Posted On April 11, 2012 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – What Do You Need To Know About Submissions?

Sara is back and fresh from a conference in Texas where she (no doubt) heard many great pitches for books she can fall in love with and sell.  So, what’s the next step?  What happens when your agent starts submitting your work to publishers.  Read on and find out. 

What do you need to know about submissions?

I’m going to narrow the scope of my blog post today to address one specific step in the publishing process. In general, this post is aimed at authors who are having their manuscript submitted to a publishing house via a literary agent. This might be your first manuscript or your twentieth, but here’s what you need to know about submissions.

1) A book must be 100% polished in order for me to shop it to editors. There are some exceptions (for example, if you’re a published author negotiating your fourth book deal with the same publishing house, that house may buy that fourth book on proposal). But in general –strict competition in this industry demands that our submissions are 101% polished when they are read. Be prepared for your literary agent to demand a perfect manuscript before sending it out. Yes, I do offer editorial feedback to my clients and it’s not unreasonable to go through two to five rounds of edits before going out on submission. Tiffany Reisz and I worked on THE SIREN for months before we ever approached editors. If I remember correctly we revised four or five times. It was worth it as THE SIREN sold to Harlequin in a two book deal, but new authors can be surprised by the amount of work required even after signing on with an agent. Remember – we’re not looking for books to work on, we’re looking for books to sell.

2) I do give my clients a list of the editors to whom I submit. Many of my clients take that list and follow these people on twitter or search publisher’s marketplace for information on recent sales. Heck, that’s what I would do if I were on the other side of the computer. I believe in the open submit list policy, but be aware that not all agents operate this way (and that’s 100% ok). Here’s my process: I send the list of editors to my client, then I follow up to let them know who has requested the manuscript and then I communicate each and every offer or pass. If a client wants to know more about why I chose an editor and imprint – I provide that information also. Do you NEED to know all this? No. I do it because I think communication helps authors stay sane in a very exciting and nerve-wracking time. For the record, my submit lists tend to include Big 6 publishers as well as small presses. More on that for some other blog post, eh?

3) Be prepared to wait. For romance novel submissions, my average wait time right now is 2-4 months. One of my clients had an offer on the table 12 hours after their book went on submission and one client waited 10 months. Usually we get the rejections back first – editors open the manuscript and don’t fall in love with it, so they send off a nice no thank you. I don’t get offended if it takes a while to get a response, however at about the 10 month mark (after some nudging and pinging) I call any no-response a pass and move on. By the way – what should you be doing while on submission? Keep writing!!! Don’t worry about it (too much), just keep moving forward.

4) A no is a no. Typically, an editor will read and respond to my submission via email. That means I will either get “yes, I’m loving this and would love to talk to you about an offer” or “no thank you, this isn’t quite right for us.” When an editor passes, it’s a final no – we don’t go to another editor at that imprint. Usually we don’t even go to another editor at that same publishing house. Once we get a pass, we move on.

5) There is always a Plan B. If all the editors on my submit list pass on a book, then I have a second round of editors to try. I don’t call these “Tier Two” as it’s not an issue of quality. I only submit to editors and publishing houses that I trust will do a great job, so whether it’s Tier One or Tier Three, I am excited about the potential partnership. My first round is a list of editors who I know are acquiring in this genre and who I strongly believe will connect with a writer’s voice and want to acquire a book. Plan B means that I don’t know that editor as well or how their imprint may work for this particular kind of novel. I even have a Plan C if all my Plan B editors pass. Three rounds is about my max though – and that would usually represent about 18 months of submitting. At that point, I would discuss other plans with my client – shelve the book, shop a different book, etc. Having a full game plan is important as submissions tend to be unpredictable.

6) Don’t post submission information online. This may be super obvious, but don’t post any information about your submissions process online. Not on twitter, not on your blog, not on Facebook. This is just my suggestion of course, but if an editor sees you saying “we submitted” and the post is four months old, that editor may feel the book is no longer quite as hot. Also, never ever badmouth an editor for their rejection – not by name, not by imprint and not even by hinting at it. You can say “I’ve signed with an agent” and “we’re working hard on my manuscript” and “hoping to submit to editors soon” but that’s about as far as I would go with it. Editors will cyber stalk you so keep it professional!

