My Book is on Submission with Publishers. Now What?

You’ve been back and forth with your agent for months creating the perfect book proposal—making sure every argument you’ve made is unassailable, that every indent, line break, and page break is perfectly positioned, and that every t is crossed and i dotted. Your interactions are so frequent that when your phone alerts you to a new voicemail or email, it’s more likely to be your agent than anyone else.

Or perhaps you haven’t been working with an agent, but you’ve been toiling away on a novel, and after months (or years) of developing it, you’ve decided to try your chances with publishers directly. You’ve sent your baby out into the world.

The waiting is HARD. For some, the hardest stage. Below are some useful activities that will help you, and/or your agent, as you await the verdict.

Productive Activity #1: Focus energies on your online presence

If a publishing house is considering acquiring your book, there are multiple people involved in that decision, and feedback from Sales, Marketing, and Publicity will all be weighed. The very first thing someone considering your book will do after reading your proposal is look you up online. What you want them to find is substantial information around you—whether your writing, your story, your brand, or your work. They’ll also want to see an active social media presence, one that shows engagement from a number of people. (For nonfiction authors, the barrier for a social media following is higher than ever. One publisher recently quoted me that 40k fans on Facebook and an email list of 15k is what they now consider a threshold for acquisitions.) Even if you’re not near this number, the single best thing you can do is continue to build your online credibility while your book is on submission.

Journalist?—Have a Wikipedia page. Blogger?—Encourage your fan base to show their support on social media at this critical time. Novelist?—Build even a simple personal website that showcases your writing clips and offers a sense of who you are as a person.

Productive Activity #2: Read comparable titles as research or inspiration for the book you plan to publish

The writers we work with, and who succeed in getting book deals, share something major in common: conviction in their ideas. For these writers, where there’s a will there’s a way, and even if a given publisher doesn’t share their view, they’re going to write the book regardless, because the research is just that fascinating, or the process just that rewarding. Once your proposal or manuscript is with your agent or with publishers and out of your hands, why not begin collecting notes, or reading those comparable titles if you haven’t already to serve as research or inspiration in crafting your own book. Treat this waiting time as an opportune moment to further educate yourself in the marketplace and more critically understand the gap your book can fill.

Productive Activity #3: Be patient and fill your time actively

It’s understandable that the silence can be deafening—especially since up until this moment, you’ve been in constant dialogue with someone about your proposal. But silence isn’t always a bad thing. Given the number of people at a publishing house who need to weigh in before an offer can be made, even a very interested editor could be getting second reads or speaking with those diverse parties involved. And many agents won’t, with good reason, reveal everything they’re hearing until there’s a final verdict. Also know that submissions sometimes happen in rounds. Not receiving an offer on the first round doesn’t mean that you won’t receive one on the second.

While waiting, engage in activities that will help your book’s success—possibly this is going on a local radio or television show, penning a post for a widely read journal or blog, securing a blurb for your book, or any number of things individual to your project that aren’t outlined above.

Productive Activity #4: Constructively follow up, at the right time

After several weeks, it’s completely reasonable to follow up with your agent for a pulse check on what he or she is hearing. When you do follow up, ask if there’s anything helpful you could be doing. You are not bothering or doubting your representative’s abilities by checking in—you’re simply acting like a business partner, which you are. Optionally, you can also ask for a list of imprints your agent has submitted to; not to share widely and certainly not to contact the editors directly, but to keep back pocket should you take out the project again. If you’re well-versed in various publishing houses and imprints, you may even suggest someone to add!

If you’re not working with an agent and are submitting your book directly to publishers, several weeks is not a reasonable amount of time to follow up, as publishers give priority to solicited projects from agents. 4-6 weeks may be more appropriate to follow up (for nonfiction, and double that for fiction), but when you do, it should be with an update of interest, i.e. I’ve just been featured on x media outlet; my blog post on y has gone viral and received z number of shares; a well-known author has offered the following blurb, etc. In absence of having those updates to share, you could go for something very personal and heartfelt: “as you’re the editor of [x comparable title], a novel that significantly influenced my own writing, any reactions you’ve had thus far would be especially meaningful to me…” continuing to say that your utmost wish would be a home with this particular publisher.

You shouldn’t write this love letter to everyone; only to those for whom it really applies.

Have I addressed every submission question you’re wondering about? If I haven’t, please comment below, and I’m happy to offer further insights!