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April 16th, 2005, 04:52 PM
In his book "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy," Orson Scott Card discuss sending out multiple queries as opposed to a manuscript submission which must be exclusive. The query seemingly contains everything a submissions does (sample chapters, cover letter, and synopsis) but includes the question "would you like me to send the complete manuscript?" That question distinguishes the package as a query so that authors may send it out to more than one editor at a time.

My question is: does this distinction still keep the author in good stead if the publisher does not specifiy whether they accept queries? Some decline queries or seem to hold to a different understanding of them--as if they are simply a letter without any sample chapters. In these cases, would they mistake a query for an actual submission? Is a submission a submission only if the publisher has requested the full manuscript?

I want to follow protocol, but hearing about response times that can be drawn out to over two years, or some that never come at all, submitting a manuscript to one publisher at a time could eat up a decade.

April 16th, 2005, 07:36 PM
The easiest thing to do is go on the publisher's website or contact them and ask what exactly they accept or define as a query/submission. I have OSC's book too, useful isn't it :D , and I thought he was trying to differentiate between a submission as being the whole manuscript and a query being a few sample chapters plus a cover sheet etc and the infamous 'would you like more?' :D I'm sure people more in the know than me can clear this up :)

April 18th, 2005, 12:02 AM
Though OSC has some great advice, the best thing to do is to figure out what a given publisher/agent is looking for. The quickest way to rejection is to send sample chapters to an agent who wants a query letter (only) first or to send sample chapters to a publisher that wants a synopsis first. It requires extensive research as every one of them is different.

You could send out query letter and a synopsis and sample chapters, but you really should do due dilligence first. If an agent or publisher isn't getting the submission his/her way, you're doomed to rejection without a word getting read. Publishers like to think you thought of them when you submitted. Not that you blanketed the market with your work.

I'm sure KatG will be here with loads of advice. :)


April 18th, 2005, 12:29 PM
Who me? At this point, I'm as confused as anyone else. Was Card talking about submissions to literary agents or to book publishers? It works a little differently for both, and his book on the subject may be a bit dated by now.

Traditionally, a query is just a letter, sometimes with a 1-2 page plot synopsis attached, asking if the agent or publisher would like to look at the manuscript. The recipient of the query would then reply with a rejection or a request to see the manuscript or more commonly to see sample chapters of the manuscript. (If they like the sample chapters, they ask to see the rest of the ms.)

Publishers who look at unagented submissions, which in sf/f used to be more common than it is now, usually dispense with the query letter stage and you can just send them either sample chapters or the whole ms., depending on their guidelines. The big imprints that take unsolicted, unagented subs do have very long evaluation times. The smaller presses that have sprung up in recent years have much shorter turnaround times. If you send sample chapters, it's a submission just as much as a whole ms.

In the last ten years or so, some agents have also started skipping the query letter stage too, and have prospective authors instead send query packets or query submissions that consist of a cover letter, plot synopsis and sample chapters of the ms. But many other agents stick to the query letter procedure, so as others said, you have to check. Very few agents accept email queries, as they would be overrun by hopeful writers.

Publishers do not want to receive a submission that is with other publishers. It's not in their best interests and you're not an agent with many authors on your list, so they have little incentive to give up the exclusivity on a submission, though a few of them do. Despite this, authors submit to multiple publishers all the time and I've never heard of anybody getting in trouble for it. Certainly, if a publisher has had a submission of sample chapters for several months, and you've heard nothing yet, you don't have to have much guilt over sending the work to another publisher.

When it comes to agents, you can send out as many query letters to as many agents as you like. However, when it comes to sending a manuscript or sample chapters to agents, either as a query packet or because an agent said yes to a query letter, it gets trickier. Again, you have to check what the agent's requirements are, whether they insist on an exclusive submission or not. If they do insist on exclusivity, authors may or may not honor that policy. If you decide to honor it, you need to limit the time period. If an agent has a submission for more than two months, you can keep the submission with the agent, but then send out the ms. to other agents.

