Hey friends, I have some exciting news to share. I’m officially “on submission” with a brand-new project, a middle grade novel! I’ve been explaining what this means to friends and family, so I thought it might be a good time to do a post on the nitty-gritty of this process. As you might expect, books don’t get written, and then magically appear in stores. There are a lot of steps in between, most of them not visible to the general public.
Let’s back up a bit because you might be wondering why I’m writing novels when I’ve published a picture book (and sold two more). Many children’s authors write for different age groups, so it’s not too unusual. I’ve also written a couple adults novels (unpublished, but gave me practice in that type of writing), so my agent suggested I try my hand at a middle grade novel (called an MG in the biz).
I started outlining this book, titled “Rearranged,” back in the summer of 2017, eventually got a solid draft together a year later, showed it to writer friends, revised, showed it to my agent, who loved it *except* for the voice, which he wanted changed from a 3rd person narrator to a 1st person point-of-view. As you can imagine, that involved a complete rewrite, though I’m very thankful for his advice because it’s a much better book.
Then…hooray! He loved it. We made a few minor changes, and it was ready to go. The next step was for my agent to put together a list of editors, at various publishers, who he thought would have a lot of interest in this book and publish it well. It’s so important to have a well-connected, experienced agent who knows all the different editors’ tastes and the pros and cons of working with different publishing houses, knows their track record with books like mine, etc. I am grateful to have an agent like this!
So, he put his list together and wrote up a glowing cover letter promoting my book and then he emailed the letter and book out, at which point I’m “on submission.” I’ve been on submission twice before and can tell you, it’s such an exciting time. It can also be anxiety-filled! You hope, of course, that multiple editors fall in love with the book, but some won’t, and there are many reasons for that. They may have just bought a similar book or they might not see how it fits into their upcoming list (of titles in process) or it might just be a matter of the book not being something that interests them.
Sometimes, an editor loves it, but when she shows the book to the rest of her team, there isn’t as much enthusiasm, which means she might change her mind about offering a bid. (If sales & marketing isn’t into your book, it’s probably not happening.) There’s a flurry of emails during this time, so I watch my inbox with one hand over my eyes. There’s always going to be some good news, but likely some disappointment, too. With a picture book, we start getting responses quickly, sometimes the same day! But, this submission is a 200 page novel, so it will take longer. The editors have to read the thing before they can make a decision!
If at least two editors love the book, and their team loves the book, and they decide they are going to try and buy it, then my agent sets up an auction situation. There are different ways to run an auction. The one you are probably familiar with is the one where people keep putting in higher and higher bids until one publisher is left standing, and gets the book. My agent prefers to do something different, called a “best bid blind” auction in which there is an end date for the auction, and by that date, the editor must submit their best bid (not shown to anyone else). There are no other rounds.
The benefit of this type of auction is that it allows me (with my agent’s guidance) to choose the publisher and editor best for me. Remember that I’m going to be working closely with this person for a couple years or more (and possibly much longer if we do more projects). I have to agree with her vision for the book and also feel like, on a personal level, we’re a good match. To help figure this out, my agent schedules phone calls between me and each editor who is bidding, during the auction period. Ohhhh, is this fun! You can imagine that the flattery is laid on a bit thick, in both the phone calls, and the cover letters the editors write to accompany their bids. Good thing my husband is around to do an eye roll and bring me back down to earth! But, honestly, there’s so much rejection in this business, it’s just lovely to have the chance to be complimented every so often.
All the editors who are bidding submit their packages by (usually right on) the last date of the auction. It varies, but they may include information like how they plan to market the book, but for sure it includes the price, how they are breaking it down into installments, what the royalty rates are (this is pretty standard), etc. By this point, I should have talked on the phone with each editor who is bidding.
I look through all of this and compare and then have a (usually lengthy) phone call with my agent to figure things out. Sometimes, I can’t decide between two and it might help for my agent to call and negotiate (for example, if one editor is offering a two-book deal and another isn’t, we could ask if the other editor could make a two-book deal). Then, I sleep on it. Hopefully, in the morning, I’ll have my answer.
Then, my agent notifies everyone, and I email everybody my thanks and we wait for the contract….which might take six months to arrive…at which point, I am actually allowed to tell you the details!
So that’s “on submission” in a nutshell. What questions do you have?