Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Day?

We get questions posted on the blog, sent directly, and sometimes at conferences. This one asked, How do you handle the large number of submissions you get? How do you prioritize your day?

To tell you the truth it’s hard to handle the quantity and occasionally I drop a ball. Yes, I’m sad to admit it but it does happen. Fortunately not often, but that’s because I have some great help. I’ve had help this year from three great editorial assistants, Teri Burns (yes she’s my daughter and a long time copy editor), Amy Alessio (YA librarian, editor for a couple of small publications and nationally recognized expert on the YA genre) and Kristine Pratt ( editor at Written World Communications and for Marcher Lord Press).

I try to run a paperless office so I accept submissions per our guidelines at as a word or .rtf attachment to an email. A single file please, nice professional proposal with your query letter in the email itself if you are thinking of sending. I receive a quantity of them each day, a couple of thousand a year. When they come in, query letter or proposal I briefly look at them. Some are overtly not a fit and I respond to those immediately trying to be encouraging in the process. If they might fit they go to an assistant as a first reader. They go over them thoroughly, sometimes asking for more, occasionally asking if some changes can be made, picking the projects they want to recommend to me. The most common fix asked for is the manuscript opens too slowly. If they really like it they’ll ask for the full manuscript.

By the time I’ve worked my email I’ve weeded out obvious no fits, parceled out reading, gotten rid of junk mail that made it through my filters and I’m left with an inbox that has items I need to deal with. Obviously any communication with editors is at the top of the list. Communicating with clients is a close second. My client group is like a little writing group. They are on a closed list where they can talk and where I send out a weekly update telling of any successes that we as a group are having. They all seem encouraged to hear what one of us is doing even if it wasn’t them getting the good news. If there is any jealousy it isn’t mentioned, they seem genuinely happy for any success and constantly pray for one another.

Where I want to spend most of my time is in targeting submissions for clients and getting them out. An agent submission is not much better than any other submission if it goes in blind without knowing who the proper person is and some assurance that the project is AT LEAST a good potential fit for them. In the wake of the economic slowdown this targeting can be difficult. Here the writer’s group is helpful as we all go to conferences and get submissions requested, but in addition we all pick up all of the input and intelligence that we can and report it back hoping to somehow benefit someone in the group even if it doesn’t benefit us.

It takes some pretty sophisticated systems to track submissions and contacts, look to see when follow-ups are needed, keeping track of the information that is coming in and seeing what markets it might be point to that are ripe for submissions. This is where I like to spend the bulk of my time, as Diana said in her posting, looking for those perfect matches.

The difficult thing to schedule is the full reads. I don’t like to do them in pieces; I like to get some time where I can read it straight through. The projects the ladies refer to me as a potential client usually have full manuscripts by that point. Hopefully I will read straight through because if it doesn’t hold my interest I’m probably through at that point. I also look over the projects coming back that they recommend are not a fit for us and why to see if I concur. They are VERY good and I usually agree. However, I don’t delegate the authority to accept or reject.

Things seldom prioritize this neatly though and messages often come in that you drop everything to handle. I go hunting a place to submit one project and find a good match for another one instead so I do that one. Hopefully projects we take on come with good professional proposals that take little work to prepare them to submit. Occasionally I like one enough that I’ll take it and then have to try and make some kind of good proposal for it. This doesn’t happen often as authors know their projects much better and can almost always make a better proposal than I can do. These often take longer to get out as we have to find the time to work up the proposal.

I take a break periodically to scan email and facebook since I do have to maintain a certain visibility level. I may continue well into the evening or in the evening I may work on one of my own projects, same with Saturday. I try not to work on Sunday at all unless I’m just casually reading on a manuscript on Sunday afternoon in between church sessions. That’s something of the big picture, although life fits in here too and there are always things that have to be done. There are blogs to maintain, honey-do’s to get done and bills to pay. I know clients sometimes think I shouldn’t do anything but work for them, but Saundra and mom sometimes don’t see it that way.

I welcome any comments or questions and will give a copy of my eBook “Pitch and Promote like a Pro” to respondents asking a good writing related question.

Happy trails,



Karen said...

You mentioned "sophisticated systems" for tracking submissions and followup. This is one of the areas that drives me crazy when I have articles out and about. Can you share your favorite method?

Thanks to all of you for the blog. I love gleaning from all of these posts.

Dawn King said...

Love these posts and this blog! :-) I've enjoyed every article so far, but have had problems posting comments. Hopefully today will be the day my comment is finally posted. LOL

Terry Burns said...

Hi Karen, send your email addy to me at and I'll send you your book. As to your question, I like to work with excel spreadsheets and I have a client spreadsheet that lists their projects, the date a submission is made, who it went to, what the next action is and when. I made a similar entry in an editor spreadsheet so I can tell at a glance what editor has what and where it stands. A third spreadheet shows me everything I have received in the way of submissions and what the disposition was. Making these entries as the end of every action takes a couple of minutes but it is time well spent in keeping me organized. But as I said, even with all of this (and some other special purpose spreadsheets) I drop a ball every now and then. I guess we all do.

Martha Ramirez said...

Terry that is awesome that your daughter works with you! Cool name, named after you.

I also am VERY impressed how you refer to your clients as their own little writing group with support. And how you send out updates to everyone. That is something really, really awesome! Something I would LOVE to be a part of.

You truly are a good man. Keep up the good work.

Your book sounds wonderful...hope to win:)

Martha Ramirez

Terry Burns said...

No win involved, Martha, send your email address to and I'll send it out to you. Thanks for the nice comments

T. Anne said...

Terry, I love the fact that you still make time for those honey-do's! That just warmed my heart.

I'm curious, during the read through of the full, do you lean towards the voice or the plot when making a decision? Do you implement an editorial style relationship with your authors?

Thank you! I'm really learning so much from this blog.

Terry Burns said...

To tell you the truth I don't dissect when I read a full. My editorial ladies are great editors and have already provided me with their input by that point. I read for the story and the flow, does it pull me in, does it keep me reading, do I stall out or maintain interest? I've taken books that are genres I don't much care for because the author pulled me in and made me read, then kept me in the story all the way through. I've turned down projects in genres I'd like to have more of just because they didn't pull me in and make me read.

That what you are looking for? I'll go ahead and answer questions with short answers, and if some come in that require more we'll let one of the agents take it on in the blog where there is more room. Don't forget to send me your email addy for the ebook if you want it.

T. Anne said...

Thank you Terry and thanks for the book! I can't wait to read it.