Yesterday I took to Twitter for an impromptu #AskFuse (we usually have those on Fridays) to find out what I should blog about today.
The above author asked about going on submission once you’ve accepted an offer of representation from an agent. What’s it like? Well a lot of authors will tell you that it is one of the worst parts of the publishing process. It’s very similar to submitting your work to agents (there are rejections and a lot of waiting) except you’re no longer the point person since that’s the agent’s job. Oftentimes giving up this control can feel maddening.
Further complicating things, editors at publishing houses will give you vague answers as to why they don’t want to publish your book. “It’s not for me” or the like. You feel closer to your goal (your book is being read by actual editors at actual publishing houses!) but like you’re not actually getting anywhere.
I usually have a discussion with my clients about the submission process before I start sending the MS out. First, I want authors to know that it can take a long time. Every now and again you read about a book selling in a day, but that’s not the norm. Typically, even if an editor does read the book quickly, he or she will have to get permission from a publishing board to make an offer. This usually involves getting still more people to read the MS (who can be fast or slow depending on how busy they are). Some boards meet frequently, others don’t. Meetings can be pushed back for reasons that have nothing to do with you. All this means there’s great variability in the process so it’s imperative that authors not compare themselves to one another or feel discouraged by other’s success.
Secondly I want to talk about rejections. Nearly every book I have sent out received at least one rejection from an editor or publisher. (I know you thought once you found an agent it would be smooth sailing, but this is not the case! Even after the book *is* published you have to deal with negative reviews!) Some authors want to know everything that is said to me, any reason why an editor might have passed. Others only want to know constructive criticism (changes they could actually make; none of this “not right for my list” nonsense that can drive you batty). Still other authors don’t want to know about rejections at all–for their own mental health. They only want to hear when there is good news.
These are all things you can talk to your agent about so you can have a game plan upfront.
As for coming up with a list of editors to submit to, that is usually the agent’s purview. I often ask clients if they have a dream publishing house or a dream editor. Some authors are much more knowledgeable of houses/editors if they follow them on Twitter or go to conferences while others might not know the difference between Penguin and Puffin. Still, if an author suggests an editor that I don’t think would be a good fit, I would tell that author why I’m not comfortable submitting to that person.
I’ve also had a discussion with several other agents about how much you should tell an author about who the MS is with. We’ve all heard horror stories of authors behaving badly, stalking people on Twitter, sending emails about why their MS hasn’t been read, and even showing up at the publishing house about a rejection. How much you the author will know about who is currently reading your MS can vary based on who your agent is. (People who have had a problem in the past might be more gun shy revealing details, and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with you personally.) I usually say what imprint and publishing house the MS is with, but not which specific editor until the process moves forward toward an acquisition.
This can be a tricky balance to strike for agents because obviously you want to trust your clients, but you also don’t want to ruin your relationships with editors.
As for the different terms used for an acquisition: Sometimes you will see a deal listing say a book was a “pre-empt” or”sold at auction.” These are usually cited in the deal listing to get extra attention for the book. A “pre-empt” is when an editor offers a very high advance for a book. Typically, these offers are for a limited period of time (like a day), meaning the author has to decide if they want to take a lot of money now, or let other editors read it and make their offers. In that case, other editors could a) not offer at all, b) offer a lower advance, or c) offer a higher advance. But we have to decide what to do. It’s a kind of “Deal or No Deal” situation.
An auction is when several editors at multiple houses all want to acquire a book and they make bids on the MS. There are various ways to conduct an auction–sometimes there’s a set date and it’s very formal and other times it’s more of a “rolling auction” when the bids come in over a longer period. If you get into an auction scenario (I wish this on all authors reading this), talk to your agent about how exactly it will go to avoid any confusion.
As you can see, submissions can be stressful and there are a lot of different ways things happen. Definitely talk to your agent if you have any questions about what is happening. We know it’s a weird experience but one of the reasons you get an agent is because we know how things usually go and can offer advice.
My #1 tip: start working on something else. Try to take your mind off it.