Posted On June 24, 2011 by Print This Post

Ask an Editor with Theresa Stevens

Welcome to Star Publishing editor Theresa Stevens’ monthly blog! Today, Theresa responds to a question from the mailbag about submissions procedures and what they all mean.

When an agent requests a full manuscript—what does that mean exactly? Do they actually give it to an editor? Who says yay or nay or good lord, why can’t this idiot writer figure out that sharks don’t survive on land–plot hole and re-write necessary?
I have three fulls floating around out there with different agents. At first I was excited. Now after reading blogs and columns I am starting to think that is not such a big deal and the “thanks but no thanks” emails are lurking until my computer senses I’m having a really great day.
Sorry if this question was irritatingly redundant and ridiculous.

Hi, Kristen,
No need to apologize for your question. There’s a lot of confusion about the ins and outs of the submissions process. This is partly because submissions vary a little from house to house and from agent to agent, but it’s also partly because some kinds of information are treated as insider knowledge and aren’t widely disseminated.

Let me start by congratulating you for your manuscript requests. Three full manuscripts requested by three reputable agents? That’s a big deal. Numbers vary, but in general, you can expect most established agents to respond favorably to fewer than five percent of queries. “Respond favorably” in this context means simply to ask for more material.

Most places use some form of multi-step submissions process. First, the author queries or pitches. If they’re one of the lucky and talented few, then the response will be a request for more material. The material can take one of two forms, usually: a proposal consisting of a partial manuscript and synopsis, or a request for a full manuscript and synopsis. Of these two options, the proposal request is more common, though it’s by no means universal.

In any case, the wait time for responses can also vary a lot. A general rule of thumb is that agents turn material around much faster than editors, but there are exceptions. Harlequin, for example, is known to respond to most submissions within about three months, which is considered a very rapid editorial response. I know of one editor at another house whose response time for unagented material runs around four to six years. So, if you’re dealing directly with editors, you’re looking at a window of a few months to several years. But for most agencies, a turnaround time of a few days to a few months is more common.

Another difference between agents and editors lies in the likelihood of receiving a rejection notice. A growing number of agencies no longer send out rejection letters or emails due to the overwhelming volume of submissions received. If so, their submissions guidelines will usually state that they don’t send rejections and positive responses are usually sent in X weeks. In other words, although no news used to be considered good news, no news within a certain time can now be considered bad news.

Some publishing houses are following suit and refusing to send rejections, but this is still a fairly rare practice with publishers. Most publishers will tell you in their guidelines exactly what to send and about how long to wait for a response, whether a positive response or a rejection. Some authors who query a lot of places at once will keep spreadsheets to track all these timelines and responses. There’s a great little free online program at which will send you an email on the date you request it. Some authors use that as a memory tickler to let them know that the time for one place has passed, and it’s now safe to send it to the next place on their query list.

You also asked what happens after an agent requests a full manuscript. First, they read it. Based on that reading and their industry knowledge, they decide whether they want to shop it to editors at different publishing houses. No reputable agent will shop your manuscript without first securing some form of agency agreement from you. Sometimes this is a simple phone call in which the agent spells out commissions and other details and you formally agree to the agency representation. But usually, even if there is a phone call, the terms are still formalized in a letter or agency contract. That way, there will be no confusion about what they agreed to do and what you agreed to pay.

After you’ve signed with an agent, that agent will shop your manuscript to the editors most likely to be interested in your work. It’s unlikely that you would talk to these editors unless one of them buys the manuscript. But your agent will keep you informed, in varying degrees of detail, about who has the manuscript and what kind of response it’s getting. Some agents don’t tell you this automatically but will provide it if you ask for it. And some will automatically send you copies of relevant correspondence to and from editors.

If you want to check the specific turnaround times and other relevant information for specific agents, a good source is For information on publishing house submission guidelines, the best source will be the house’s website. Another good source for both agent and editor information is Publisher’s Marketplace, but there is a charge for access to certain parts of their site.

What other questions do you have about the submissions process?



Join us on Monday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 29 for a Q&A with authors from Harlequin and Silhouette.


Bio: Theresa Stevens is the Publisher of STAR Guides Publishing, a nonfiction publishing company with the mission to help writers write better books. After earning degrees in creative writing and law, she worked as a literary attorney agent for a boutique firm in Indianapolis where she represented a range of fiction and nonfiction authors.

After a nine-year hiatus from the publishing industry to practice law, Theresa worked as chief executive editor for a highly acclaimed small romance press, and her articles on writing and editing have appeared in numerous publications for writers. Visit her blog at where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.

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17 Responses to “Ask an Editor with Theresa Stevens”

  1. Morning Theresa…

    Great to have you here as always! The submission process…what isn’t there to question about it? =) But I’ll narrow it down to one..multiple submissions. Is it okay to send out multiples as long as you’ve mentioned it in the email? The waiting time is sometimes interminable, but to send out one, wait 6 months before you can send it out to another seems a little like torture!

