April 12, 2010

Now where were we?

Filed under: Backstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 5:18 pm

In my back story, that is.

Because I realized, hey, I’m about go on sub again–ack–and you guys don’t even know about the very first time I was on sub.

But before I go back down the tunnel of years (violin chords now, for this is a tale of some melodrama, at least it feels that way) I have to ask a question. How many people know what it means to be on sub?

I had occasion to ask this question at a terrific writers conference the other day and found that many writers–even those submerged in the process of querying agents–don’t actually know.

Quick digression. The good people at New York Writers Workshop have allowed me for the third time to present a short unit at the start of their Pitch & Shop.

I attended the Pitch & Shop a little over a year and a half ago, and for my money it’s the best conference out there for those who are focused on getting published (as opposed to on honing craft–the other excellent purpose of a writers conference). It led directly to my signing with my agent.

Which is exactly what I talk about at the conference, in addition to how best to navigate the pitch sessions.

You can attend the NYWW version of the Pitch & Shop or the Algonkian version and they each have a slightly different feel to them and different approaches to instruction, but both boast the genius that allows students to bypass the querying process–for a time–and meet actual acquisition editors.

Plus you get a great pitch out of the whole deal, and I believe that is the true gold in this experience.

Anyway…long digression…I’m going to write the steps to being on sub here seeing as they really are pretty esoteric unless you’ve actually been through the process yourself.

Caveat: the following applies to having your ms submitted to the major New York publishing houses (and a handful of independents who prefer to work with agents).

1) Sign with agent

2) Agent sends pitch letter to editors

3) Agent sends ms to editors

4) Editors put your ms in a queue to read

5) Editors read

6) Editors read (sorry, this part takes a while)

Now it could go in one of three directions. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Hint: Choose #7

7) Editor(s) like ms

8 ) Editor(s) have suggestions for revision

9) Editor(s) pass on ms

If it’s 7) this is what has to happen next…

Exception–if your ms has been subbed to the publisher of an imprint s/he can bypass at least 10)

10) Editor(s) give ms to colleagues at house and get everyone to agree it’s worth acquiring

11) Marketing and other departments also agree

12) Publisher agrees

And 13) Offer is made

Lucky 13.

I think we can agree that this is a lot of steps. Writer Joshilyn Jackson says that being on sub is “a special kind of hell” and she’s right.

When it works, it can be heaven, I’m thinking, in that amnesiac, I-truly-can’t-remember-the-pain-now-that-my-baby-is-born sort of way.

Well, I’ve gone on a little too long to get into back story tonight.

More soon…


  1. I totally agree with Joshilyn Jackson. Special little hell, indeed!

    Comment by Judy — April 13, 2010 @ 7:44 am

  2. Oo! If I can choose my own adventure, then I definitely pick #7. *wink*

    Hee hee. Sounds easy, right?

    I would also add that step #1 is actually, itself, broken down into similar subsets. So even to GET to sub is a small miracle.

    People who’ve done it, like Jenny M, deserve major congratulations. They’re saints.

    Comment by Savvy — April 13, 2010 @ 7:46 am

  3. Man, this is TERRIFYING for those of us clear back at ‘find an agent’–I mean I sort of have one, but it is project specific at this point, but LOOK at all the places this can go wrong! *shivers* Good luck to you!!!

    Comment by Hart — April 13, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  4. Yeah, that Jos. Her books are great, too. And her house, of course, the tops for that kind of suspenseful womens-y fiction…

    OK, Sapphire, 7 it is. Poof!

    I know, Hart. Sigh. I feel it with you, the terror. Actually though, you have taken one giant leap forward beyond all this. I’m excited to hear what happens next!

    Comment by jenny — April 13, 2010 @ 8:53 am

  5. Ah, Jenny, so glad you included #11. In my experience the marketing department rules the universe. You can pass all the other steps, but don’t celebrate until you pass the marketing department. Well, actually, don’t celebrate big until the advance had been paid, but little celebrations along the way are what it’s all about.

    Comment by Donna Fletcher Crow — April 13, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

  6. P. S. in my earl days I wrote Choose Your Own Adventures. Fun.

    Comment by Donna Fletcher Crow — April 13, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  7. I LOVED Choose Your Own Adventures, Donna! And–marketing, yea. Ah, capitalism, art/story, and their intersection…

    Comment by jenny — April 13, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  8. But don’t get me wrong–I’d LIKE my books to sell. Perhaps I am not as artistic as some, but I actually would love to meet a good marketing department. Stories have been in demand ever since (camp)fire was discovered. There must be good ways to disseminate them that also makes a profit for the publisher…

    Comment by jenny — April 13, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

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