Greasing the skids

Dear Miss Snark,

I often read about publishing deals where the editor makes an offer in a matter of days after the manuscript is submitted, even with debut novels. Why does it take so long for most other submissions to get a response, then? (Of course, I'm talking about agented submissions, and credible agents.) It seems like with many manuscripts, the project has to be passed around to every department and a real case made for it in sales meetings, and months go by before any answer can be given. So how it is that some projects get snapped up by pre-empt or within a day or two of submission? Don't they have to jump through all the hoops, too?

First, don't believe all the breathless hyperbole you read about how a novel was bought before it had to time to be run through the xerox machine more than once. Yes, it does happen. Not quite as often as you read. There's a buzz factor here: you want everyone to think this baby is hot so you breathlessly tell PW et al how fast it was snapped up. Those stories conveniently overlook all the prep work that goes into a fast buy.

But it does happen.

It happens when an agent has a solid relationship with an editor and a house, when the agent has a solid track record of producing winners, and when the editor has enough track record to buy on her own, or without going to the sales meeting. Not often.

It also happens when an agent has more than one editor on the line and lets everyone know this is going to move fast.


Anonymous said...

Happens if you sell film rights first too.

Anonymous said...

It also happens when an author has an established reputation and is available, so acquiring the next project is the first step towards establishing a longer relationship between the house and the author. Sometimes editors have waited a long time for this opportunity. My latest novel contract was based on a three page description/pitch, and it got a six figure offer from two editors inside of three days.

Robert Billing said...

Actually I almost did this once. I pitched an idea for a non-fiction book to an editor, and got a request for sample and synopsis back in 5 mins 30 seconds by e-mail. The book then sold and has been in print for 3 years now, earning me a small but steady royalty.

Therese Fowler said...

You could've toppled me with a splash of gin when my debut went out on submission on a Thursday and the following Monday went to US auction. That same Monday it sold to German and Italian publishers.

I was a skeptic right up until that day, because my previous novel (with same agent, seven months earlier,) failed to sell at all.

By week's end, we had a US deal and six foreign deals.

I credit my agent--and no hyperbole here: she'd just finished reading the manuscript two days earlier. There was NO prep time. She knew exactly who to call, and exactly how to pitch.

There are lots of capable agents, but if you are fortunate enough to land one with clout, all the better when/if you have a saleable work.

Poor Struggler said...

So, anonymous (or anyone else who wants to chime in), if it's taking months for my agent to get replies from some of the houses we've submitted to, do you think that means they're having a tough time scaring up interest in purchasing the project? I just can't understand why it takes 3 months for a manuscript to make the rounds and be pitched at the sales meeting.

Kate Pearce said...

My agent is definitely the person who made it happen for me. The proposal went out Thursday, first offer came in on Friday. she immediately contacted the others who got back very quickly and we had a few discussions about what would work best for me before we accepted an offer.
It never happened like that before!

ORION said...

I am another exception. My agent and I tweaked my manuscript for 4 months and when she submitted she knew EXACTLY who to send it to. She also chatted about it ahead of time. She sent it on a Tuesday and editors were calling and emailing on Wednesday. It went to auction the following week. During that time it got house approval (2nd and 3rd reads) for the various publishers. I agree with the thought that certain agents have the reputation for finding and developing high concept projects, but in most cases it is luck and timing.

Ryan Field said...

Poor Struggler said...
So, anonymous (or anyone else who wants to chime in), if it's taking months for my agent to get replies from some of the houses we've submitted to, do you think that means they're having a tough time scaring up interest in purchasing the project? I just can't understand why it takes 3 months for a manuscript to make the rounds and be pitched at the sales meeting.

If you think this is a long time, wait until it comes time for a publisher to send you a check. It's the slowest business in the world.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like there are agents who can really make it happen. What does that say about the other agents out there?

Anonymous said...

It happened with my adult book and my children's book.

Tattieheid said...

Poor struggler there can be many reasons why a manuscript can take ages to do the rounds.You have to remember publishers are businesses and their priotities are on work in progress. There is a lot of work involved in getting a book to market.
They also have to give priority to authors already on contract who are submitting their latest jewel for inspection. There are a fixed number of hours in a day and a limit to what miracles they can achieve in that time.

There will always be "high flyers" that jump the queue for one reason or another. The reasons for that can't be fully explained by logic, an element of luck also comes into it. "The right book at the right time" doesn't necessarily mean it's better than anything else doing the rounds, just that publishers think it meets a perceived need so they snap it up before somebody else does. Sometimes they regret it.

It doesn't mean your agent is crap either. He or she may have sold some of the success stories mentioned in the comments here. Those same agents will have perfectly good authors on their books whose work they are struggling to sell.

If you do the rounds of the blogs you will find writers whose Ms was inching its way through the publishing houses for anything up to 12/14 months and then they got a contract. In some cases a very good one. Others failed to sell.

Pitching a project to a committee is a slow, frustrating and sometimes painful process. You may have an editor working their butt off right now trying to get your novel through the many hurdles.

Dont get disenchanted. Give it another month or so and then speak to your agent to determine the best way forward.

In the meantime to quote Miss Snark "Get on with writing your next book!" It could be the next "high flyer".

Anonymous said...

It seems sometimes that the blogsphere is filled with peeps like those commenting here, all saying their books sold in a matter of days. They all claim they think they're lucky or unusual or whatever, but you know, after a while, it's enough to make those of us with slow but steady careers want to despair. I know the rest of us aren't doing anything wrong, really, but it sure feels that way sometimes!

Anonymous said...

I never believe breathless hyperbole. I used to, but it got too expensive.

ORION said...

What's a peep?
Am I one?
I certainly did not mean to sound derogatory at all.
And I certainly do not mean to imply that any one's career is less or more because of a deal rating.
There is just so much focus is on the size of an advance and the speed at which a book is bought.
I hear unpublished writers voice their desire for one.
Therese and I are not the rule.
Non the less we are both gratified.
That is all we are saying.

Poor Struggler said...

Hattiefield, That was extremely well written and very clear. Thanks a lot for your input.

Therese Fowler said...

"Slow but steady" can also win the race.

I suspect that no one whose book sold lightning-fast *expected* that to happen. As I said in my earlier comment, above, I had a novel that, despite my agent's excitement and clout, just didn't quite connect. It went unsold.

Serendipity *is* the x-factor, as I know first-hand. If you're still waiting for a sale, or have a slower-paced career, you still have a shot at being struck by lightning.

Look at Tess Gerritsen's career, for example: a one-time paperback romance author who switched gears right into a million-dollar deal.

An exception, sure, but no less real.

Anonymous said...

A peep is just a person. :-) (Peep, people, etc. -- a bit of slang.)

No, no, not saying anyone is acting badly. It's just that, for all the disclaimers that it doesn't happen this way, isn't supposed to happen this way, etc. -- sometimes it seems like there are so many people for whom it does. And all of you keep claiming it's not that common, in spite of your numbers.

Which probably is just how it looks. But hearing a half dozen people say, "Yup, no one gets a response in two days--well, excepting that I did" makes one wonder if the first half of that statement is really true, or if there is something wrong with the rest of us.

Silly, illogical, but thoughts that maybe creep in every once in a while anyway.

Anonymous said...

My MS has been at a major publishing house for 2 months. When would be a good time to follow up with my agent?