What is the process for reviewing agented submissions at your house?
Presumably they are sent to a specific editor. Do assistants read them first? If so, do they have final say if it's a "no" or do they pass them all on to the editor with recommendations?
At the house where I work, when agented submissions come in, they are almost always passed to the editor’s assistant or the intern first. We read them. We try to read them all the way through, but our unofficial policy is that if we hit 50 pages and it’s still a chore to read, then we stop reading.
I usually try to read all the way through even if I’m not really engaged, to see if it gets better or if the ending makes it all worth it, or if the characters are great and it’s just the weak plot that needs work, or whatever.
After I’ve read it, I write a reader’s report for our editor. The RR is usually about 1-2 pages long, and gives a short plot summary, and then our reactions, good and bad, in detail. The RR talks about plot and voice and characters and dialogue and description – like a really detailed book review. I detail what exactly I liked and didn’t like.
And then I give the RR and the MS to my editor. Sometimes, when I pass it on, I’ll make a recommendation, either for or against. Sometimes I’ll tell my editor that I like it, but it needs work.
After that’s done, it’s in the editor’s hands - usually. My boss will definitely take my advice under advisement – that’s why I read it first, after all – but then he reviews it by himself. I’ve done the ground work – he can look at my RR and get a sense of the MS.
Once in a while, my boss will hand me an agented MS and tell me to read it, write him a report, and if I don’t like it, to reject it by myself. Usually, the ones that that happens with are ones from smaller agencies (and by smaller, I don’t mean smaller staffed, I mean less well known, less established), agencies that he doesn’t trust as much or have as good a relationship with. It’s one of the reasons that it’s important not just to have an agent, but to have a good agent – one who has a relationship with editors, someone who really knows what specific editors are looking for, so they trust their judgment and will pay closer personal attention to the MSs that they give them.
If the original editor likes the submission but thinks it might be better for someone else at the house, does he/she pass it along?
If something comes along and it’s not right for my editor or even my imprint, but it’s really great, my editor will happily pass it along to the editor or imprint that he thinks it might be better for.
However, that is not always the case. One of the editors in my imprint used to work at a different Big Name Publishing House, and he told me that that house was much more competitive, and if an editor found something that they thought was great but not for them, they would never, ever pass it on.
So I guess it varies by house.
Keep the questions coming!