Tuesday, April 27, 2010

THE SUBMISSION PROCESS AS I SEE IT


I don't know if it's just me, but lately it seems as though responses to my submissions are coming in slower than ever. Now don't get me wrong, once in a while a rejection trickles in, but for the most part, my mailbox and inbox remain empty of editor/agent correspondence. Not that I’m complaining. I like to take heart in the old mantra, “no news is good news”. However, I wonder if other writers are noticing the same. With many houses closing their doors to unagented material (I don’t have an agent) and the economy forcing everyone and their brother into thinking they can write children’s books, the submission process seems to be getting more difficult to navigate day by day. (Editors/Agents are inundated with an ever increasing amount of submissions.)With this in mind, I thought I’d share with you my submission process:

First of all, I have more than one picture book manuscript ready for submission. That said, I think you can gather that I am submitting multiple manuscripts, (one at a time), to various editor/agents as I see fit. I try very hard to target my submissions to an editor/agent who I feel might be most receptive to that certain piece of work. For example, one of my newer works is a rhyming picture book called THE GUMBALL. (See sidebar on this blog regarding available works.) I began submitting it in early December and targeted editors who have published fun, silly rhyming picture books in the past. To date, I have received only one response and that was a very nice, handwritten rejection. I have five other editors I am waiting to hear back from. Before I resubmit elsewhere, I want to gage their reaction. If I get a pile of form rejections, I know the book isn’t working and I will need to rethink it. If I get some positive responses, then maybe I’m on the right track. However, since I’m in this for the long haul, and this is my career path, I’m praying for more than a nice rejection. With each submission, I aim for a contract. I cross my fingers and toes and answer every phone call with that little blip of apprehension, hoping against hope this is it, “the call”.
It has happened. I’ve been lucky enough to sell two books. But as I’ve said, I’m in this for the long haul and each day opens up new opportunities. I continue to scour my email and phone messages knowing that at some point there will be good news awaiting me. Fingers crossed.

Another aspect of the submissions process is the query letter. Like the full submission, this must be a carefully targeted communication. Similar to the cover letter which is included with a full submission, the query letter must convey your story in an appealing and fascinating way. Don’t give away the ending, but allude to it in a way that catches the editor/agent’s attention and makes them want to know more. If you’ve garnered their interest, they’ll probably ask to see the manuscript. At this point your work becomes solicited material and you’ve bypassed the dreaded “slush pile”. Some picture book writers hate the query letter. Personally, I run both hot and cold on it. Sometimes query letters have opened new doors for me. Houses that are closed to unsolicited submissions have requested material from me and although they passed on the particular project they have remained open to more of my work. Bonus! On the other hand, I have had queries that remain in limbo. These are queries I never get a response to. I don’t believe it is proper to send a status query on a query; seems redundant. Therefore, these are submissions I consider rejected. Yet, there is always hope it fell behind some assistant’s desk and will be resurrected. Some conscientious editor will discover it and immediately contact me for the full and love it and want it immediately. (Hey, didn’t I say I’m in this for the long haul?)

Then of course is the rewrite stage or even the “we-love-it-and-will-get-back-to-you” stage. I find these to be even more nail-biting than either the basic submission or query policies. At this point, you know you’ve found someone who is more than mildly interested in your work. However, this process seems to be harder than the others as now your submission moves on to the acquisitions meeting. Here it will be analyzed by sales and marketing and everyone, not just the editor, must love it and believe in it. These are tough odds. This is where your talent is overridden by the bottom dollar; literally. If the acquisitions team doesn’t think your book will make enough money for it to be worth their while, you will not be offered a contract. This whole concept makes me weak in the knees. It is difficult to know I’ve come so close and waiting for the outcome is like waiting for a verdict concerning my future. (Which in a way, it is.) During this stage, I’ve had to wait as little as a month and as long as a year. To date, I have two manuscripts in this position -that I know of. My fingernails are nibbled to the quick. Wish me luck!

