Submission Demystified

This is part 6 of 6 of my series on the process of revising, signing with an agent, and submitting.

Previous posts:


There’s a lot of mystery surrounding submission, and after going on sub, I learned why Fight Club rules apply to submission but not querying. Strategically, you don’t want the world to know you’re on sub. For those who don’t know, submission is often done in rounds, and the manuscript is sent to a handful of editors per round. If you’ve made it publicly known that you went on sub 6 months ago, an editor who receives your manuscript in a second or third round submission will know they weren’t your first choice. Or worse, they’ll think that many other editors have already passed and assume your manuscript is not up to snuff when in fact, it could be a subjective thing or perhaps you just finished a complete overhaul. Whatever the case, there are many cons to making this information public.

To learn what I needed to know, I did a lot of googling, read The Book Doctors’ Essential Guide to Publishing, and asked my agent a LOT of questions (Thanks, Kathleen!). I thought it might be beneficial to write a post explaining the basics of submission to demystify it a smidge. Of course, keep in mind that each agent works differently, everyone’s submission story is different, so as with everything else in this industry, this post is subjective. (Are you sick of that word yet?)

In general, this is how it works (with another huge flashing disclaimer that everyone has different journeys and the following details will not be accurate for every writer):

After you sign with your agent (and celebrate a ton, whoooo!), often there will be a revision round or two to shine the manuscript. From my limited experience and what I’ve heard from writer friends, these revisions can range from minor tweaks (or even no changes) to major rewrites spanning months.

Once you can see your reflection in your manuscript, your agent will put together the pitch letter and a list of editors. For me, I went over this with my agent and gave feedback, and she made sure I was happy with everything before we went out (I was). There really wasn’t much to tweak. Her pitch letter captured the heart of my novel beautifully. I trusted Kathleen’s judgment regarding which editors to submit to in the first round. I only had one editor I definitely wanted to submit to, and she also happened to be at the top of Kathleen’s list.

At this point, the submission process is very similar to querying. Except you don’t have to do anything. You can kick back (or chew your nails ragged, whichever) while your agent works tirelessly on your behalf. The agent sends out the pitch letter (similar to a query) to the editor list, and if an editor is interested, they request the full manuscript. No partial requests. From what I’ve gathered from other writers and trusty Google, this request can take anywhere from a minute to months.

Then the editors read. The timing of this obviously varies greatly. If the editor is interested in pursuing, the bigger presses have to get second reads. If they are still interested in moving forward, the editor will present the manuscript at an Acquisitions Meeting. This process can take weeks so even if the editor has informed your agent they are interested, it could still be weeks before an actual offer is on the table. In some rare cases, the meetings can be expedited or bypassed, but it’s definitely the exception and not the rule. And for an offer to be made, often the entire team has to be on board, not just the editor (and this is especially true for the big houses).

Agents can send you updates in various ways, but the most common ones I’ve seen/heard of are:

  1. The agent forwards every response as it comes in
  2. The agent sends you a weekly or monthly report, sometimes filtering the responses/rejections

The author can also request that the agent only share positive news, or only inform them when an offer comes in, etc. Personally, I like to know everything as soon as it comes in, but I’ve met plenty of authors who prefer a filter. One benefit of having an agent is you can choose what works best for you, unlike with querying.


Once your initial offer comes in (hooray!), it is similar to when you get your first agent offer, except again, your agent is the one doing the legwork. Your agent will contact the other editors to inform them of the offer, and things will speed up.

  1. One possibility is a preempt offer, which can come in different sizes and shapes. I believe the most common preempt is the following: the publishing house offers you a high advance in an attempt to entice you to take your manuscript off the table, not giving the other editors a chance to come forward with an offer. The preempt is usually an exploding offer with a deadline, and often if you don’t accept the preempt, the publishing house will be out. The original offer does not hold.
    • However, preempts can take different forms. Sometimes it could be a slight increase in money with a deadline, but the publishing house will remain interested if you decline, reverting to their original offer.
  2. Another possibility is an individual offer, with no deadline. In this case, the agent decides the close date. If there are multiple houses interested, your agent will set an auction date and decide on the type of auction.

Types of Auctions:

  1. Auction by Rounds (or Round-Robin Auction)
    • This is where the agent will go back and forth between each editor/publishing house, and everyone has a chance to respond to each offer by increasing in increments.
  2. Best-Bid Auction
    • Each editor/publishing house comes in with the highest number they can give.


Talking to Editors

Usually, the author will have a chance to talk to the editor on the phone. This call is similar to “The Call” when your agent offered representation, where they gush about the parts of your manuscript they loved (which never gets old) and give you an idea of what kinds of revisions they have in mind. This is also the time to get a sense of the editor’s personality to see if you’re a good match, similar to the agent phone call. For me, it was meeting a long-lost friend. It was discovering that someone understood my book better than I ever dreamed possible. It was the phone call where I absolutely knew that my book had found its home.

The only difference with signing with a publisher vs agent is that in the event of multiple offers, the calls with the subsequent editors will often occur before an actual offer is on the table, mostly because of the lengthy process and red tape associated with an offer. Usually, the author will have talked to the editors prior to the auction, and following the auction, a decision will be made relatively quickly.



Once you’ve decided which publishing house (regardless of auction, preempt, or etc), the negotiations begin. The bigger parts are negotiated first: advance, translation rights, royalties, option, non-compete clauses. Once these have been finalized and the author gives the okay, then the contract phase begins where the contract language is tweaked, the smaller items are finalized, etc. This entire process normally takes months (for me, it was 2 months which is considered extremely fast. You can check out Rebecca McLaughlin’s submission story here in which case her contract negotiation took 6 months).

Every agency works differently and I’ve heard of some book deals that were announced immediately, before the contract negotiations, but for me, we waited until the contract was finalized and signed. And until then, Fight Club rules still applied.


After Signing

And once it’s all signed and in the mail (I included a panda stationary thank-you note with mine), it’s time to celebrate! (Or if your agency decides to announce before the contract is done, then the celebration begins then!) Agents are usually the ones who write the deal announcements in Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly. My agent was incredibly kind in asking for my feedback and working with both me and my editor to make sure we were all happy with the language. After my agent submitted them, it was a 2-day wait for Publishers Weekly and 3 for Publishers Marketplace.

And after 2 months of holding in this massive secret, it was quite wonderful to be able to share the news! And the outpouring of love and support I received was overwhelming. Thank you again to everyone!


Other submission resources:

Mindy McGinnis’ Submission Hell – It’s True (SHIT) Interview Series

Rachel Lynn Solomon’s lovely blog post about her submission journey

Amy Trueblood’s Behind the Curtain post


If you enjoyed this series, you can follow my blog by email or WordPress on the sidebar (or below for mobile). I’d also love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments if there’s a future post you would like me to write!

10 thoughts on “Submission Demystified

  1. Kellie Byrnes says:

    This whole blog series is fantastic! Really illuminating and helpful. I particularly loved your collection of questions to ask agents on The Call, and the list of things you prepared in advance. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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