How I Create a Submission List

jackpotI’ve read my client’s manuscript; gone back and forth with them a number of times, making sure it’s in the best shape I can help them get it into; and crafted a submission letter (which is the agent version of a query letter). I open up a new, empty Excel spreadsheet. I’m ready to populate it with names, imprints, publishing houses, email addresses and phone numbers. How do I know who to put in that spreadsheet?

The process of putting together a submission list for my clients’ work is not dissimilar to what authors should be doing when they are querying agents. Here’s where I look to find the right people to whom I submit my clients’ work.

1. What editors have I met at a conference, over coffee or lunch, who might like this manuscript?

2. What books have I recently read that are similar in theme or tone to my client’s work? Who edited them?

3. What manuscripts have recently sold that are similar in theme or tone to my client’s work? Who did they sell to?

4. Poking around on Publisher’s Marketplace, what other manuscripts or authors’ work is similar in theme or tone to my client’s work? Or what have I recently read about in my daily Publisher’s Lunch email that feels similar? What imprint published them or who edited them?

5. What have I read about in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, Shelf Awareness or the many blogs I read, that feels similar? Who was the publisher? Who was the editor?

6. Who is on my agency database that I may not have submitted to yet, that my agency-mates have indicated works with the kind of manuscript I’m about to send out?

7. What editors have my fellow agents (who I’ve hung out with at conferences or socially) mentioned to me who are looking for something like my client’s work?

8. What have I seen on Twitter, posted by an editor, agent, author, (or anyone!) that might give me a hint at someone I haven’t yet thought of?

9. Who is on my client’s wish list of editors, or who my client has had some kind of interaction with, who might be appropriate for this manuscript?

10. What can I find out by Googling? After diving down the rabbit hole of the interwebs, is there someone else out there who would be perfect for this manuscript?

Oftentimes, while still in the midst of working on a manuscript with my client, I think of editors I know who would like the material we’re working with. Sometimes I’ve even mentioned the manuscript to an editor before it’s ready, gauging interest or getting ideas from them about editors with whom they work who might be best suited to the manuscript. Sometimes I start from scratch when I face that empty Excel spreadsheet. But what I always do is make sure that the editors to whom I’m submitting seem somehow appropriate to the work. When I send my clients’ work out on submission I don’t just send out blind emails to editors, crossing my fingers, hoping I’ll hit the jackpot with an editor who seems really cool, or is high profile, or has edited lots of books I like (but aren’t similar to my clients’ work).

As I fill in my spreadsheet, I make sure  for each round that I’m not sending the manuscript to more than one imprint at a house at the same time. So if I want to send something to Farrar, Straus Children’s I don’t also send something to Feiwel & Friends or Roaring Brook Press. They are all imprints of Macmillan. I send it to my first choice and save the others for another round of submissions.

This is the basic process I go through when sending my clients’ work out. Of course this changes after they’ve published something, because oftentimes their editor has a first-look option in their contract. That means that whatever manuscript my client writes next, usually in the same genre (i.e. adult, YA, MG or picture book), their editor gets first dibs on it.

So. Any questions?



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10 responses to “How I Create a Submission List

  1. One question: what is the average number of rounds a submission goes on? And what is the maximum? What if different editors all give different feedback on a particular ms? Oops…that was three questions…

    • There is no “average” or “maximum.” Every manuscript and its path to publication is different, like friggen snowflakes. If different editors give different feedback on a “particular” manuscript then the “author” and their “agent” have a conversation and figure out what to do next. (We’re not even CLOSE to their yet, my friend… publishing just moves at glacial speed…)

  2. Sheila Kelly Welch

    What is the average number of places that you send a manuscript on its first round of submissions? Are there some books that you send to one editor exclusively because you are so certain he or she will love it? Thanks for giving us the insider’s perspective.

    • For a debut novel being submitted for the first time I usually send it out to only about 4 or 5 places because I want to see what the editors think (i.e. if I get 5 rejections and they’re all rejecting it for the same reason, I’ll send the project back into revision). After that, I may send something out to about 8 or 10 places at a shot. I usually wait until I get most responses back before sending it out on another round. Because I work with so many debut authors I take very seriously (and appreciate) any feedback I get from editors who reject the work. I haven’t yet sent anything out exclusively to one editor. I’m not an eggs in one basket kind of person; always like to have at least 3 balls up in the air at a time.

  3. Great post! Now I’m anxious to send you another book!

  4. Do you (or other agents) ever attempt to create a buzz before sending a particularly exciting manuscript on submission?

    • First of all (no kidding) they’re ALL exciting to me. I don’t take on projects that I’m not totally psyched to be working on. I don’t know what other agents do, but I will mention a manuscript to an editor (or editors) before it’s ready, if I think they’d like it. And then send it to them when it’s ready to go out. Is that attempting to create a buzz?

  5. I love the glimpses you give us “behind the curtain.”

  6. Fascinating. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the world of agenting and how similar the process is to a writer ‘mapping out’ the right agent to represent their work. This info also gives a writer a peek at the thoughtful, thourough and professional agent that you are.;)

  7. I’d say I’m exhausted just reading this, but I guess when I submit stuff–short stories as well as novels–I do a similar process. The result: I freeze because I can’t decide or no one seems right. Sometimes I take the plunge and pick whatever seems the best choice. Most of the time I get discouraged and never defrost in time to submit.