There are a number of blogs and op-eds out there by much smarter and more experienced people than me on how the publishing industry in changing, so I’m not going to add to that oeuvre, except in a very practical way, about one very small area:
Each publisher will have different rules about multiple submissions, and they will normally be under the FAQs or submission guidelines. Many won’t take multiple submissions, except from agents, many will.
So this opens up a whole new thorny area of etiquette and courtesy, do’s and don’ts, icy little pitfalls and full-on holes. How does one handle the ins and outs of a multiple-publisher submission relationship?
The same way one handles any kind of relationship: with communication and respect.
The first step to submitting for an author should always be planning – make a list of publishers, what they do that you like, what they do that you’re not sure of, any information they put out into the public domain. Ask questions of other authors, make use of your network through a professional association. This is your product and your brand – you want to make sure that you are moving forward in a direction you want to go, not just with whoever accepts your book.
As publishers, we work hard on creating a ‘brand’, one that we hope will appeal to both authors and readers alike. And authors need to choose which publisher best represents what message they want to send out with their books. Which publisher is sending the message they want to share. Which publisher is doing good work with the kind of book that they write. Sometimes, however, not all of those things can be found in one publisher. Sometimes all of them can be found in more than one. Sometimes one can be found in one, one can be found in another, and there’s a third that also offers something else. This is when multiple submissions come in.
So, as an aspiring author, what’s the etiquette?
First, make sure that your publisher(s) of choice allow multiple submissions. If they don’t, do not submit a manuscript elsewhere. Wait it out, or move said publisher down the list. Publishers put up their guidelines for a reason, and setting an excellent publisher/author relationship from the beginning means following those guidelines. If you aren’t prepared to respect the publisher and their rules, then think hard about why you’re submitting to them in the first place.
Second, once you’ve established that multiple submissions are okay, make sure you note that you are submitting the manuscript elsewhere in the query letter or note. It can be as simple as, ‘I note that in your guidelines you allow multiple submissions, so please be aware that I have submitted this manuscript elsewhere’.
If a publisher allows multiple submissions, then letting them know that you’ve submitted elsewhere will in no way be a detriment to your submission. In some cases, it may actually speed up the submissions process, as if an editor is very interested in your work, they may read faster so as to secure your book before someone else gets there first.
You can also note that you are letting the other publishers know that you are submitting to multiple houses, so that everyone knows that everyone else is on the same page.
As a bonus, noting that you found the rule in their FAQs is a good way of letting the publisher know that you’ve read their FAQs and are adhering to their guidelines. We like that kind of thing 😉
The best case scenario happens, and your book gets a firm offer. First, congratulations! Make sure you celebrate. Now’s the time to start communicating again.
If your acceptance comes from your publisher of choice, then it’s time to celebrate, but first to write to the other publishers and let them know that you are withdrawing your submission. It can be as simple as ‘Thank you for your time, but I am withdrawing my submission <title>.’
If your acceptance comes from your second or third choice, then it’s also time to celebrate, and make some decisions. Are you happy with the terms? Are you excited to move forward with this publisher? If you still think that you’d prefer to wait and hear from the other publishers, then get back on to your laptop. Thank the publisher for their offer, confirm that you are considering it, and let them know when you expect to have an answer. Generally, you want a week or two. This gives the other publishers a chance to read, but also respects the time of the accepting publisher.
Then you need to let the other publishers know. An email letting them know that you have received a firm offer, but that you would still like them to consider your manuscript is perfectly acceptable. It’s also standard to give a time limit. Let the other publishers know that if they are still considering your manuscript, you need an answer within a certain time – whatever time you chose for your accepting publisher.
The other publishers will give one of two responses:
- No thanks, we won’t be considering your manuscript further.
- Thanks, we’ll get back to you within the time frame.
If it’s the former, there’s a number of reasons, including just not having the time. If it’s the latter, then you have some time to wait.
If you have two acceptances, then you’ve got great problems. The key, as always, is communication and respect. Let the publishers know that you are considering their offer, and that you have other offers. Ask any questions that you have, and make sure that you know the terms of both publishers. But most importantly, let them know when they can expect an answer. Keep the lines of communication open, and make sure that everyone knows what’s going on, every step of the way. Respect. Communication.
The Publisher Perception
It’s important to remember that publishers that accept multiple submissions get this all the time. It comes with the territory of agreeing to accept multiple submissions, and it would have been considered when making the initial decision. Sure, we’d all love to be everyone’s first choice all the time, but we’re also realistic about it. We can’t be everything to everyone, and authors have their own needs, desires, and expectations.
When it comes to multiple submissions, publishers have only one need, desire, and expectation: respect and communication.