Monday, April 25, 2011

Timing a Manuscript Submission

Much has been said about submitting a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher, but I've seen less written about the timing of a submission.  Obviously the best time to submit is when your manuscript is fully edited and polished to the best of your ability.  That is not what I'm talking about here.  I'm referring to timing a particular genre to a point in time when its chances of being picked up are the highest.

We've seen the incredible boom of zombies and vampires, especially young adult vampires, recently.  The market is teeming with those books now.  Even a few years ago there were far less of this type of book than now.  Agents actively look for certain hot topics because that is what sells at the moment.  It's their job to time a publication to catch the wave of public popularity.  These types of books may or may not interest you, but they're what is selling at the moment.

But when there is a lag time of at least a year, and usually much longer between the submission of a novel and publication, how does one gauge what's going to sell when submitting a manuscript?  When the lag between finding the perfect idea, writing the first draft, editing, editing, editing, submitting it, and finally getting published is far longer than that, it's almost impossible to predict.  An author would have to be precognitive almost a decade into the future to get it absolutely correct.

One of the ways to deal with this is to have a few different titles ready to go.  If you have for example, a horror story, a paranormal love story and a science fiction romp all ready to go, you'll have your bases covered better than if you have only a single novel.  After studying the market and needs of agents, you'd soon realize your horror novel just might have to be shelved while you actively market your paranormal work because that is what is currently selling.  And when, in a few years, horror explodes back into the spotlight, you'll be ready for that too.

The best way to time a manuscript publication however, is to do your research.  Don't settle for the first or second agent that lines up with your genre and call it good.  Study what agents are currently accepting.  Find out what they've been selling.  Find out what genres their client authors are writing and what titles are forthcoming.  Look as far into the future of the industry as you can.  This helps you catch market trends early on and allows you to get in on them while they're booming.

Submitting a novel is tricky business.  There is so much to be put into it in order to find an agent and actually get your book into print.  Obviously delivering a finely tuned query that introduces a polished and well crafted novel helps, but it's important to study all the different factors that influence what works and what doesn't.  I feel it takes almost as much time and effort crafting a query, synopsis and studying the market for a submission as it does to write the first draft.  Authors tend to concentrate more on the writing and less on the marketing aspects of being an author, and thus tend to present a submission which is less appealing than it could be.

Once the novel is written, it's time for the hard part of being an author.  It's time to really sit down and do your research.  You've done the research needed to set a believable and colorful plot.  You've studied how to craft your words to say what you're trying to express.  Now you have to put in an equal amount of work studying how to market your novel and get it onto bookshelves and e-readers around the world.  It's not an easy task, but knowing what is selling and what gives your novel the best shot at success is a great first step.


  1. Once again, an informative and useful post.
    However, I think I've given up on agents and will stick to dealing directly with publishers!!!!!

  2. Thanks! I'd guess the same principles can be applied to submissions to publishers too, as it's all about the market and what's selling right now. After all, agents accept what publishers think is hot, and that is part of what drives the market.