Being on submission for me is a bit like that. I like to think I was calmer with querying. I queried two books before I found my agent and racked up plenty of rejections. The first book I realized wasn’t the genre I wanted to write and I shelved it. The second book was my baby. It landed me my agent and just a short month later we went on submission. It was supposed to be the one—my Jake Ryan picking me up outside the church in a red Porsche moment (Sixteen Candles, watch it).
When I first learned we were going to be going on submission, I tried to research the process. But while there are a TON of useful sites about querying, not many talk about the next step. Submission is frequently shrouded in secrecy. Honestly, it has to be. You shouldn’t talk about submission publicly when your book is on sub. This doesn’t mean you can’t share details with friends and family. But social media and your professional persona should be cool, calm, and collected (even if you are binge eating chocolate on the side). Now that I've come off sub, I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned. Note: Some info is geared towards agented submissions to big and mid-sized presses, but much of it applies across the board. Also, like querying, experiences may vary widely :) This is just a guideline!
When you accept an agent's offer of representation, you'll work together to ready your manuscript for submission. This can take a week or several months or more. You should discuss the agent’s thoughts on the manuscript and what work it needs before accepting representation. You should also ask their submission strategy. The agent isn’t going to tell you specific editors or houses, but they may indicate their vision for your manuscript. You want to make sure your goals and expectations are on the same page. When your manuscript is shiny and ready, it's time to craft the pitch. Sometimes the agent will call an editor and pitch over the phone. More commonly the agent will send a pitch letter via email. Some agents write pitches on their own, others will ask authors to write their own and then tweak it. For those of you who hate writing queries, the pitch is VERY similar. It’s good to hone those skills!
Once the pitch is complete, your agent will develop a list of editors who would be a good fit for the manuscript. Some agents will share the list of editors/imprints with their clients (personally I think this is VERY important- you want to know where your manuscript is going). Others may not. Pitch letters are usually sent out by your agent, normally in batches known as rounds. The size of the rounds will vary, but a dozen is probably a good estimate. Submission is different from querying- there aren’t hundreds of editors to choose from (especially if you are limiting rounds to big or mid-sized presses). Submission is a targeted approach. Each house has imprints geared towards your category or genre. Some houses will allow you to query one imprint at a time; others will allow you to query multiple imprints at different houses but only one editor at each imprint. This is where a good agent comes in— your agent will know these rules and will steer you towards the right editors. Once your list is complete, your agent will pitch the first round of editors via email. In my experience this process is normally fairly quick. If editors are interested they will request a partial or full (more common). Then the waiting game begins.
If an editor likes your manuscript, they will likely get second reads from other editors at the press. Sometimes you get a revise and resubmit request. Other times the editor may decide to pass. But if those editors agree with the original editor’s opinion, your book may go before an acquisition meeting. At acquisition, the editor will pitch your book to other departments to get thoughts on whether the book will do well in the market, etc. The editor doesn’t have to just love the project, the editor has to believe the project can do well and have the support of others at the publishing house. If the support is there and the house decides to buy your book, an offer will be made to your agent. Once an offer comes in, your agent will discuss the offer with you and will notify the other editors of an offer on the table and give a deadline for a response. If other editors decide to offer, they can either offer to buy it in a pre-empt (before an auction to pre-empt the bidding), your book can go to auction, or you can decide which editor to go with based on your conversation with them, their offer, and their vision for your book and career.
If you go on submission and every editor passes on your manuscript, you'll probably want to reevaluate your strategy. With submissions you usually (not always- some editors will do a no response means ‘no’ approach or not give comments) receive feedback for why the editor is passing. If you start to see a pattern in the feedback, then you may realize you need to revise. Or you can decide that this isn’t the best book for your debut. If you still believe in the manuscript, a second (or additional) round is always a great option. You can also choose to self-publish it if you think that's best. Here is where your agent comes in again— they can advise you on the next step. Regardless of where you are in the process, agent communication is SO important. Your agent has likely been through this before and is a source of wisdom and guidance. Shield them from most of your crazy, but don't be afraid to check-in with them or ask them for advice.
I wish I could tell you how long it will be before you hear back from an editor. Honestly? I have no clue. I’ve been on submission for many months; I’ve been on submission for a couple weeks. There’s no exact science to this. Best advice? Be prepared for the long haul (6+ months) and be pleasantly surprised if it’s anything less. There are so many factors that go into timing— don’t spend time obsessing over why it's taking so long. You can’t control it, change it, or rush it. Your book baby is out of your hands. The only thing you CAN do? Write another book while on submission. Not a sequel. A completely new project. This is the MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE I can ever give you. Because here is the horrible truth to being on sub that no writer wants to face— that first book might not sell. I’ve been there. It sucks. So much. In the beginning you have so much hope and joy and you think you can do anything. This is the book that got you an agent— surely this is the book that will get you a book deal. And for some it absolutely will be. But for others— many others, including me— it won’t be.
I didn’t sell my first book on submission. It was just one of those things. But that failure made me question my ability as a writer and made me (and everyone around me who had to put up with me) more than a little crazy. The only thing that saved me? The book I wrote in those agonizing months on submission. That book, the book that kept me sane, the book that soon became the project I was SO excited about, sold in weeks. And suddenly submission stopped being a scary, horrible, stressful thing where I agonized hourly, and became my happy ending— the ‘yes’ I needed to make my book dreams a reality.
Submission is scary- it's a risk. But it's also a chance- a chance for an editor to fall in love with your book. A chance to be able to share your book with the world. So for those of you on submission or nearing it, embrace the crazy. You're not an anomaly, you're the norm. Just because we can’t talk about it while it’s happening, doesn’t mean you’re alone. Indulge yourself, wallow, vent to family and friends (just not publicly:)), whatever you have to do to get through it. We’ve all been there. BUT MOST OF ALL keep writing!!! It only takes one ‘yes’ to make your dreams a reality! Good luck!