Hope this helps! Happy writing,


Okay – Sara is in the house and she’s ready to answer your questions about submissions.  Are you actively submitting?  Do you have a Plan B or C?

Tomorrow, Jennifer Fedderson from AudioLark Audiobooks will give us some info on how audibooks can factor into your book sales.


This months’ giveaway for one lucky commenter- a signed copy of . . . .

 CRASH INTO YOU by Roni Loren

Her heart won’t forgive, but her body can’t forget…

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat – a place where the elite to escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her, Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past.

Brynn knows what attorney Reid Jamison is like once stripped of his conservative suit and tie. Years ago she left herself vulnerable only to have him crush her heart. Now she needs him again. Back on top. And he’s all too willing to engage. But as their primal desires and old wounds are exposed, the sexual games escalate—and so does the danger. Their hearts aren’t the only things at risk. Someone else is watching, playing by his own rules. And his game could be murder.


Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC

Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.

Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http:// submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site ( is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibowHow an agent chooses what books to read.


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41 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – What Do You Need To Know About Submissions?”

  1. Thank you so much for this, Sara. You broke that down very nice!

    Posted by Martha Ramirez | April 11, 2012, 12:41 am
  2. Hi Sara
    Thanks for the info. As a new writer it’s good to know how literary agents work. I’m still at the polishing stage. I suspect I’m going to be there for a while. I have nine completed manuscripts in the romance genre and am hopeful that I can polish at least one or two to submission quality eventually. Still very much at the learning stage. Thanks again.

    Posted by Fiona Marsden | April 11, 2012, 1:03 am
  3. Sara – thank you for this informative post!

    My question is whether your clients ever disagree with where you want to submit the book and how do you resolve that difference?


    Posted by Robin Covington | April 11, 2012, 4:52 am
    • Yes, that has happened, although it’s not as strong as “disagree.” For example, I do have clients that email me and say “I just read a book published by XYZ publishing house – can we submit to them” and usually I’ll do it.

      If a client sees my submit list and doesn’t want to try one house or another, that’s fine with me too although that doesn’t usually happen. I have good taste and they trust that I know what I’m talking about.

      Still, I’m an advisor, not a dictator so submissions (as with everything else) is a two way street.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 7:28 am
  4. Hi Sara,
    Thanks for the informative post.

    When you are ready to submit to Tier A – do you ask the author where they’d like to end up? Or do you make the list based on your connections and what you imagine for the book?

    Posted by Lynn Cahoon | April 11, 2012, 5:22 am
    • Most of my clients are debut authors and they don’t have a specific idea where they want to end up, other than “on the bookshelf.” However, this is a very important and good question and yes – I would absolutely take that into consideration. For example, let’s say a client met an editor at XYZ publishing house at a conference and realllly liked that person. Likely I would call that person and say “this book will be out on simultaneous submission, however the author is very motivated to work with you if you fall in love with this book” (or some such like that).

      Typically, the list is made by me based on my knowledge of the publishing houses and their imprints and their editors. But, I’m flexible per client and per book.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 7:30 am
  5. Hi Sara,

    Have ever been shocked by an editor’s rejection? A book you thought was great, but find it can’t sell?

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | April 11, 2012, 6:08 am
    • Absolutely!

      Like authors, these books become my babies. I offer representation because I believe a book will sell, not because I hope it will. (obviously, I don’t make any money if it doesn’t sell and my kid has to eat, so it’s a business decision as much as an artistic one).

      I’ve had books that haven’t sold and been super disappointed by that.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 7:31 am
  6. Morning Sara!

    OOohhh…tell us more about editors cyberstalking! =) Or maybe that’s an entire post for another time…lol….I’ve read millions of posts on FB and Twitter about who has submitted where….since most publishers write on their own websites that submissions can take up to 6 months to go through, is it really a big problem?

    Thanks for the great post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 11, 2012, 7:12 am
    • It’s an excellent question and a tricky one.

      I recommend that my clients watch what they post about submissions as it’s my experience an editor will find it and read it. I do send my clients’ website addresses and blog addresses in with the submission so it’s not very secret that the editor will find you.