Another area of submitting that must be considered for any writer in today’s market is the agent submission. Finding an agent is a long and arduous task. At least it has proven to be so for me. As primarily a picture book writer the list of agents accepting this type of work is not a long one. I also find it a bit weird trying to sell a book (singular) to an agent when I have numerous manuscripts in my arsenal. Not that I expect any agent to love every one of my works, but I think it would only be an asset for them to know I’m not a one hit wonder. I don’t dabble in writing, but work hard at it. I want them to know there is more work he/she may be interested in representing. I’m looking for someone to represent my career as a whole and not just one manuscript. Also, since I have been submitting on my own for a while, many agents are deterred from working with these manuscripts. They want material that has not been seen by editors. Should I hold my manuscripts for six months or more while I wait for agent responses, or should I take advantage of contacts I’ve made on my own? I really find myself in a quandry here and can't seem to decide on the right course of action. All I know for sure is that I’m not getting any younger and this is not a fast business. I really believe an agent would do wonders for my career. They would be able to open doors that are not just closed, but also locked. And yet I can’t seem to find that special person willing to take on a picture book author without a big sales record. Catch 22. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Mr./Ms. Agent, I know you’re out there. Here’s to hoping our paths will cross soon.

And that is the submissions process from my point of view. I’d love to hear your take on it. How do we differ in our pursuit toward publication? What tips or advice can you share? Most of all, how is it working for you? Inquiring minds want to know.

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

8 comments:

  1. Really good tips about submission..thanks!!

    John@ Career Options

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  2. http://ptolemymaps-meyerprints.blogspot.com/

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  3. Wow your manuscripts sound great. I have finally decided that maybe it is worth it to do the agent thing because I just imagine the slush pile as this huge mountain of papers that may topple over if you breathe too heavy. I think getting an agent speeds things up. However, right now I have been waiting about two months to hear back from my agent submission. It certainly is challenging to just hang in there.

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  4. I hear ya, Jeannine. Keeping my fingers crossed that we both find agents who love our work and are excited to represent it.

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  5. I'm still working on Picture Books, although I gave up on finding an agent for them; as you said, most agents are just not interested in representing picture book writers. I don't think this is so much about the dabbling aspect of many PB authors as much as it is about the money, though - my guess is that novels pull in more money for them, for about the same amount of work. They are interested in novelists, so I've begun work on three novels - one MG, and two YA - and I've just started to focus on one YA with a view to completing it this year. I've also been writing for magazines, and sold a mag story in rhyme recently (Know Magazine, July/Aug. 2010 issue, YAY!), so I at least have a publishing credit!

    That's my strategy: write for magazines to build up publishing history while continuing to write and submit PBs to editors, and simultaneously complete novel which I will query agents with. And blog, and comment on other blogs (esp. those of agents and editors) so my name is recognized. Here's hoping it works!

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  6. Hi, guys! Niki, I found your blog through WriteOnCon.

    Ishta, I saw you there, too! You have a very recognizable name. Sounds like you have a great plan for your writing.

    Niki, I see my submission process much like yours. Always have something out there (although I'm not "quite" there yet). The whole agent thing does seem like a bit of a catch 22. I decided a while back that I would get a couple books published to have a couple credits to my name first. I hope that route won't be shooting myself in the foot. By the way, I love your blog! And how did you manage to get the fabulous job of being a book reviewer?!

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  7. Christie,

    Glad you're enjoying my blog. Unfortunately it has taken a back seat for a while as my kids are out of school and my writing time is drastically limited during the summer months, not to mention I am away for much of it. I hope to get more blog posts up soon though, so don't give up me!
    Becoming a book reviewer was a long hard road of persistance. (Much like the publishing process!) I was just lucky enough to contact the right editor at the right time I guess. Thouroughly enjoy my role as reviewer, although I have to remember to keep my "writer's hat" off and focus on the consumer aspect of the book. Sometimes, it is easier said than done. I just hope I'm reviewing in a fair and honest manner and not letting the "writer" part of me sway my opinions. Thanks for your comments.

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  8. Hello! great post - hope you find time to blog again soon.

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