Monday, February 11, 2008

Submissions Pathways

There are a couple of things going on behind the scenes which have inspired this post.

First, I looked at our blog stats. Um, can I just say, WOW! But to those of you who found this blog while searching for anatomical information about nasal passages, well, sorry. This isn't what you're looking for.

A surprising number of readers come to this blog after searching for information about the managing editor's role. And a surprising number of people commented through back channels yesterday about my slush pile post. So this gives us an excuse to talk a little about how submissions work, but keep in mind that some of these details are particular to our house or to me. What I do with submissions is influenced both by my role as managing editor and by the specific procedures at our house.

Two Paths to an Editor's Desk

As I see it, there are two loose categories of submissions, the things that come in to the house and the things that come in to an editor.

To the house -- these are blind queries and partials and other submissions that the sender expects could be routed to any editor.

To the editor -- these are directed at a specific editor because of some connection the author has to that particular editor. Maybe we met at a conference. Maybe you're friends with one of my current authors and got a referral to me. Maybe we've bumped elbows in chat rooms or other writer hangouts. Regardless, you're sending a submission directly to me rather than to the general submissions pool.

House submissions come in through two paths, electronic or paper. We have a submissions editor who culls the slush by reviewing the submissions, rejecting anything obviously rejectable, and routing the rest to acquisitions editors.

In theory, this distribution among the acquisitions editors will be equal. In practice, though, it rarely is. For example, I haven't taken a single slush electronic submission for the past two or three months because my plate is already full to overflowing. So my share of those submissions are allocated to the senior editors.

Also, sometimes one or another editor will be temporarily under the deadline gun and will need a break from submissions. Or maybe she'll -- gasp! -- go on vacation. (Is that allowed? We might need a judge's ruling. ;) ) Or maybe we have someone new and we want to build her list. So the flow of house submissions can shift in one direction or another temporarily, though it does tend to equalize over time.

Recently, for quirky reasons unrelated to anyone's job performance or general busy-ness, the paper slush has been landing on my desk instead of the submissions editor's desk. We're in a transition phase right now -- our old website guidelines call for paper submissions, but our new website calls for electronic submissions and doesn't mention paper. So we know that people sending in paper submissions are generally looking at the old guidelines. There's nothing wrong with using snail mail instead of email -- honestly, we don't care how they come in, except that e-subs are easier -- but our guidelines have changed in the last year, and sometimes the paper submitters don't know that.

So I am getting unculled paper slush right now, but this is temporary. I try to apply the same standards our submissions editor would apply. I reject what is obviously rejectable. Anything else, anything ranging from on-the-fence to probably-publishable, I request a full (sometimes with an explanation of how our submissions guidelines have changed) and then route that full to one of our senior editors. I haven't kept a single one of these for myself in the past two or three months simply because I'm too busy right now.

And really, I don't need to keep any of those for myself for another reason. That second path to an editor's desk -- the one where you use some connection to get directly to a particular editor -- provides me with more than I can handle. I attend a lot of conferences and speak to a lot of writers groups. My network is strong thanks to a couple of decades, on and off, in the publishing game. In short, I hustle hard for my company, and I have more than I can read -- so much more, in fact, that recently I've taken to transferring some of those submissions to other acquisitions editors. That's why I was joking with Alicia about having her do my work for me.

If you've sent something directly to me and hear back from another editor instead, let me assure you that I never transfer these kinds of submissions to another editor without explaining the backstory to them. I understand the importance of networking and make sure that the editors understand the network links the writer is using. And I do keep tabs on the outcome, though I never suggest a particular outcome. I trust my editors to decide for themselves. That doesn't mean people in my network are an auto-buy. Believe me, we've all rejected the work of friends. Comes with the territory.

That said, we do seem to have a higher hit rate with personal submissions (to me or to other editors) than we do with house submissions. I'm not sure why. And I'm not sure it's something we need to worry about. This could be one of those pendulum things that will swing in another direction soon. Or it could be simply that writers who are out there hustling, attending conferences, pitching work, networking their asses off, are more likely to have a publishable product. It's a sign of their work ethic, maybe.

Yesterday's submissions were a mix of things that came in under the transom and things that came directly to me. I camouflage the details when I talk about these submissions so that it's unlikely any writer would be able to say, "She's talking about my submission." I speak in generalities, or I change identifying facts, or I do something else to protect the writers. So if you read yesterday's post and thought, "My heroine gets in a fight with a banker," rest assured I wasn't talking about your submission. I was talking about a different fiesty heroine.

And I look at submissions on the weekend sometimes because--well, because I can. I have time for it then. When the workweek starts, there are other demands on my time. Today, for example, we're debating the order of presentation for novellas in an upcoming anthology. I have to do final checks on two other novellas and get them to production. (Everything we publish -- every single thing -- crosses my desk at least twice, once when the editor recommends we buy it and once when it's ready to leave editorial and go to production. It wasn't always like this, but it is now.) I have the usual batch of Monday morning email, and a couple of PR things that have landed on my desk that need some attention. Covers, jacket copy, scheduling matters. It's easier to read submissions when I don't have to think about all those other things.

I'm not sure that there's a grand, cohesive point to this post, other than to give you a glimpse into how we manage the flow of incoming new submissions from unagented writers.

who keeps forgetting to sign her posts!


Dara Edmondson said...

Thanks for the insights. I, for one, always wonder about such things. It's like this magical world we rarely get a glimpse of!

Genella deGrey said...

I'm so glad I found this blog - I read the *entire* thing yesterday.

No more she said, he said (among other glaring boo-boos.) ;)