      Be professional – that’s my opinion. They will read what you write (as will I) and this is a business. I know its tempting to share the author experience with other authors, but I tend to recommend we do this in person, at conferences, via email or in some way that isn’t quite so public.

      Submissions do take up to 6 months, so that’s a very valid point. Still, my suggestion is…be professional and be discrete.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 7:35 am
  7. Sara – What is your advice to writers who are currently submitting to both editors and agents?

    I’ve pitched to some editors who passed on a particular story but liked it – and my voice – enough that they invited me to submit my next stories once they were completed.

    I’ve grown cautious, so I only submit to two agents and/or editors at a time. Still, I’ve seen blogs by agents who have been frustrated because writers blew their chances by submitting to an editor before the agent could check it out.

    This is fine for people who HAVE an agent, but it creates a problem for those who don’t – especially if submitting might hurt their chances of getting an agent.

    Do you and other agents grit your teeth when a writer submits to an editor on their own, with or without an invitation to do so?

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | April 11, 2012, 7:40 am
    • Dear Becke –

      That’s a wonderful question. To be honest, my answer would vary depending on each individuals’ circumstance. So, readers – don’t take this as blanket advice!!!

      For you, Becke, my suggestion would be to keep trying agents & editors at the same time. It is absolutely true that when an author comes to us with an “offer on the table” we almost always pass. We get 3-4 of those a month. Basically, in this situation we don’t have the ability to shop widely and have no leverage to adjust the offer, so it’s not a great business decision for us.

      However, if you are feeling frustrated with the process (and who doesn’t every now and then), go ahead and keep submitting to editors. Do it eyes wide open though. If you get an offer, you may not get an agent and you may not have leverage to adjust that offer. But still…it’s your career so it’s your decision. You want to go for it, then go for it.

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 8:59 am
  8. Sara –

    This is great info to clarify a mysterious process, especially to the unpubbed. I’m especially interested in your response to Becke’s question.

    Thanks for another great column!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | April 11, 2012, 7:44 am
  9. This was a GREAT post. I was a little surprised to see that you notified clients only after doing a submission, and that you provided the rationale only on request. So, let’s say a client sends you a manuscript, it’s 100% ready to go. Do you have a discussion with them about what publishing houses or lines they were thinking about or would want? I assumed so but your post made me think maybe not. Maybe not all authors really pay attention to that stuff, as its the agent’s purview?

    Oh! Another question that came up at the Austin RWA meeting last night. Do or should agented clients pitch to editors at conferences? Is this a normal thing, an abnormal thing, recommended or not?

    Posted by Amber | April 11, 2012, 8:03 am
    • Dear Amber –

      great question. Usually we don’t discuss it in advance. Our agency makes it clear that we shop and sell to the Big 6 and competitive small presses, so that’s something that my clients know at the time I offer representation to them.

      Most of my authors ask a lot of questions, but they also have to trust that I know the business side of things.

      As for an agented client pitching to an editor at a conference – no. I would tell my clients to not do that. Other agents might have a different say, but once I sign a client I am in charge of their submission. If a client meets an editor at a conference and hits it off, then that client can absolutely tell me and I can add that person to the submit list. But, no – leave those pitching spaces for people who don’t have an agent. That’s my two cents.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 9:02 am
  10. Great and informative post. I really think getting an inside peak at the agents process for selling a work helps tons when finishing and polishing as a writer. Knowing a bit better what to expect from the agent relationship takes some of that scary mystery out of the mix.

    Thanks for the post!

    Posted by Rebecca Hart | April 11, 2012, 8:51 am
  11. Thanks for this, it was very helpful. I don’t have an agent yet, but I keep circling closer and closer so I’m peaking over the horizon to the next step.
    I have a question not quite addressed here. If that book by a debut author doesn’t sell, are you still her agent for the next book in her pipeline? Or is an agent deal a one-book-at-a-time deal until a writer proves to be a reasonable seller?

    Posted by Shannon LC Cate | April 11, 2012, 9:21 am
  12. Sara,
    What an informative post. As an author who is in the process of polishing my WIP this is invaluable. Thank you for taking the time to help.

