When Agents Pitch to Editors

BaseballJesse wrote:
I was wondering what happens when YOU (or other agents) pitch projects to editors. Do the editors usually respond right away? Do they take weeks or months to respond to your pitch, or is it usually days? And once you send them a manuscript, how long does it normally take them to let you know they want to take it on? Do they let you know they like a project before they take it to acquisitions, or do they wait until they’re able to make an offer? Sorry for the long-winded question; this is just a subject I’ve always found fascinating.

Well Jesse, I’m afraid my answer isn’t going to be all that fascinating. There are so many different answers to your questions that it boils down to: there is no answer.

How the process works depends on a bunch of variables, such as:

The relationship: How well the agent and editor know each other (if at all).

The project: Is it a hot project, or a normal project? Does the agent anticipate strong publisher interest and competitive bidding?

The author: Is it a well-known author or celebrity? A mid-list author? A brand-new author? Possibly a brand-new author who’s already received a ton of buzz for some reason?

The timing: Is it around the holidays, or late summer when things take longer? Or a normal non-holiday time of year?

The editor’s personal style: Some people are frequent communicators, some aren’t. Some are quick responders, some aren’t. Everyone has their own personality. Most agents know the styles of the editors they frequently work with.

So, you can probably see that it might take an editor less than a day to respond… or it might take weeks or months or they might never respond, depending on all these variables.

When they’re interested in a manuscript, it might take a few days to a few weeks to get an actual offer (or a pass).

Usually they let us know they’re taking it to committee, but occasionally they don’t.

There are no general answers here. Every day in the life of an agent is full of the excitement of the unknown.

So, writers… any other “behind the scenes” questions? Anything you’re curious about?



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  3. Do agents simultaneously submit to editors, or are they honor bound to give it to one editor at a time?

    • jesse says:

      From what I’ve heard, Shawn, most agents will submit to five or six editors at a time. If they all pass, the agent will discuss all the comments and suggestions with the writer, and the writer will then revise before it’s sent out on another round. Some editors will submit to up to 15-20 editors, some will send it to more, some will send it to less. Of course, I’m not an expert on the topic, but that’s what I’ve read on several blogs.

  4. jesse says:

    I just wanted to thank everyone for participating in this post. I learned almost as much in the comments section as I did from the blog post!

  5. M says:

    Thanks for answering all of these questions!

    I have two: first, you talked about what happens after the agent has submitted their client’s work, but what does an agent do before that, between the writer sending in the draft that’s ready for submission and the agent sending it to an editor?

    Two, what are the steps that a manuscript takes while it’s on submission with a publisher? I’d imagine this varies from imprint to imprint, but is there a general path it takes as it makes its way up the chain?

  6. Casey says:

    This also fascinates me, so thanks for taking the time to answer the question. I can see the potential for so many variables!

    I have a question (and maybe you’ve already answered it elsewhere) What are YOU looking for in a proposal/pitch/MS that hits your desk? Of course, you’re going for writing that resonates with you, but what *really* “floats your reader boat”?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I rarely answer that question, Casey, because I like so many kinds of books. And I see market potential for so many kinds of books.

      I guess if you wanted an answer, I’d say what floats my boat is when I see something that feels really fresh and unique. It might be the idea; it might be a fresh execution or writing style. It just makes me sit up and say, “Wow.”

  7. Erin says:

    Interesting! I have wondered the same thing. Now my question is this: How do you gauge when the best time is to send projects to an editor? Do you send them out when they’re ready? Or do you wait until you think their piles are clear/don’t have any major conferences/after the holidays?

  8. I am thinking that an agent seeking to get a manuscript published is similar to the query letter writer seeking an agent.
    My question is what is the success rate of agents getting projects through the publishing process for the clients they take on?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      While each agent may not sell every manuscript they shop, agents have a pretty high success rate when you look at it in terms of each client (rather than each manuscript).

      In other words, I might not sell a client’s first manuscript, but I’ll most likely sell the second or third one.

  9. Janet says:

    I’m eagerly awaiting the answers to the excellent questions already asked.

  10. Megan B. says:

    My question is about promotion once the book is published. Sometimes I see special displays or signs in book stores for a book (usually a series). Is this something the book store is doing, or something the publisher is doing? (I’m talking about those cardboard stand-up units).

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Those are in-store promotions that the publisher pays big money for.

      See also the link I gave to PJ Casselman above.

