I’ve been very lucky to have an extremely short submission period, and I know a lot of you are interested in what actually happens when you go on submission. Here goes:
The Pitch – It all starts with the pitch. This is very much like a query letter, but your agent will prepare it and send it out to publishers. Some agents will pitch in person, but it’s not uncommon to pitch over the phone or by email. Your agent should have editors in mind for your book when she/he signs you and will pitch to 10 to 15 editors at a time.
The Manuscript Request – Based on the initial pitch a publisher will either pass or request to read your manuscript. The response time can take less than a day to a couple of weeks, depending on your project and how swamped the editor is. If it’s a pass, it’s not necessarily because of your manuscript. The publisher may have just bought something similar or might not have the budget to make an offer. If it’s a yes, your agent will send along the manuscript, your bio, a series synopsis when relevant, and any other information they think the editor will want to know about you. Again, response times vary; a publisher can get back to you the next day or after six months. Just like with an agent, a publisher may not want to sign your work as is, and may request a rewrite.
The Offer – Hopefully, after all your hard work, you won’t stay in submission limbo for too long. If all the answers are no, it’s back to the drawing board, either with a rewrite or a new project, but there are several ways that a publisher can say yes.
1) The Pre-empt – If an editor absolutely has to have your book, they’ll make you a pre-empt offer. Usually you’ll speak with your agent before hand about how much money you’ll consider taking for a pre-empt, but of course other factors will come into the equation, like if you connect with the editor or if you want a big or small publisher. You are never under any obligation to take a pre-empt, but they’ll want to know your answer within a couple of days. Your agent may still even negotiate a bit with them to see if they can go up. The whole point is that a publisher will throw a bunch of money at you and snag you before anyone else can.
2) The Offer – If you don’t get a pre-empt, don’t freak out. You can still get an offer, usually a reasonable amount. At this point your agent will email everyone who has requested the manuscript and let them know you’ve received an offer. It’s kind of like when your agent offered you representation. As soon as other publishers know you have an editor interested, it will light a fire under their butts to read your manuscript and make their own offers. This can happen with a pre-empt too. Just be aware that other publishers will then make offers not knowing what the original publisher offered. It’s just how it’s done.
3) The Auction – If a bunch of publishers make offers (but none large enough for you to take as a pre-empt), then your book could go to auction. This is when your agent will start the bidding at a low amount (lower than any of the offers most likely) and do a round robin bid, calling each publisher in turn. Certain publishing houses will drop out when the bidding gets to high and you’ll eventually get a final figure. Here’s the thing, you are under no obligation to take this figure. If the second highest publisher has a kick-ass editor that you’re dying to work with, take a little less money and work with them!
You’ll always be able to speak with any editor that makes an offer, it’s important to know what their vision is for your work and what edits they think your manuscript needs.
Maria over at Harper was so enthusiastic about my book, I knew she would invest a lot of effort and resources into making it successful. I feel very lucky to be working with her!
Whew! I think that’s the longest post I’ve ever written! Any questions?