    Posted by Stephanie Berget | April 11, 2012, 9:29 am
  13. Thanks for the great post! I am currently revising for my agent and prepping for submissions so this is really timely for me!
    My question is, do you also share your pitch letters with your clients? I am interested in seeing my agents’ pitch letters, but am not sure if that is a usual request? The agent to publisher submission process feels somewhat dark and mysterious to me right now.

    Posted by Ms. Snip | April 11, 2012, 10:10 am
    • I think it’s ok to ask the agent for the pitch letter. I don’t share mine as my pitch letters tend to be filled with things like “hey – it was nice to drink with you last month. Here’s that manu I was talking to you about”


      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 11, 2012, 10:36 am
  14. Sara,

    Thanks for this informative post.

    I understand your reasons for not offering representation to a writer with an offer on the table, but are you open to representing that writer for future books? If yes, with that same publishing house or another? Would the offer accepted by the writer tie your hands in negotiations if you wanted to submit future books to the same publisher?


    Posted by Cia | April 11, 2012, 1:36 pm
    • Great question!

      Yes – absolutely! Typically (I say typically although it’s very reasonable in these days for an author to be very well educated in contracts and do it well on their own) – typically, an author doesn’t know as well as an agent what to request in contract negotiations. So yes – signing with a publisher may tie our hands a bit in future negotiations. But, if I love an author’s voice and the manuscript to be shopped, we’d work it out.

      My mantra is – there are not too many deal breakers. If I love love love a book, then we’ll make it happen. I only have 19 clients and I feel this strongly about my 19. I’m hoping to find more, but it’s not the previous books that dissuade me from offering so much as it is that I haven’t fallen in love with the book they are submitting at the time.

      Does that help?

      Posted by Anonymous | April 12, 2012, 7:43 am
  15. Hi Sara!

    I would think most debut authors listen to their agent’s advice. 🙂 But has there ever been an instance where you’ve sold a book to a publisher and the author isn’t happy? For instance, she had her heart set on XYZ and the book was purchased by ABC.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 11, 2012, 2:26 pm
    • Jennifer –

      not yet, although odds are that this will happen. I’m a HUGE believer that all offers have pros and cons. So I try to put the publishing process into perspective for my clients. Let’s say they are happy with their cover but unhappy with their royalty rates. I will tell them “I understand. XYZ house offers better royalty rates but worse covers” or whatever. Every publishing house has its achilles heel – some are slower to pay, some have worse distribution, some offer poorer royalties. Conversely, they all have their strengths – some are very personable and communicate regularly, some are rock stars and promotions, some tend to offer higher advances, etc etc etc

      So, someone who is “unhappy” is likely unhappy only with an aspect of their career and that can be put in perspective. I don’t know anyone who is unhappy with the whole thing.

      Posted by Anonymous | April 12, 2012, 7:46 am
  16. Hi Sara, thanks for the offer to ask questions. Mine is, if the author is already being published at a digital publishing house but is looking for an agent to represent her at the bigger print publishers, if you like her book and take her on, can she continue to submit to the digital publishers herself or do you take over her whole career. Is that negotiable?


    Posted by Serenity Woods | April 11, 2012, 5:12 pm
    • Great question!

      Absolutely! Each of my clients has a different career arc and we personalize what they want for their career. So yes – I can shop part of their bookshelf of books and they can shop their own part on their own. We’d have a serious discussion about how many books per year that author feels they can actually write and I would watch the non compete clauses carefully, but yes – absolutely!

      Posted by Anonymous | April 12, 2012, 7:47 am
  17. Great post! And thank you for the helpful questions and answers in the comments too.

    Which of your skills do you find most important when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of various publishers and contracts?

    Posted by Jami Gold | April 12, 2012, 6:42 pm
    • Great question Jami –

      Typically, I evaluate publishers based on my personal interactions with the editors and by knowing what books they have published recently and what books they have acquired recently.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | April 13, 2012, 9:27 am
  18. And the winner is Fiona Marsdon!!!

    Posted by Robin Covington | April 15, 2012, 6:46 pm
  19. Excellent post, thank you!

    Posted by Lydia Sharp | April 20, 2012, 8:59 am

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