Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why do submissions take so long? by Terry Burns

Sometimes I get a question from a client and instead of just answering it I realize it is an answer I need to share with others. I mentioned the other day that I had spent the whole day trying to get a couple of submissions out on a client and was asked why it took that long.

The client in question had given me the name of several publishing houses they thought would be appropriate and all I had to do was shoot them a proposal, right? Not that easy.

You see, there is generally more than one editor acquiring at a publishing house, the larger ones there may be a dozen or more. So if a client tells me that Random House has published a book that is a great comparable for their manuscript that is a good tip, but it is a long way from being the correct intel for a proper submission.

First, Random House has multiple imprints and chances are only one of them is right for it. Send it to another one and it will be promptly rejected. Second, in the proper imprint there are multiple editors, and if I send it to the wrong one it will probably be rejected. I need something that tells me a particular editor is the right person for what I am trying to pitch. This research is what takes time. Finding that right person can be very difficult.

On occasion one of my clients talks to an editor at a conference and finds out such a lead for me, the right editor for a project. A number of the sales that we have made started with just such a lead.

Third, the timing has to be right. A similar book can show us an editor has interest in a certain area, or it can be an indication that they just published one and is not interested in doing another one. Hard to tell which one of those two possibilities it might be.

Fourth, I am often in possession of more information. A client may see something that looks like a great possibility but in my database I have info that says they are only doing published authors, or maybe are no longer taking a certain thing even though the market guide lists that they are. Or maybe I know they are not actively looking at submissions until a certain date. There are lots of factors like this that all of us at Hartline share with each other to help us stay on top of the rapidly changing industry. And the things clients pick up in their writing groups and at the conferences they attend often contribute to the picture to help us stay on top of things.

No, it isn't as easy as just looking in the market guide, pulling out everybody that lists a certain genre and shooting off submissions. If we did that our agented submission would stand no better chance than one just coming in blind, except it would probably get looked at a little quicker.

Doing something well means doing it right. I tell people who follow up on submissions they sent to me within a fairly short time that I can give them an answer right now if they want, but the only fast answer I can give is no. A yes takes more time. It's that way with the editors I make submissions to as well.


Sharon Sullivan-Craver said...

Great blog. Although I do not have anything published as yet, I kind of thought this is how it worked. Thanks for sharing.

Jason Talbot said...

Terry, this is a clear explanation of what happens on the agent's side of the process. But I'm curious... When an agent receives a query, does he/she know by the bottom of that page that "No, this isn't my kind of project" or that "I'd like this writer to tell me more"? Or is it necessary sometimes to sit on a query awhile and mull it over before rejecting or requesting a proposal?

Days and weeks can slide past while we writers wait for a response to a query. That's not so hard to endure--until we notice the agent's Facebook page frequently gets updated with references to spending hours writing her own book, going on fun shopping excursions, etc. We can't help wondering if our query has actually been opened, or if it's stuck in limbo, or if no news is good news during these long, quiet spells.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Terry, I am curious. Is that picture your real working mode? What a life. =)

I am looking forward to seeing you in St. Lewis in a few short weeks!

Terry Burns said...

I understand, Jason, and can't speak for any body but me, but I spend on average 8-10 hours a day six days a week working incoming or outgoing submissions. I would like to keep my hand in with some writing of my own but very seldom get the chance. I have sold a few projects of my own but mostly it was older projects finished before I undertook the agent gig.

With agents and editors giving a no answer can be very quick. I glance over a project before I put it in line (we work them in the order received and just by myself I get several hundred a month)and if it is a clear no fit respond right then. A no can be quick. A yes takes some time. When I open it I either give a negative response or send an acknowledgement of receipt which points out the time frame involved. But like I say, I can just speak for me, everybody works differently.

Terry Burns said...

Yes, Sharon, that is very often my work mode. When I broke my heel I was trapped in my recliner for about 7 months. I discovered I don't mind working there at all. My computer is on an air desk that swings out over the arm and is on unless I am actually in bed. I have a nice study but find I do not work in there much.

Martha Ramirez said...

Great info, Terry! Thank you.