Submission: Basics, and why it's like Fight Club

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The first rule of Fight Club is don't talk about Fight Club.

Submission is like Fight Club. No one talks about submission.

There are many sound, very good reasons for this. Airing dirty publishing laundry is tacky and unprofessional. Submission is a time of high emotions and necessary business decisions, a dangerous cocktail, re: too much public discussion/reacting emotionally On The Internet. And submission is also Not Talked About because it is deeply personal: no one submission journey is exactly like another, and everyone is friends with someone else who might be hurt/upset to know XYZ details of so & so's experience... anyway, the publishing norm is to remain mum.

My aim is to demystify the process just a tick (without revealing any trade secrets haha), but also to offer my personal experiences to hopefully offer some people a piece of mind. So often we hear the whirlwind success stories of near-overnight big sales, but not the "average" truths of submission.

Let's start with the bare bone basics of how submission works.

Typically, your agent will submit your book in rounds to various editors. There are some variations among agents in terms of style/approach, and when you sign with your agent, you can chat with them, re; their style. One agent will do three or four rounds of six; another may do two rounds of twelve. There are variations within this, and many ways to approach an editor list. Some agents send out a new sub every time an editor passes. Others wait until they hear from everyone in the round before strategizing with how to move forward.

Your agent will cultivate a submission list based on your book, the market, his/her relationships, and their strategy, re: publishing houses. In my experience, your agent will only submit to one major imprint per publishing house at a time, so editors under the same pub house won't have to compete with each other, should they want you book. But this is also not a hard and fast rule–some imprints are more prickly about this vs. others. When you have an offer call, chat with the agent about how they approach submission and who they have in mind to sub your book to, and don't be afraid to ask specific questions about your book. There are many ways to sub, and sub strategy–and publishing house relationships–may impact your decision, should you have multiple offers.

Some agents will share their full submission list with you and others will not. This is VERY IMPORTANT as many authors do not realize this is a variation in style that exists. If you KNOW you are an author who will want to know the names and imprints you are being subbed to, ASK ON THE OFFER CALL. If you would prefer not to know, or don't care either way, then an agent whose style it is NOT to share will work for you. But it could be a disastrous fit if you want to know and your agent won't tell you. (I will note that agents who don't share have good reasons, but you as an author may not share or agree with those reasons. This is a fit thing.)

You will need to decide how you wish to approach responses/rejections. Do you want to read them, as they come in? Do you only want your agent to share responses on Fridays? Do you not want to read full rejections or reasons, just know the yes or no? Tell your agent what you'd prefer. (I personally prefer to read my rejections in full, as they come in. Knowing helps me process.)

My key recommendation when you go on submission is to find other authors who are currently on submission or who were on submission, so you can commiserate/ask questions. I would say: don't exclusively surround yourself with people who sold quickly and in big auctions for lots of money! If you don't end up in that boat, having those (lovely) authors as your only sources of support may make things harder for you. Find those who went on submission but didn't sell, or those who sold after many months for a more average/realistic picture.


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