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.

Jessica

13 comments:

Write Too said...

I poured so much effort into my
novel, hoping for the chance to
be called a writer.
With so many others jocking for
attention, will my novel ever
reach its rightful place?

Lori S said...

Oh wow! I had no idea it went through that many people.

Kris Fletcher said...

"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."

This is my favorite step.

Now, let's assume the offer is presented to an agent, not direstly to the author. Are there any negotiations or steps before the agent tells the suthor about the offer? Or does the agent call the author right away?

Diana W. said...

Does this mean that if one editor in an imprint or a line turns it down, it's useless to submit to another editor in the same imprint or line because it's been basically turned down by the whole staff? If so, you've got one shot!

BookEnds, LLC said...

Great questions guys. I'm going to do a separate post on Kris's question (because I'm looking for material and this is a good one). I'm also going to expand on Diana's, but yes, that is ultimately true. If you are rejected by one editor within a house or imprint you are essentially rejected by all.

Write too...keep at it and you'll find a home.

jhf

Alli said...

Thanks for this post, Jessica. It's great to hear accounts from "the inside". From your time as an editor, what percentage (a guesstimate is fine) of books presented at Editorial board meetings were rejected/accepted after second reads were done?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog, Jessica. You said, "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)...."
1. Do agents ever give their pitch to an editor from info off the synopsis that the author provided? (Yes, I've been paying attention to your 5-word pitches, but that is the ideal situation; I'm talking otherwise.)
2. Do agents send a full manuscript or partial to the editors in their proposal? (Wondering how much it parallels an author querying an agent.)

Having been in the field as long as you have been, I'm sure there are editors that you have known for a long time who are still in the business and who you have an excellent rapport with; so, with that in mind:
1. Do agents ever query editors (verbally or otherwise) before they have secured the author as a client to test the project's marketability first?
2. Do agents always read the whole manuscript first before pitching it to editors (again, agents have an accompanying and sometimes very-well structured synopsis)?

If any of these questions seem stupid, I apologize...a teacher told me once that the only stupid question was the one that wasn't asked; so, I guess I'm testing that theory here. :-P

Zee

Anonymous said...

Writing the book is probably the easiest part. I think the waiting - waiting for everyone else - is the most difficult part of the process. Being a writer requires a ridiculous amount of patience. Does your agency have a "handful" of editors who you've built a relationship with that you always try first? Is that avenue generally faster?
www.deannakentmcdonald.com

Anonymous said...

Great question Annon 1:20PM. I'm interested to hear the answer to that one too!

Zee

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you for this! Can you outline how the communicado works with your clients? Do you share all rejections and events like a ms going to a meeting? Do you counter offer the offers?

Aimless Writer said...

Wow, no wonder I've gotten back manuscripts that were dog earred and coffee stained. Perhaps they were used as drop cloths? I no longer request the pages be sent back. I gave up trying to recycle these things. But you've also explained why I've recieved rejection letters years after I've sent in the work. (After I mail something out I just forget about it and move on to the next project.)
#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."
-Do they look at agent submissions first?
-If you get an offer from a publisher can you then call an agent and ask her to take over for you?
Thanks,
Jeannie

AstonWest said...

Anonymous wrote:
I think the waiting - waiting for everyone else - is the most difficult part of the process.
I'd venture to say the most difficult part is trying to improve your writing without ever getting any feedback on what needed improvement.

Phil Lear said...

Anything that ends up in a pile particularly on the floor will probably never get read. There are too many more pressing things to deal with. It's easier and faster to send a rejection postcard than to read a manuscript.