On Being On Submission

Photo credit: eugenijusr on Flickr
I’ve decided the best time for me to talk about being on submission is when I’m not on submission,
so here we go.

I’ve heard a lot of writers say that being on submission is like the Fight Club–the first rule about being on submission is not to talk about being on submission. That’s very true, mostly because you don’t want to accidentally sabotage your agent’s efforts to get interest from amazing editors.

That being said, without going into specifics about my particular submission experience, I’m more than happy to share some general things you can expect while you’re on submission.


Pre-submission starts when your agent says, “yay! Your MS is ready to go on submission!” and a wave of relief/excitement/anxiety floods your brain and basically doesn’t stop until the submission process is over.

Before (or right at the beginning) of the submission process, your agent will probably talk to you about where they’ll be submitting and give you some sort of list. (Probably. My agent did this and I’ve seen a lot of writers say their agent did this, but everyone is different.)

Eventually, your agent will let you know that the submission process has started. And so begins the next stage…

During submission

Being on submission, as it turns out, is a lot like being in the query trenches. Except this time, you have an awesome agent who is championing your work, which, believe me, can be a huge help emotionally.

Chances are likely it’ll be a while before you hear anything at first. While I have heard of books selling within a couple days (or, most recently, an agent mentioned selling a book overnight, um???), that’s definitely not the norm.

I don’t remember, exactly, how long it took for me to get my first response back, but most of the responses came in well after a month (I think it may have even been closer to two months). Again, not unlike querying. But what was different this time, was I got feedback semi-frequently (versus mostly form rejections) and had my fabulous agent encouraging me even when I received rejections, which was super nice.

How long you’re on submission will vary greatly. Some ridiculously lucky writers will only be on submission for a few days or weeks. Others are on submission for over a year before getting a deal. Still more put away unsold manuscripts and move on to a new project. I was on submission for roughly three to four months before I got an offer, which, let me tell you, felt like forever. But many writers are on submission for much longer, so I’m grateful it didn’t take too long for me.

Why does it take so long? 

There are a few answers to this. The most important one, really, is you aren’t selling your manuscript to one person.

I don’t know the full nitty gritty details, but my understanding is that on the other side of the desk, the (successful) submission process looks a little like this:

  1. Agent submits manuscript to editor. 
  2. Editor will have interns/assistants/readers read it and possibly they will read it, too…when they get to it. Remember, you aren’t the only person submitting to that editor. (When or if they read/how much they read depends 100% on that particular editor’s process.) 
  3. Interns/assistants/readers will tell editor how much they like it and editor will read if they haven’t already. 
  4. Editor loves the book! Yay! Now they have to make other people love it, too. Depending on the editor/publishing house, editor will either get support from other readers/coworkers (which is called getting second reads) or take it straight to the acquisitions/editorial board. 
  5. Editor and others who read and love manuscript will try to convince editorial board to buy the book. If they get the thumbs up, editor then has to work out with other people how much to offer/details of the offer, etc. 
  6. Editor will contact agent with an offer. 

This is a really oversimplified overview and I’m probably missing some steps in there, but you get the idea. There’s a lot that goes into making an offer on a manuscript, which is why generally, it takes quite a bit of time.

The offer! 

Once the editor has contacted your agent with an offer, your agent will contact you. Some agents cold call clients with good news, some send frantic e-mails to their clients, some totally blindside their clients and act all cool and casual and schedule a call without mentioning their excitement, then when their clients are late and are still walking home when the agent calls they’re like, “oh, it’s okay, we’ll call back,” and then when the client is finally back home, the agent is all, "well...WE HAVE AN OFFER" (I’m looking at you, Agent of Awesome).

Ehem. Anyway.

From there, very much like what happens when you get an offer from an agent, your agent will contact other editors who are still considering your manuscript. If another editor (or more than one, for that matter) also expresses interest, then there will be an auction! If not, it doesn’t matter because you have an offer (that hopefully you’re happy with!) and you’re going to be published. :)

Or, the not offer.

Natalie Whipple wrote a really great post about what happens when you don’t sell your book. This wasn’t my experience, so I can’t really say much about it besides that I know it must suck, but it’s also not uncommon. A lot of writers debut with the second or third book they went on submission with, and that’s totally okay.

It doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be published. It doesn’t mean your agent hates you.

Being a writer is hard and trying to get published is harder. But in the end, everyone’s journey is different, and I absolutely believe that the key to seeing your dreams come true is to keep writing, and improving, and doing everything you can to write the best books possible. The rest is out of our control, but that will always remain within our reach.

Some other really great submission posts:

Twitter-sized bite: 
What's it like to be on submission? Writer @Ava_Jae breaks down the process step by step. (Click to tweet)


Darth Lolita said...

Thanks for addressing the "not offer" side of things. Before I really knew about the publishing world, I used to think as soon as you got an agent that was it, you were done, your book would be in stores and the hardest part was over. Then other writers mentioned things like that--that so and so was not the first book they submitted to editors.

At first I used to think it was really sad to hear about writers that couldn't sell their first or second books, but I realized it's kind of uplifting that they pushed forward and wrote and submitted other novels. (Plus it's not like the unpublished stories won't ever see the light of the day--the market can change, and they may have a shot somewhere down the line).

Heather said...

This is super useful, and I'm glad stuff like this is out there. I mean, it still sounds intimidating and terrifying and I'm definitely not there yet, but even a general idea is better than nothing. :)

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome! I definitely feel it's important to talk about both possibilities, as not selling happens relatively often. No agent can guarantee they'll be able to sell your book (not even the superstar ones!), but a good agent will have a solid strategy in mind and lots of hope and enthusiasm for you and your work.

I also thought it worth mentioning because some writers might worry that if they don't sell the book they signed on with their agent with, their agent won't like them anymore. That's not the case, either—most agents sign with a writer's career in mind. It's not just the book they want to love, but the author's writing style as well (which will hopefully spill over into future novels).

Also, I agree that it can be kind of uplifting to hear from authors who didn't sell their first book, but continued writing and submitting novels and persevered with a later book. The journey doesn't end just because your first book on submission doesn't sell!

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Heather! I'm so glad to hear you found this post useful! It's definitely a scary (and nerve-wracking) process, but I found that having someone to explain and guide me through the process made it a lot easier emotionally than, say, querying.

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