After the “Yes” …. Working With an Agent to Prepare a Work for Submission

Many pre-published authors think that once an author signs with an agent, publication follows immediately (or so close as to be immediately) thereafter.

Today, we’ll look at what really happens after an author signs with an agent but before the work goes on submission to publishers.

“On Submission” is the usual term for a manuscript that an agent has sent to publishers for review (and consideration for possible publication). Some authors shorten this to “on sub” – so if you see that terminology used, it doesn’t mean we’re sitting on sandwiches.

After the author signs the agent’s contract (you should have one, and it should be in writing – check out last week’s publishing legal post for more details), the work of finalizing the manuscript begins.

In some cases, the agent considers the manuscript ready to go on submission immediately. In others, additional edits are required. Many agents (including mine) will provide the author with an annotated copy of the manuscript containing the agent’s notes and comments. The author then reviews the agent’s comments on the manuscript and either integrates the agent’s edits or rejects them. Be aware: some agents require cooperation with edits. This is a question you should ask before you sign the agent’s contract.

Once the agent is satisfied with the condition of the manuscript (or, sometimes, while the author is doing edits) the agent will decide where to submit the project. Some agents discuss the submission choices (meaning, the publishers the agent has chosen) with the author in advance. Other agents don’t. This is another topic to discuss before you make a final choice and sign with an agent.

The decision where to submit a book involves far more than picking names from a list of publishers. Good agents evaluate editors’ preferences, imprint reputation and history, and whether the house and editor are a good potential fit for the author as well as the work. Many authors don’t realize how much difference an experienced agent’s knowledge makes in creating a successful publishing deal. A good agent’s ability to match authors, editors, & imprints properly is a vital and important skill, & a huge benefit to authors.

Once the agent selects a list of publishers and editors for the initial round of submissions, the agent must write a pitch for the work – similar to the query letter the author sent the agent. The agent may or may not consult with the author about the pitch, or show it to the author before submission. Again, this varies by agent and is a matter of personal preference and business style.

After the pitch is written, the agent will send the pitch to the editors on the submission list. At this point, the agent normally contacts the author to say, “We’re on submission!” With these words, the author returns to the nail-biting tension (s)he thought (s)he would never have again.

A hint about being on submission: Submission, like the query process, is the publishing version of Fight Club. Do you remember the first rule of Fight Club? Applies here too.


A simple announcement, like “I’m excited, I’m on submission” isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but keep in mind that not all publishers make the agent’s first-round choices. If a second round is needed, you don’t want to tell the publishers they weren’t the first invited to the dance.

Find a good group of close (and close-mouthed) friends to share the ups and downs with you in a private place. The time for public announcements will come later – when you’re telling the world about the publisher who’s actually publishing your work.

In the meantime, try to relax and forget about the submission. Odds are, it will take the publishers months to respond to the pitch. Visit a friend, eat a cupcake, drink your favorite beverage … and most importantly, write your next book. The best way not to stress about a novel is to focus on the next one.

And while you’re not thinking about it, join me next week, when we’ll pull back the veil on the next step in the process: the publisher’s offer.