  11. Sue says:

    A question, but not about behind the scenes. How do you feel about book resellers such as Half-Price Books?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Reselling used books is common and has been for decades, so I don’t think there’s any point in getting worked up about it.

      It doesn’t serve the author, agent or publisher directly, but it serves readers, and serves the greater good of making books more accessible. So indirectly, this practice helps publishing because it’s one of the many things that keeps people reading.

      • Peter DeHaan says:

        If someone buys a used book, he or she could become a fan of that author and then buy future books through “normal” channels, which would directly benefit the author (and agent and publisher).

  12. I guess I have two questions.

    I’m committed to finding a traditional publisher for my novel. Not only has that always been the dream, but I also like that a gatekeeper has to approve the quality of my work before it sees the world, and I know I don’t currently have the knowledge I would need for formatting and cover design of a self-pubbed work.

    That said, have you ever advised a client to self-publish a work that you think is fantastic but hasn’t been able to find a home at a publisher? Under what circumstances might you make that recommendation?

    The second question would be about a novel that’s co-written. How does an agent approach this situation differently than one with a single author? Does this make it more difficult for those writers to find an agent to represent them because it means the agent needs to take on two new clients rather than one? And how is it handled if the writers want to have separate careers in the future?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Marcy, your first question will be addressed on the blog next week.

      Regarding co-authored books, we try as much as possible to treat the co-authors as a single entity. The authors should appoint one person to be the point of contact with agent and publisher — they shouldn’t all be sending emails.

      I can’t answer generically about future books. The agent will determine how her agreement with each of the co-authors looks. She may rep one or more of them for a single book only, or she may take them on as regular clients. Everything is on a case by case basis, so it’s impossible to accurately answer hypotheticals like this.

      • Thanks 🙂 I realize it’s difficult to answer such a broad question, and I appreciate the information you were able to give. I look forward to finding out the answer to my other question next week.

  13. Ann Bracken says:

    Thanks for posting this, I was also curious.

    My question: If an agent has asked for a manuscript and said they’d call within a certain time, and that time has passed, should I contact her or decide she’s not interested and query some more?

  14. carol brill says:

    P.S. and what does “in a preempt” mean? thanks

  15. carol brill says:

    Thanks Rachelee, sounds like the query process all over just at a different level.
    My question is, how does a book get to “auction”
    thanks for fiedling our questions carol

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      A book gets to auction if several publishers want to make offers.

      A preempt is when one publisher makes an offer, and makes it big enough to convince the author & agent to accept it, without entertaining any other offers.

  16. kiff says:

    should a first time writer, bite the bullet and self publish their first book, in an attempt to gather ‘platform’?

    2. Lets say I am sending an agent my work, and I live outside of the US and I have a platform in my home country but none in the US where I am intending to have my book sold, does that work for or against me? Or is the priority to have a strong platform regardless to location?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I can’t answer that for you. There are too many variables, so you’ll need to decide this for yourself.

  17. My question concerns publicity. Once and author’s book jumps all the hurdles and hits the presses, what does a publishing company do to promote the new book? This would also include their requirements of the author (e.g. signings, etc.). This is of particular interest as it applies to new writers.
    Thanks for asking!

  18. Kate Workman says:

    What is the best way to ‘hook’ an agent in to wanting to read a manuscript? I have Young Adult books I’d love to get out there, and I know rejection (and a lot of rejection) is part of the process, but though I’ve gotten some good feedback, all I get is ‘Sorry, this isn’t the right project for us.’

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Kate, there’s no shortcut and no way to give a short answer here. Everything you’ve ever read about creating a compelling story, crafting a good pitch, and writing a strong query letter applies.

    • Charity Hawkins says:


      I have found Janet Reid’s Query Shark website extremely helpful. Read all 200 queries in the archives this weekend. I cringed when I looked back at my first query letter after that.

  19. If Agents are rejecting an author for reasons other than the writing (say, website content or some of those other things you’ve noted in past cautionary posts) will they likely note that? Or is a form rejection all the way?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Aimee, obviously I can’t generalize in a way that will apply to every situation; but it’s probably a form rejection.

  20. Komal says:

    Okay, I have a question. If you are an author with an agent, can you still self-publish your book if a publisher doesn’t buy it? Or is there usually something in a contract between an agent and an author that doesn’t allow it?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Komal, you’d discuss it with your agent first, of course, and hopefully the two of you would decide together on the best course of action.

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