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.