A Mountain Called Subbing

Your new literary agented life involves a new phase called Revising. A few weeks after you signed your contract, your agent comes back to you with an Edit Letter which includes comments on your manuscripts, and a separate note about possible big world changes. You agree on a deadline and start working on your manuscript to get it in the best shape it could be. After the grueling passes – with you victoriously came through – your agent says your manuscript is near perfect. You’re ready.

Now it’s time to send your story out into the world. Again. But this time, to the hands of the people who truly make important decisions in what will be read. The editors.

Okay, so editors aren’t exactly how many movies depict them: uptight, blazer-wearing seniors behind their desks, judging pages with their thick glasses sitting on their noses so they can see the littlest wrongly-placed dot. Editors can be fun! And if they happen to carry a grim, cold look, maybe it’s because they haven’t gotten any proper sleep after reading every submission that comes their way.

The submission doesn’t just happen in an email. It doesn’t even happen by the time your agent sends it. Weeks ahead of your submission, your agent has collected the editor’s name, studied the editor’s manuscript wish list, checked if your book fits there (you don’t send a rom-com to an editor only interested in high fantasy and SFF) and if they had published similar books. Your agent will then connect with them, send out a “feeler” and maybe hit a call, just to let the editor know, “I have something you might like,” and ask if they can send it the editor’s way. In a sense, connections and relationships play a huge role in your submission.

After amassing a list – about fifteen, max – which you and your agent will go through, your agent will prep your submission packet and send it to that list. After that, you wait.

If querying feels like a trench, subbing feels like a mountain

Everything you’ve learned while querying will be put to good use while subbing. Because this is when the wait gets real. This is when the Yes makes your story a real book.

Some submissions last no longer than a month, and some submissions take an entire year or more. At this point, everything is out of your hands. And to make it worse, your agent may ask you to keep your submission process under wraps. This means you need to hold back on screaming your woes on Twitter or ranting it on Facebook. All you can do is make vague posts with the sinister eye emoji and let your followers guess what you’re up to.

Subbing in itself is emotionally taxing, but here are some tips to help you survive.

  • Have a group of writer friends in a secret chat. You don’t have to hold it in. Gather your most trusted confidantes and shout all your woes without getting in trouble
  • Take a social media hiatus. You don’t need to be there. You don’t have to watch new books get announced on Publisher’s Weekly as you wait for the fate of your work. Mind your heart; a break from the noise on Twitter and Instagram will help you come back better
  • Get yourself busy. Immerse yourself in a hobby, try learning a new language, or fix a part of the house that needs remodeling. Go on a planned trip with your family. You have been focused on writing that manuscript for so long that you need to cultivate other parts of your life, too!
  • Here’s a proposal: write again. Got a new story idea? Start and get another dream going.

What your agent does for you behind the scenes

While on sub, your agent will ask you how you want updates reported – weekly, bi-weekly, or come as they go. You may want to avoid rejections to focus on the positives. Or you may listen to what the editors had to say on why they passed on your book. Some responses come in fast, some don’t. Remember, you are not the only writer who’s subbing. There are other writers like you, clamoring for the editor’s attention, hoping to get early reads.

Your agent will be using superpowers to nudge these very busy editors. They will give the editor a call, ask for the update, and if your book is getting reads, stir up the editorial crowd so they’d be at their toes. By the end of the batch, if the editors have said no, your agent will compile a second list where you’ll do this again until those lists are exhausted.

CW: Rejections.

Unfortunately, not all subbed books get to acquisitions. There are many reasons for it: editors have already a similar book in their list, too much saturation of stories, the writer’s voice is too different for the house, or it is currently not on-trend. If this happens, please know that it isn’t because you lack talent. It’s just that the market is fickle and sometimes, getting acquired also takes a good sprinkle of luck.

What happens when your book gets bites

The response emails are coming in! Your agent notifies you of positive responses and starts scheduling calls. You are finally talking with an editor! An editor, whom you will possibly work with for your book!

What happens during the call? The editor introduces themselves, their publishing house, how they fell in love with your book, and its potential in the market. They’ll explain how they loved your main character, your voice, how it fits in with the current books, and how your stand out. Further along, they’ll say which parts may need changing, if the word count needs trimming or upping, and if there are characters that shouldn’t be there. During this time, it is best to take notes so you can report back to your agent.

The editor will also welcome your questions. Here are some of things you should ask:

  • Why is their publishing house the best fit for your book?
  • How will they market it?
  • What is their editorial style? Do they make themselves available to you with a call? What’s in their Edit Letter?
  • How many revisions, in their estimate, is necessary to get this book in shape?

When the call is done, email or call your agent and let them know what happened. Do the same for the next editors. This way, you and your agent could gauge which editor has the right vision for your book.

The auction action

If one editor from the list responds to your submission positively, then the project exclusively goes to them. It may also be possible that among the many editors who responded positively to you, you liked an editor so much that the agent will ask them to offer a pre-empt. But, when many editors are pursuing your project and you still haven’t made up your mind who to go with, then your agent will set up an auction.

Yes, that auction. The fast-paced, dollar-raising action, but make it through email.

Your agent will schedule a day and time where editors can send their acquisitions-approved offers – including rights, royalties, and sequels. When the emails are in, these offers are sent to you, and you and your agent can set up a call to discuss which you like better. After that, your agent will go back to the editors for another round. At this point, the value is upped another notch, and you get the final picture of what your best deal could be.

Here are some factors to consider.

  • World rights or English rights? World rights mean giving the publisher the right to translate the book into several languages. English-only rights release the book in North American/English language. Giving the publisher world rights is fine, but your agency would want to propose translation rights to other publishers around the world, which may, in turn, gain more for you, so sticking to English rights is the more reasonable path.
  • Does the offer include ebook, audiobook, and graphic novel rights, and royalties?
  • How many books are to be printed? This is, of course, taken against the amount of your advance. Every writer’s goal is to earn out their advance, which gives their publisher more confidence in the writer

Once you agreed on the publisher, the agent will now email the editor with your response. Congratulations! You have now closed a deal, and your manuscript is on its way to becoming a book!


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