Does that help or make things murkier?

April 18th, 2005, 03:20 PM
I slip a proper synopsis in with it. I have the attitude 'if you must reject me, please read this and reject me for the right reasons!'

Teresa Edgerton
April 18th, 2005, 09:25 PM
I suspect it has been quite some time since Card was sending out queries, anyway. So the advice in his book may well be dated, as KatG suggests.

As I understand it, the only time you get in trouble for sending multiple submissions to publishers who don't want them is if and when they actually show an interest in the book and then find out you've sent it elsewhere -- which is, of course, just when you don't want to annoy them.

So yes, it's a good way to get a lot of rejections out of the way at once, but that's not really the point of submitting in the first place, is it?

April 20th, 2005, 11:34 AM
Well yes, you don't want to annoy them, but if they're interested in your book, they're not going to tell you to disappear. Your book is much more important than you are. If a publisher is interested in your book, you can simply withdraw the submissions from elsewhere, though that's probably not something you'd want to try until you have an actual offer from a publisher. Or you can seek out an agent. Agents don't like to come into the middle of it like that, but you might persuade one to do a quick read of the work and if the agent likes it and thinks they can actually do something in negotiations, then they can take over the process for you. Or you can fess up and tell the publisher that you did send the ms. to others, which, if the publisher has had the ms. for more than two or three months, is not that big a crime. That course of action depends on how strict you think a particular publisher is about their submission policy. But the only real problem occurs if more than one publisher likes the work, which is a good problem to have. In that case, trying to get an agent to come in and manage the thing is usually a good idea.

Teresa Edgerton
April 20th, 2005, 11:53 AM
You must know a different batch of editors than I do, KatG.

I've heard editors say that they will reject a book they were inclined to buy if they find out it was a multiple submission against their stated policy. (Could just be what they say in public to discourage the practice, but I see no reason to doubt them.)

April 21st, 2005, 01:46 PM
They have no reason to tell authors that it's okay to go against submission policy, so yes, it could be something they just say. Or not. It's a trickier world now.

About ten years ago, I would have advised playing everything completely straight but setting time limits for how long an agent or publisher could have a submission exclusively by several months. But that was before they came up with query packets, which are more complicated. And before the constant horror stories about how long material was held on to. I know a lot of authors who have cheated and got away with it and got agents or published. I've never heard of an author getting burned by doing it either, though that doesn't mean it hasn't happened.

What authors have to deal with is that submission policies are not designed to be helpful to authors. Exclusivity of submission to either an agent or a publisher is completely unfair and ridiculous to writers, and I say that as somebody who's been an agent and a book editor, and many publishing professionals will tell you the same. It's particularly hopeless in sf/f because the number of publishers who will look at unagented sf/f submissions is steadily decreasing and their staff to read submissions is decreasing, but the number of agents who handle sf/f is small and they are so overwhelmed that they can't read very widely. So I can't in good conscience tell someone not to do it, when there are so few options and when the market is in such a mess in terms of response times. That doesn't mean that it's not potentially dangerous to try it, and I'm not saying that, but it's a valid method that writers do use.

The reality is that you could submit a work to several publishers and if a publisher responded with interest, you could go try and get an agent. And if you got the agent, you can then introduce the agent to the publisher and the publisher will not be happy but will deal with it. And the agent cannot "shop" the terms of any offer that the first publisher might make, but can contact the other publishers to whom the work was submitted and let them know that she's on the case and interest is perculating, and maybe get you a better deal with the first publisher or another publisher. That's not the way I'd want to do it in sf/f. I'd rather get an agent first. But for people who are going the other way, it's a possible course of action and it happens quite a lot.

And any editor who likes a work and thinks it could be a seller for their house and then rejects it solely because the author submitted it to other publishers is an idiot who you really don't want to work with anyway, at least in my opinion. But of course, there aren't that many sf/f publishers, so you may have to put up with the idiots. Or the ones who claim to be idiots by telling you they reject on the basis of their submission policies whether they actually do so or not.