agent has something amazing they just signed to represent. Or high-profile writers with huge platforms usually come with buzz attached.

  5. Wow, thank you so much for the rundown of the submission process!

  6. Thanks for a look into a part of the process that isn't talked about as much in the blogging world. Of course, it's easy to understand why, but thanks for the general knowledge. :)

  7. Thanks for the inside scoop, Genn. This post came at just the right time, and the timing thing is certainly encouraging (albeit torturous!).

  8. Thank you for the glimpse behind the curtain. Very interesting.

  9. You're all welcome. Hope it gives you a sense of what to expect.

    @Ryan - Good luck! Can't wait until I hear your big announcement.

  10. Thanks for sharing this. It's all very interesting and helps me know what to expect, like that you can't talk about it until it's announced and what happens in an auction. Thanks.