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.
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 myemailreminders.com 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 agentquery.com. 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 http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/ where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.
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