    Thanks for being here with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 24, 2011, 7:19 am
    • Hi, Carrie!
      This is a tricky question to answer. Some places will automatically reject anything with “multiple submission” mentioned anywhere. And some places would rather be told up front and don’t mind at all if you sub to many others. So the first thing to do is check the guidelines.

      If it were me, here is how I would do it. I would come up with a top 3 or top 5 list of dream agents or dream publishers, and I would submit to them very carefully. Follow all the submissions guidelines to a tee.

      If none of them nibble, I would probably do batch submissions next. Maybe 5-10 places at a time until one nibbles, but again, minding the submissions guidelines. I would only mention multiple submissions to the places that want to know about it and are okay with it. It’s a little risky, but in this climate, the odds of getting multiple bites on the line are pretty slim.


      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 2:14 pm
  2. Great summary of the subbing process!

    The question I see on a lot of my loops is about whether or not it’s okay to submit to an agent/editor at a certain agency/publisher if another agent/editor from the same agency/publisher has rejected the book.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 24, 2011, 7:28 am
    • Adrienne, that’s a great question. It’s not a straight yes-or-no answer, though. Some agencies run their acquisitions process in a way that brings in multiple agents to the decision-making process. At those houses, if you’ve been rejected by one agent, there’s no point subbing to another.

      But you really have no way of knowing which agencies are like that unless you know their process. If you don’t know for sure, and if the guidelines are silent, you can try again. The worst thing that will happen is you”ll lose some time and get rejected again.


      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 2:20 pm
  3. Good morning, Theresa!

    What are your thoughts on whether or not turnaround times will change with more people subbing to e-publishers. Their TA times seem to be shorter, so will this impact print publishers?

    Also – do you think agents’ and editors’ opinions are changing about self-pubbed work? Are they more or less likely to consider repping/buying something that’s currently on Amazon as a self-pubbed book?

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | June 24, 2011, 8:34 am
    • I think e-pubs have faster turnaround times because they have fewer overall submissions and they pump out more content. If that changes, their turnaround times might slow down some. It’s a numbers game.

      Yes, there is no doubt that self-publishing is viewed differently now than it was even a year or two ago. I never thought I would see that happen! There’s still quite a lot of bad self-published fiction out there, but some very good books are breaking through to readers thanks to the new distribution methods. If you want to be taken seriously as a self-pubbed author, you need to treat it seriously. Hire a good editor. Craft flawless cover copy. Come up with a cover that looks like it cost thousands to produce.

      Because of copyright concerns, it’s more likely that an agent or editor would want new material from a self-pubbed author.


      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 2:28 pm
  4. Hi Theresa,

    I know people who have agents who haven’t sold a book. Wouldn’t an agent’s stamp of approval help?

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 24, 2011, 9:08 am
    • Good question, Mary Jo.

      Posted by jennifer tanner | June 24, 2011, 1:41 pm
    • Hi, Mary Jo,

      It’s a tough business climate now, and it has been for several years. Having an agent helps, but keep in mind that what’s happening in the overall economy is also happening in publishing. It’s a demand-side problem, and it can’t be fixed on the supply side. An agent’s stamp of approval does help, but that stamp comes down on the supply side. If houses aren’t buying, then a lot of good agented material will remain unsold.


      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 2:30 pm
  5. who should you submit to? An agent or a publisher? It’s way past hard finding an agent especially in canada. If you don’t want to go the self-publishing route, what do you suggest people do when submitting their first novel? I have 3 written that are a saga and I know in this day and age it’s hard to get romance novels published. Would appreciate any help. Tks.

    Posted by Sue Langford | June 24, 2011, 3:17 pm
    • Sue, I think that depends on your goals. If you want to publish with a big house, you’ll most likely need an agent. If you would prefer a house that takes unagented submissions, and you’re comfortable with contract negotiations and other business aspects, then you can submit to the house directly. Evaluate your goals, and it will help you evaluate your options.

      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 7:47 pm
  6. Hi Theresa – Thanks for another very informative and thought-provoking blog. This is a great topic, with RWA National right around the corner.

    A couple of my friends are debating if it’s worth sending submissions now or whether it would be better to hold off until after National. What would you recommend?

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 24, 2011, 4:48 pm
    • Becke, I guess I don’t understand what the advantage would be in waiting. If you submit something now and then meet the agent or editor at nationals, you can tell them you have something in their inbox. The personal connection will still be made.

      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 7:50 pm
  7. Theresa,

    Would you recommend having an attorney who specializes in lit/IP law look over a contract before signing?

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by jennifer tanner | June 24, 2011, 5:04 pm
    • Hi, Jennifer,

      If you don’t have an agent, and you don’t know the ropes of this business, then it might be a good idea to do so. Not just an IP lawyer, though, but one who actually handles publishing contracts on a routine basis. Some IP attorneys specialize in other corners of intellectual property law, such as patent applications.

      Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2011, 7:53 pm
  8. Hi Theresa,

    Thanks for the great advice, as always!


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 24, 2011, 8:42 pm

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