by Lesley-Anne Longo
Published at 2022-11-09
A few years ago, I wrote a blog that covered all the important points of what I like to think of as “submissions etiquette.” In other words, how to submit your manuscript in the politest and most considerate fashion. If you’re an author looking to submit your manuscript in the next little while, I highly recommend giving that blog a read first, then coming back to this one to check a few other important tips in the submission process!
First, it’s important to note that when submitting to publishers, in many cases you may be submitting to one of the publisher’s acquisitions editors. An acquisitions editor is responsible for managing submissions and acquiring exciting new books for the publisher, and depending on the publisher, there may be a roster of acquisitions editors to choose from. The roster is often separated by what genres each editor is looking to acquire. If you’re using a submissions portal, then you don’t need to worry, but if you’re selecting from a list of acquisitions editors, make sure you pay attention and choose the editor who you think would be the best fit for your manuscript. We’ll be using “publisher” generally throughout the blog, but we wanted to note that when submitting, you could be submitting to either the publisher as a whole, or a specific editor.
Second, crafting a query letter is an extremely important step in the submission process. It will be the first thing that a publisher or agent sees from you, so it’s important to take your time and create a tailored and exciting letter. One thing to keep in mind is that there are some instances where it’s appropriate to disclose certain things, and some instances where you can keep quiet. Here are a few of the things you should disclose in your query letter:
Your age — but ONLY IF you’re under 18, or if your age is somehow relevant to the manuscript.
If you’ve been previously published.
If you’ve previously self-published.
If you’ve previously had an agent (it shows someone was invested enough in your work to take you on, whether or not it worked out in the end).
If a publisher is considering your manuscript.
If you’re doing multiple submissions (i.e., submitting to more than one agent/publisher at once).
Generally, there are a few things that commonly find their way into query letters that agents and publishers unfortunately and honestly just don’t really care about. Removing them will give you more space to include dynamic content about your manuscript that will really sell it and give you a better chance of success! So, avoid talking about the following:
How much friends and family loved the manuscript. If you want to include feedback from anyone, you can sometimes get away with including a blurb or brief quote from an already-published author (if you know one and they agree to read your manuscript), but be aware that agents and publishers will take these with a very, very large grain of salt.
Any kind of promise that your book will sell millions of copies or make the bestseller lists.
How long it took you to write your manuscript.
Any claims that your manuscript is completely different and unlike anything ever published before (this is basically impossible).
How much you love writing/how many other manuscripts you’ve written.
How sorry you are for taking up/wasting the publisher’s or agent’s time if they aren’t interested — it just sends a weird vibe.
So, once you’ve narrowed down your list of publishers and agents, written your cover letters, and completed the necessary components of each submission package, it’s time to send them out! Congratulations to you on kick-starting this very important next step in your publishing process: mailing your package or sending it by email attachment. And believe it or not, the next step may be the hardest one yet, as you just have to…
That’s it, unfortunately. You really do just have to wait it out. Many publishers and agents will specify in their guidelines that once you have made your submission to please wait anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months (sometimes even longer) before “checking in” to see how things are going. It is very important to respect this request. If the guideline says wait six weeks, then wait six weeks, no matter how agonizing it may be. Don’t be the author who calls in three days after submission to ask whether the package has been reviewed yet. That’s the exact kind of thing that will NOT win you favour with the agent or publisher.
Remember, agents and publishers already have clients of their own that they need to take care of. Only once their current client work is done can they jump into the pile of submitted manuscripts. So, be patient and let them get to it in their own time.
Multiple, or simultaneous, submissions are submissions that are sent to more than one agent/publisher/editor simultaneously. Once you send a second submission without first receiving a response from the first submission recipient, that’s a multiple submission.
If you see more than one agent at an agency that you think could be a good fit for your manuscript, it’s usually a good idea to submit to them one at a time. Choose one, submit, wait for a response, and if they decide to give your project a pass, then you can submit to the second agent. Definitely wait a little bit before submitting to the second agent, though — a month or two should be enough.
Some publishers will note in their submission guidelines that they do not accept multiple or simultaneous submissions. They may have had issues in the past, or perhaps they would like an exclusive look at the manuscript. Whatever their reason, make sure you respect their wishes.
If you’d like to submit to a publisher and they do not accept multiple submissions, simply submit to them first. If they aren’t interested, you’re free to do a round of simultaneous submissions to some of your other top choices.
Either way, if you’re doing multiple submissions, whether to agents or publishers/editors, make sure that you’re keeping everyone in the loop. For example, if you submit to five publishers and your manuscript is accepted by one, reach out and let the other four recipients know. You can do this via email using a message like:
manuscript, [title], which was submitted to you
via [email/post] on [date], has been accepted
by [publisher], so I am respectfully withdrawing
my manuscript from consideration.
[Your full name]
Whether you’re doing multiple submissions or not, it’s important to keep track of who you’ve sent your manuscript to, when you sent it, when you’re supposed to check in, etc. The best way to do that is to set up a submissions spreadsheet.
In your spreadsheet, track the places and people you’d like to submit to (and their priority level, if you have preferences as to who receives first). Include emails, names, links to submissions guidelines, and notes on why you think your manuscript would be a good fit for them personally.
From there, simply keep track of your correspondence by recipient. Who did you send to? What date? To what email address? When are you allowed to check in on your submission? Did you hear back? If so, on what date?
As noted above, the submission process takes time and requires a lot of waiting, so having this information logged and tracked where you can refer to it when needed will be very helpful to you as you continue to send submissions out.
Generally, if you find yourself wondering “Should I check in? Maybe just a quick email?” then try to put yourself in the publisher’s or agent’s shoes. Maybe you’re itching for an update, but you’ve been waiting only three weeks of the requested six weeks of review time. If you were the publisher or agent, would you appreciate someone explicitly not following the requested timeframe that you’d set? Probably not, right?
Similarly, if you were the publisher or agent who had politely passed on a manuscript, would you appreciate an author immediately emailing back about their other manuscript that they coincidentally think you’d just love? Again, probably not.
Use the proper channels that are laid out for you, use communication wisely, follow the requests set out, and use any direct email addresses you get access to respectfully!
I know, it is a process that can often take many months, and that can be frustrating, but it’s important to understand that these things just take time. Badgering and “checking in” repeatedly will only cause the publisher or agent to sigh with frustration when they see your name in their email inbox, which is of course not the reaction you want!
Trust the system, check in if and when you are requested to do so, and be patient. Publishers and agents will appreciate it!
If you’ve waited and haven’t heard back within a few months and you have other submission packages to send out, by all means get them out. It is fair to ask you to wait six weeks or two months, but if the publisher or agent doesn’t get back to you, then you have the right to continue mailing submissions. Be sure to log these details to help you keep track.
While you’re waiting to hear back from publishers and agents, take the time to build your base on social media. Take part in community discussions, engage with others, and post relevant content. Check out our resource guide, Social Media for Writers, for tips on how to up your engagement and ideas on content creation!
Remember! Building your social media presence and keeping on top of your submission schedules keeps you active and motivated, and it puts your name in front of potential publishers and readers.
Congratulations again on completing your manuscript and beginning the exciting process of submitting — we’ll keep our fingers crossed for you!
Be sure to check out our November newsletter for more great tips on submissions.