Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Anatomy of a Submission—to Publishers

I recently did a post on the Evolution of the Rejection and was asked if I could talk from the publisher’s perspective. Well, I can. Having spent six years as an editor I have a pretty good idea of the travels your submission makes once it’s shipped off to the publisher.

Keep in mind that this little lesson is based on my own experiences. Every editor and every publisher works differently. To confuse you even more, every project is handled a little differently. But this should give you a general idea of what happens.

1. The proposal package or manuscript arrives in the mailroom (if emailed, skip to step #3).
2. Mail is sorted and eventually reaches the desk of the editor’s assistant (assuming it wasn’t submitted to the assistant herself).
3. The package is opened and logged in to a master submission log. Some companies use a log that all editors can access, but usually each editor (assistant, actually) tracks her own mail.
4. The proposal lands on the editor’s desk.
5. When the editor has a brief minute or two she scans through the stack of mail on her desk and pulls out those submissions that appeal to her the most.
6. All submissions are placed in (a) a pile on the floor closest to the editor’s desk, or (b) a designated shelf on her overstuffed bookshelves, or (c) used as a doorstop.
7. The editor reads the proposal. This could happen in a matter of hours, days, months, or even years, depending on how enthusiastic the editor was, her relationship with your agent, and her schedule.
8. The editor makes a decision to either pass or move forward.
9. If the editor was still enthusiastic after reading the material she will likely ask for second reads. Again, this can depend on the editor, the house, or the type of book. In some instances the editor might just go to her superior and ask to make an offer. At which point you’re about ready to start floating on cloud nine.
10. The editor may or may not contact the agent to ask a few questions and let her know of her interest. At this point there are still no guarantees, but the editor wants to make sure that she’s got her foot in the door should anyone else jump on the project.
11. Second reads can be done in a variety of ways. The editor may go to a few trusted colleagues and ask them to take a look. Once she has their opinions she could either (a) reject the work, or (b) go to her superior and ask to make an offer, or (c) present the project at the Editorial Board meeting.
12. The Editorial Board meeting . . . some projects will be presented here without second reads. The editor will verbally pitch the book, often using much of the same material from the agent’s cover letter (which might have been taken from your own query letter), and if her superior thinks that it sounds like a viable project she’ll ask other editors to do second reads. Other editors and houses might not present the book until a second read or two has already been done.
13. Wait until second reads are completed. Second reads usually take another week. If they were done through the Editorial Board meeting, readers will give their opinions during the meeting. If not, they will give their opinions when they have the chance.
14. If all goes well the editor’s superior will probably give her the go-ahead to make an offer. At this point she will need to run “numbers.” Basically a profit-and-loss statement to give her an idea of what they should be offering in terms of an advance and royalties.
15. Voila! Numbers are run, approvals have been given, and an offer is made.

Again, each house and each editor is different, but this should give you an idea of why things take so dang long and what’s really going on behind closed doors.