Thursday, July 5, 2007

Agented Submissions: The Way It Works

Lindabudz asked:
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!


Colorado Writer said...

Very interesting! Thanks for the info (as I just landed an agent).


In the same vein,

Can you tell me what happens if an agent enters the picture after an ms is already under solicited consideration?

Will she be able to find out what is happening with my sub?

Kidlitjunkie said...

Just to be clear – you submitted your MS, or query, to the slush, and got a request for a partial/full. And now you have an agent for that same MS. And you want to know if your agent can find our where your requested sub is?

Adrian said...

Interesting. That sounds most applicable to a YA or longer manuscript (like it or not by 50 pages). Is there much difference in the process for picture book submissions? Or do not many agents rep these? (in your experience, of course). If you do see many, does the editor read the agented pbs directly, or is there a similar screening?


Kidlitjunkie said...

Picture books generally work the same way, with the obvious difference being that we read through the whole thing before making a decision. And the reader’s report is often a lot shorter.

There are definitely agents who rep picture books – all of the ones we’re working right now on are agented. I have heard that not many agents rep picture books, but I don’t know it from firsthand experience.

The screening process is the same. However, I just want to clarify something here. Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – the editor will read the MS directly. But as busy as I am, my editor is even busier, so if we saved everything for him to have the first crack at, those manuscripts would languish and never see the light of day.

If you submit slush to a particular editor, he or she will never see it, and it will probably (unfortunately) languish in slush purgatory for a while. But agented MSs are of course different, and the fact that the assistant is reading it instead of the editor is just to speed up the process. Even the ones that my editor hands me and says “if you don’t like it, reject it” come through him, and he has looked at it, and what he’s really saying is, “I looked at it and I don’t want it, so reject it unless you can find something redeeming about it.” He has a hand in all agented submissions.

Colorado Writer said...

You rock! Thanks for answering.

Yes, I was querying Book #1 for 1 year without representation...and she's coming in with Book#2, but Book #1 is lingering, so we are trying to figure it all out.

Yes, it's a requested full from a query.

And...if I had any advice for writers who might think they are going to get an agent, it would be: Don't query editors first.

Thank you.

Kidlitjunkie said...

colorado_writer, have you discussed this yet with your agent? (It sounds like you have.) I ask because she has probably dealt with this situation before, and might have better advice than I on this.

But I’d say that if it’s been a while, and your requested sub is still languishing in the slush without an answer, send a brief note to the editor saying something along the lines of “thank you for showing interest in my book, but I now have an agent, so I am withdrawing my submission. If you are still interested in it, please feel free to contact her at ________” That covers your bases. To be honest, your unagented MS didn’t have such a good chance anyway, but this way, in case the editor gets your note, smacks herself on the forehead and says “I am such a fool! How could I let this get away from me”?” you can still be in good shape. And if she wasn’t interested anyway, well, you have an agent now.

And, congratulations on landing an agent!

Colorado Writer said...


LindaBudz said...

Thanks for answering my questions, KJ! Good stuff!

Critical Misses E. said...

Very enlightening. Thanks for the information.