Ask the Agent: The Process of Acceptance
A publisher requested my manuscript several months ago. I suspect he’s passed it to someone else to read. Does the reader make a report? Is it discussed by a committee? I’m wondering if my “precious” writing is on a shelf somewhere or being used as a convenient footrest under someone’s desk. All I know is calling them is a big no-no at this point. I’m supposed to (gulp…) WAIT.
Laurie, you bring up one of the most difficult aspects of this business—for writers, editors, agents, everyone. It can take a long time to get a manuscript read and get a decision on it.
The answer to the question (Where is my manuscript?) is I don’t know. Most likely it’s sitting in a stack on someone’s desk, or a virtual stack in someone’s computer, waiting to be read.
The hardest thing to wrap your mind around is the fact that your precious manuscript doesn’t exist in a universe by itself. It sits in a stack with dozens or hundreds of other precious manuscripts. Most editors and agents I know have far more reading to do than they can realistically handle in a timely manner. They’re usually behind to some extent. It makes sense when you think about how many writers are out there, compared to how many agents and editors. There is just no way to give everything fair consideration, AND somehow do it quickly.
So what’s the typical process at a publisher? Some publishers have a specific and regimented process, others are more loose. Basically, someone will give the manuscript a look. It might be a “first reader” hired by the publisher, or an editorial assistant, or the editor you sent it to. That person will give some kind of report and either recommend it or not. If the first person who reads it doesn’t give it high marks, that’s usually the end of the road and a pass letter will be forthcoming.
If the reader thinks it’s good, they’ll most likely pass it along to others to read. Eventually the editorial department will have to decide as a group, in a meeting, whether they want to support the book. If they do, that means it will go to the infamous Pub Board.
At Pub Board, the sales and marketing people usually have the final say about whether to accept the book for publication or not. They have to strongly believe they can sell it. This is one of the reasons it’s so important for the editor to LOVE your book. He or she can’t go into Pub Board and passionately sell it if they’re half-hearted. Marketing and sales folks can smell indifference a mile away, and they’ll kill a book faster than you can say “please, please, please say yes.”
It can take a long time for your manuscript to make the rounds of the people who need to read it. Then, it can take weeks for it to make it on the “docket” of an editorial meeting. If the book is accepted in editorial, it can take several more weeks to make it on to the docket of a Pub Board meeting.
So, this excruciating lag time is a fact of life in publishing. I don’t like it any more than you do. In fact, my stack of “to be read” manuscripts sits there like a gigantic weight on my shoulders and often makes it hard for me to sleep at night. (Don’t you feel sorry for me???)
If you can think of another way for this process to work, I’m all ears. I’m sure everyone in publishing would like to solve this problem. Writers, send your ideas!
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.