In publishing, there are generally certain times in which agents submit books to publishers. This may vary, as each agent will have a specific calendar they're individually working by. Sometimes their calendar may be a little more industry-specific; when they’re attending more conferences that line up with their representative categories, or perhaps they avoid submissions during any major holidays. Either way, an agent will have specific times in which they take books to editors, in the hope of getting an offer of publication.
When a book reaches this stage, it’s often a stressful time for many authors, as there is an element of the “unknown” and an often long period of waiting before getting any sort of response or offer for their book. If any book is sold in a small window of time, that’s fantastic news, but it’s definitely not the norm for most writers.
Here’s what to expect when an agent believes a book is ready to take out to the publishers. Hopefully this will help anyone at this stage of publication with an agent.
1. Every agent will have a general plan of when they want to take a book to editors. This is a process that cannot be rushed, from ensuring the materials are ready to making sure that the timing is good. They will have specific editors and houses in mind for each book that hinges on their entire list of books that are ready for submission, as well as who they want to approach when. It's totally fine to ask what your agent’s plan is, but it's also important to honor the method in which they want to take those books to editors.
2. Generally we're not going to reach out to all the editors in a category at the same time. Some agents may initially reach out to a handful of editors, as many as a dozen, with every round. Part of the goal is to ensure that an author's book is a good match for whichever editors we approach, and to ensure that we are strategic in who gets to see the book. This is not a “throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing if it sticks” approach. The entire process relies on matching the author and their book to an editor and house. It’s a delicate process that requires lots of research.
3. We always track editor responses once the book is officially on submission. If an editor passes on any idea, we will note accordingly. If an editor passes on any book for very specific reasons, we will save those notes as well. If it becomes clear that editors are all saying similar things as to why they are not interested, this is our cue to talk to our author. This is a moment with the possibility of rewriting and revising before taking the book out to a new list of editors. This can take anywhere from a few months to even a few years, depending on the book and the response from editors.
4. Generally we are not going to provide a play-by-play report as the editor responses roll in. It's important to understand that your agent has multiple authors with other books that are being pitched to publishers. It’s easier to provide reports periodically in the interest of time. Your agent will most likely provide a report on a scheduled basis. Ex: I provide reports every June and December to my authors.
5. Sometimes the process is going to take a little longer if we already represent quite a few books in the same category. Generally most editors will acquire anywhere from ten to twelve books a year, sometimes more or less depending on the house. We have to ensure that we're not bringing every single book we have on offer to the same editor. Additionally we need to respect their time and ensure that we aren't monopolizing it, unless given permission to send all ideas at any time. There are only so many editors for each category, and it’s respectful to query only one editor at a publishing house, versus querying them and all of their colleagues, at the same time.
6. No news is never bad news. It just means your agent doesn't have an offer yet. Any legitimate agent will let you know when there is an offer of publication, as well as what the next steps are, in a timely manner. For any writer experiencing anxiety during editor submissions, this is a great time to work on your newest book idea. Please never assume that the lack of news means that it's bad news. It simply means that editors are still considering your book, and that your agent doesn’t have any news to share at that time.
Hopefully this helps anyone who is experiencing any anxieties as their agents take their book out to submission. If you are still seeking an agent, this is important to remember in the future. Please know that your agent is always going to be in your corner. We wouldn't work with you unless we felt that you have a book that we clearly like a lot and believe is ready for publication.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner/literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. She brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, bringing multiple years of experience as a bookseller in independent, chain, and specialty stores; sales, marketing, and book development experience; previously a literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. She has a B.S. in Human Ecology, and a M.S. in Information Sciences. Dawn co-founded the MN Publishing Tweet Up, is the current President of the Twin Cities Advisory Council for MPR, a member of the BOD for Loft Literary, and a teaching artist at Loft Literary. You can find her on Twitter at @redsofaliterary.