Q8: Sub Strategy

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Literary Agents. For the remaining questions, see here.)

What factors into where you submit a manuscript, and what’s your standard submission strategy like?

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So very much. Aside from even just knowing what specific editors are looking for, you need to know the best fit from each imprint, which perfect editor is on maternity leave, which editors will take forever so you might reconsider sending because you know this project will go fast, what types of projects an editor might love but their publisher won’t buy, etc. For me, I go through my own knowledge, then our agency’s editorial database, then look at what editors have been buying at Publishers Marketplace. If it’s a tricky book, I can look at awards or books I’ve heard of that are similar and ferret out the editors for those. And I write up a pitch, much like a query (often based on the author’s query) which will be my main starting point for enticing editors into reading. Then the manuscript has to do its magic (and I keep poking editors until they get back to me, of course).

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First question is: do I know any editors who are specifically looking for this thing? After that, it’s a matter of balancing editors’ tastes with imprints’ general style while trying to make sure it’s not too similar to something they just published or (worse) just bought.

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My relationship and what I know about the house/editor! Some books are more commercial so they go to the more commercial imprints, some are quiet and literary and they go the editors and imprints who do a better job with those books.  I usually have a couple rounds– I start at the top for manuscripts I’m feeling really good about and send widely. For the manuscripts I love but worry may be harder sells I sometimes only send them to a few editors at first to test the water a bit before I go out more widely.

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That depends on the MS. But generally a mix of legacy and newer publishers.

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It depends entirely on the client and the book. For debut authors, which amount to about 90% of the types of projects that I pull from the slush, I like to make multiple submissions and cast the net wide.  Generally, I like to try to find a suitable editor at least one imprint at each of the big publishers, and I like to throw in a few mid-sized to small presses into the mix as well.  Many editors I know, and I know what sort of books they’re looking for, and that was likely already a factor when I chose your submission from the slush.  After that I look for comparable works, and I look to see who  publishes them, and then I research on Publishers Marketplace recent  acquisitions to see if there are any competing works, or any editors whose recent acquisitions I think indicate that they might also like your work too.  Once I’ve eliminated any imprint or editor I don’t think would likely buy the work, and researched all the editors I think would, I’ll compile a list, and ask for your approval or suggestions.  It’s not uncommon for a client to make one or two suggestions of editors or comparable works I hadn’t thought of, so occasionally I’ll make adjustments to the list based on their recommendations.   Once I have the go-ahead from the client, I send the work out with a brief pitch letter, and then wait to hear back.  After a few weeks I follow up, and so on and so forth until I get an offer (or multiple offers), or until we work our way through the list.

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Obviously I try to target editors who I think will LIKE the manuscript. And houses whose editorial vision seem to match the type of book it is. (Some publishers are very good at, say, pulpy fun romance novels, but might not be so hot at introspective and quiet books… obviously that has to be taken into account). I usually create a sublist of, say, 8-10 editors, talk to my author about them, and go out — so if we don’t get a positive response in that first round, there is still an opportunity to revise/tweak and do another round.

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I look at what type of book it is and where the best place is for it. Not every book is made to be on a Big 6 list, and sometimes digital presses are better for certain genres. So, I have to decide where to send it first. Then I decide on “who” based on personal connections I have with editors and which editors would be the best fit for the project.

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It depends on the project. I ask the writer where they think it belongs and I also think about my editor relationships and who’s looking for what.

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I only submit to imprints where I think the author would do well and I only choose the ones that are known quantities.  I am not going to pitch to a house if I am not sure if they have any distribution apparatus.  I try not to submit to more than 1 imprint at any 1 company at a time (1 imprint at Penguin USA, 1 at Macmillan, 1 at HarperCollins etc.).  While some houses are fine with you subbing to more than 1 imprint at a time provided you let both imprints know, others really hate it.  I usually don’t think it is necessary.  With some genres, there are simply fewer pubs to pitch to than others.  In romance, there are only about 9 or 10 print imprints to submit to.  In YA, there are more like 30 imprints.  I may send a ms to 8 houses in an initial print round, I may sent to 14. It depends on the book.  I write up a pitch letter to send with my pitch packet and I do verbally pitch mss to editors directly.

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It’s about the taste of that specific house/imprint as well as that of the editor. I submit to a mix of older, more established editors and newer editors eager to build a list. I’ll also do a mix of the Big Six publishers and a handful of smaller, well-respected independent publishers. There are some newer, start-up publishers I won’t submit to until they’ve proven themselves a bit more. I don’t want my clients to be guinea pigs.

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