Chip MacGregor

March 26, 2013

Does a proposal marked "requested materials" get reviewed faster?


I’ve been using the past couple week to try and blow through a bunch of publishing questions people have asked, offering shorter-than-usual answers to try and get people the information they need. For example, one writer asked this: “I’ve heard that requested materials get put toward the top of the slush pile in most cases, but does this still mean a 3 month response time from most agents?”

If you ask ten agents “what’s the average response time to a submission,” you’ll probably get ten different responses. Just remember what your mom always told you: patience is a virtue. My guess is that, for most of the agents out there, the response time varies based on how busy we are at the time. Some months (like December and July, for example) are slow months for publishing, so all of us get to catch up on our queries and proposals. But yes, most of us are sure to look at requested materials ahead of the slush pile. I try to respond to every query within a month. I try to respond to every requested proposal faster – as soon as I can get to it. In most cases, that’s about two weeks, sometimes three. But no, I’m not perfect, and sometimes things take longer.

Another writer sent this question my way: “I have a question for all you hardworking agents out there. [Note: Though the author of this question has aimed it at “hardworking” agents, I decided to answer it anyway.] When you get a submission from an unpublished author who has requests from several publishers, do you prefer if the author wait to see if you want to offer representation before she or he sends those submissions into the requesting editors? Or does it not matter?”

No question about this one—I much prefer the author wait. The thing is, I’ve been working in this business a long time. I’m fairly confident I can take your proposal and improve it. I know I can take it and shape it for a particular house. And since you only get one chance to make a first impression, you’re going to want to make your proposal as strong as possible before sending it to a publisher.

Besides, even though an editor has said something to you at a conference about “sure, send it to me,” a proposal coming from a writer’s conference may not actually jump to the top of the editor’s in-box. There are plenty of editors who get weary of saying “no” at conferences, and siply say “send it” to make authors go away. However, a proposal coming from an experienced, trusted agent (someone the editor has done business with in the past) is probably going to be reviewed quickly. A good agent ought to add value to your proposal. So I’d prefer an author not short-circuit the process by sending something that may be incomplete or not as strong as it could be.

And one person wrote to say, “A couple of years ago, I published a historical romance through a POD company. In order to make it a ‘different’ book and republish elsewhere, how much would I have to change the actual story? I know I’d have to change the title, and I will try to have the POD publisher release their rights, but if they don’t…”

First, pull out your contract and see what it says. You may have the right to pull it out of POD circulation. That would solve your problem.

Second, if you have one of those publishing contracts that was apparently written by lawyers from Mars, have your agent or a lawyer look it over. You may be able to negotiate your way out of it.

Third, if you’re hoping to re-sell your book to a regular, royalty-paying publisher, you will have to get out of the POD contract before you pitch it. One publisher isn’t going to offer you a contract if your book is still for sale via another publisher. Changing the title and a percentage of the content is not enough, unfortunately. Once a project is in print, it will usually need to go out of print before it can be republished.

Fourth, if your book is under contract, the terms of that deal are binding until that contract is canceled or superseded. To cancel a contract usually takes both parties to agree. The good news is that many of the older POD companies would readily agree to cancel their agreement once an author received a royalty-paying deal from an established publisher. The bad news is that things have changed, and many publishers are no longer willing to part with assets unless there is a payment made to them. (Lesson to all writers? Be very careful before signing a contract. That’s a legally binding document that will govern all rights to your work for the life of it.)

Would love to hear your stories (both good and bad) about your submissions or POD contracts you’ve faced.

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  • I appreciate the clarity about not submitting before the time is “ripe” for the best impression and representation. I’ve read comments on other blogs about editors not understanding why a writer wouldn’t send a requested proposal after a conference–like “how idiotic to miss the opportunity?”

    At my last conference, I had three editors ask me to send a proposal. I believe the first fell into the “go away now, here’s your bone” category. The second fell into–“there’s potential here, you presented well, send it”–and I did, but waited too long and wasn’t really as ready as I should have been–got rejected. And the third, was the most genuinely interested, but stated she couldn’t look at it without an agent.

    Funny thing was, I had no agent appointments, and she said that on the last day of the conference.

    What I’ve learned? Be patient. Be wise. Be more ready. Keep writing. Keep getting better. Don’t waste a moment for the best impression–and I appreciate your clarity.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    Chip, I’m glad you mentioned “December and July” 😉 Thanks hehehe

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