Katie sent the following question:
What should an author do if they receive a full manuscript request from an editor as a result of a contest, but the editor works for a small publisher and the author wants to explore other options first (e.g. getting an agent, finding a bigger house, etc.)?
I would like to avoid a breach in etiquette here, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s received a request (through a contest, or maybe Twitter pitch party or something) that they aren’t necessarily enthusiastic about. How do authors let an editor down gently, so to speak, without burning any bridges for the future?
That is a great question. I’ll give two options and discuss the implications of each.
Send the full manuscript to the editor and then see what happens.
This option honors the request and delays any decision on a contract down the road.
Of course, if the editor turns right around and offers a contract (congratulations!) the decision wasn’t delayed very much and you are back to a variation of the original dilemma.
Ignore the request.
That is an option but that editor may not appreciate being ignored. The request was not made lightly. The editor is asking for more work!
Silence, in this case, is not a good idea. The door has been opened by the editor.
However, if you simply do not want to work with that publisher that’s okay. A gentle response like “Thank you for the request. I’m currently pursuing literary representation. If I am successful, your request for a full manuscript will be a part of that discussion.”
In the above scenario the author entered a contest. Let’s go back to the reason why the author entered a contest in the first place. Usually the author is hoping to win, of course, but also to have their work read by industry experts who serve as judges. Thus this situation is quite plausible.
Each writer has different aspirations and goals when it comes to publication. Smaller publishers do a wonderful service to authors in getting a book to the market. But often the sales numbers are modest by comparison to the numbers sold by larger publishers. Never forget that sales numbers become part of your sales history forever.
If I were forced to choose one of the options I would choose Option A. Honor the effort of that editor who volunteered to be a judge in that contest. Follow every lead and opportunity you get in your writing career. It is painless to follow a lead. It is the final contractual decision that should be made carefully.
Feel free to ask questions related to publishing and the writing life that we can answer here. Simply send an email with your question to email@example.com.
If God opens a door, walk through it. It may not be the door to publication. It might be the door to additional insight into the project. It might be the door to humble acceptance. It might be the door to other connections. It might be the door to praying, “Your will be done, Lord God.”
As a managing editor at a small publisher, I have no problem with an author wanting to shoot for the stars. Everyone should give their book its best shot. But not every book is ready for that level – nor every author – and that’s where small publishers who are committed to teaching and mentoring come in. At Smitten, I sincerely hope to grow our authors into the larger houses. I can say without a doubt that a couple of them are headed that way already. Take your best shot with your book, but if you can’t place it in a larger house, don’t discount the value of a smaller publisher as a place to learn and grow in your craft so that you can move on to bigger things.
Thank you for your comment.
As I wrote above, “Smaller publishers do a wonderful service to authors in getting a book to the market.”
Different authors have different expectations. And different agents have different expectations.
Thank you for answering this question in your blog. Very helpful.
Sorry colleagues, but I don’t understand this question at all. If a publishing professional wants to see my stuff, I would 100% send it. What’s the downside? You’re certainly not worried someone is going to steal your work. And you never want to hold an idea or manuscript too closely. There should be more ideas in the stream. Our words are meant to be read, right?
Agreed. Opportunity breeds opportunities. It doesn’t mean we “settle for.” It means we weigh all options. Sometimes, a smaller window can lead to big doors.
Today’s protocol question is a good one since it reflects a common conundrum for those trying to break into the market.
Some small publishers do not pay advances. Thus, depending on the individual author’s situation, it may not be the right fit for that writer.
I’m curious, Steve. What would a major publisher consider to be sales figures that are too low with a small publisher? Is it 50/month, 200/month, 1000/month? How do they weight digital versus print sales? Over what timeframe do they look at the sales history? Launch? First 6 months? First year? Long-tail sales and how long the tail is? What gets the greatest weight in their analysis?
No large publisher asks for monthly sales rates.
They will ask, “What are the lifetime sales of this book?”
Then they might ask, “How many were ebooks?”
And then ask, “At what price?” (How many were free? – Yes, I’ve seen authors include their giveaways as “sold” numbers.)
Therefore if you’ve sold 10,000 copies at 99 cents in ebook, that isn’t as exciting to a major publisher as selling 10,000 copies at $9.99 in ebook.
The “numbers” are no longer a simple “number.” They have to be explained.
However, if you’ve sold one million copies. You would get anyone’s attention.
Inside a major publisher, when evaluating their own success/failure they look at the first 12 months of sales. They also review the “rate of sales” in the most recent quarter. Sheer numbers, however, is not the only measure of success.
They must also look at overall profitability which factors in, production, printing, editorial, marketing, PR, advances, etc as costs.
In my Bethany House days I remember a book that lost $35,000 in its first year. It sold about 4,000 copies. We had paid a $20,000 advance and spent considerable money in marketing. But the book did not perform as expected.
We had a second book in the contract and decided to cancel it. It was cheaper to write off the remaining advance than to publish another book and lose more money.
Oh…that’s not intimidating at all, is it? :/ Platform and personal relationships really do make all the difference here, don’t they?
Great questions, Carol! I would be interested in those answers as well.
I appreciate all the discussions and insight into the publishing industry. It hear it can be overwhelming trying to make the right decisions and maintain a rapport with publishers. However, I will trust the wisdom of my agent to help with publishing recommendations and contracts.
I think everyone understands that most authors are trying to get to the top with their manuscript, so I feel like honesty is always going to be the best foot forward here. Personally, I’ll appreciate anyone willing to take a chance on my work, so I’d happily send my manuscript. The reality is that the author is going to have to put in the work on the marketing side in either case.
Thank you for the insight, Steve. Your preference for Option A makes me wonder: What if the editor puts a fair amount of time and effort into making comments on your submitted manuscript? It doesn’t seem fair to let them do that if you knew you were most likely going to pursue other options. Would it be appropriate to submit the full as they requested, but explain that you’re still pursuing other options?
Option A allows one to honor that editor’s work. Yes, simply be honest and tell the editor you are also exploring other options.
Rebekah Love Dorris
This is so helpful! Thank you!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Steve, thanks so much for your valuable insight. As a newcomer, I really appreciate looking at things from your point of view.
Hope to see you at ACFW!
I prefer the agent/editor to navigate the ocean depths of the publishing world. The ‘good guys’ know the ropes, I do not. I will always be learning the craft and the world of the (overworked) agents/editors/publishers. It’s sobering to see those numbers but it is reality. ‘Pfft’ though it may be.
Sticking with one agent at a time (for me) seems respectful, and rejections are a learning experience. The timing may not be right for the publishing world. The manuscript may need tweaking, rethinking and another rewrite/read-through, et. al.
Also, very much appreciate your input here. Not many agencies offer newbies advice and resources.