QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Surviving Submission

For aspiring writers, climbing out of the query trenches and finally getting an agent can seem like winning the lottery. But then what? Obtaining representation gives you an advocate and a foot in the door, but what actually happens when your book is on submission? Or, what if you're on submission directly to a publisher and frantically refreshing your inbox every thirty seconds? To help navigate the process, I asked Gina Panettieri from the Talcott Notch agency to answer some questions about surviving submission. 

Do agents submit to editors via query letter like authors or by phone call or other method? Do you agonize over queries like we do?

Gina: Agents pitch projects to editors in a variety of different ways, and sometimes the same agent might pitch your project in a letter, on the phone and in person, depending on who she's pitching to and what opportunities arise. I think most of us take the time to carefully craft a very winning pitch letter, and I know that it's not infrequent that I find the book's description that I created for my pitch being used by the publishers as the back cover copy and the catalog and website copy for the books that I sell, so I know they must feel it hit the spot, too. So, yes, we agonize over what to write! We realize the value in conveying the important properties of the story to the editor quickly and convincingly, and often tailor the letter to the specific editor we're addressing, knowing her specific interests.

What advice can you offer to an author on submission? 

Gina: First and foremost, check the website of the agent or publisher you're submitting to to find out what they want you to send and in what format and follow the instructions. 
Don't send hardcopy when they want electronic and vice-versa. Send proper size SASE if you want material returned.
Don't send submissions by registered or certified mail (everyone hates that). If you're worried about whether it got there, just ask for delivery confirmation, which doesn't require a signature on the other end, or you can send it priority, which includes tracking.
Observe formatting instructions. I know editors who won't read something if it's not formatted correctly. 
Don't fudge and say something was requested when it wasn't in order to submit to a publisher or agent who only reads solicited work. We know. 
Include information on your platform and marketing with your submission, even for fiction. It may push your submission over the edge into a 'yes'. 
Don't call to check on your submission! This is true everywhere. 

How long does submission usually take? 

Gina: That can range wildly, but a few weeks to several months, depending on the editors, their backlog and reading pace and what other events are taking place (like sales conferences, book expos and vacations) that can slow down responses. But agents (and authors) often do multiple rounds of submissions,  and it's not unusual for it to take a year, eighteen months or longer to sell a book. It takes patience, perseverance and faith in the book in many cases!

If an editor is interested, what happens from there if the MS gets to acquisitions?

Gina: If the editor is interested, she may ask other editors to read it for their feedback, and she may get additional input from other departments. The editor will create her own pitch, perhaps drawing from the pitch given by the agent, and compile her own materials for the book, requiring competing titles and sales data, to pitch it to the editorial board and determine what could be projected for the sales potential for the book. The editor has to win over the rest of the editorial board, who may raise objections to the book based on other projects which haven't done well, or perhaps concerns over a book being too similar to another one the publisher has done, or issues with the book don't being on-trend or being too niche. The editor has to come in prepared to counter anticipated arguments, or present her pitch tailored to address those concerns pre-emptively and be prepared to fight for her book. It isn't always that easy! I often call the acquisitions board The Board of Sales Prevention! It's important to give your editor as much ammo as you can to bolster her. A great platform and marketing statement, great comp titles, good data on why your book is trending, and any data you can give to overcome objections (perhaps a poor performing comp title did poorly for a specific reason and you can show why your book is different).

What's hot and not right now with publishers?

Gina:  You know there are always the exceptions to every rule, of course! Mythology- and folklore-based YA continue to get immediate requests. Both YA and MG are getting darker and edgier so that's getting attention. Sweet....not so much! Sci-fi action-y YA is selling well. Mystery series for MG, boy-friendly fiction (everyone asks, but it's hard to find), and ghost stories (hey, they're bringing Goosebumps back!) are very welcome. Anything King of Thrones-y would get a look. Vikings are hot. There's a big push for diversity in publishing (yay!), so diverse casts of characters are encouraged. Cozy mystery series are always popular, and if you can add an animal character POV or cute paranormal quirk, all the better!  YA editors are all asking for nonfiction (and you'll see a lot of YouTube stars books topping their lists, but let's hope that's not the extent of it!). Coloring books for adults are all the rage, too, so if you can come up with a unique concept for one, go for it!

Many thanks to Gina for taking the time to demystify the process. Good luck to all you folks on submission!

Kim English - A native Floridian, Kim is the author of Coriander Jones Saves the World and the upcoming Coriander Jones On Assignment at Sabal Palm Academy. She lives in southwest Florida with her family and an ever increasing number of rescue pets. You can learn more about Kim and her books at CorianderJones.com

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