One of the most exciting parts of being an editor is receiving a brilliant pitch from an agent. For the most part, agents submit manuscripts via email. These emails vary widely from agent to agent – each one has their own style. But the intention of the email is always the same: to set up the manuscript in the best and most appealing way to the editor. This usually entails a brief, yet enticing synopsis (think cover copy on a book jacket rather than a blow-by-blow plot summary) as well as where they see the submission sitting in the market and what well-known or successful books they would compare it to. The agent also usually gives a bit of information about the author, highlighting any accolades such as awards or prizes won, as well as any writing courses completed, to give the editor an idea of the person behind the manuscript.
Email pitches can vary drastically in length and depth, but it’s amazing when you can feel an agent’s genuine love and passion for the manuscript they’re submitting, as this can be contagious and a real inceptive to read the manuscript sooner rather than later!
Depending on the agent, and how excited they are about a specific manuscript, they will call an editor to pitch over the phone. This is a really effective style, as it gives the editor a chance to literally hear the agent’s enthusiasm for what is being submitted. A phone call is then followed up with a brief email, with the submission attached.
Except in very rare occasions where an agent does an ‘exclusive’ submission to one particular editor, agents will submit a manuscript to a significant number of editors at different publishing houses simultaneously. Agents and editors network constantly, so the agent will have a good sense of which editors at which publishing houses might be right for each submission. In this way, crime novels will go to the crime editors, literary fiction to literary editors, science fiction to SF editors, and so on.
Editors often receive many submissions in a single week, so it can take a while to read and get back to agents with their thoughts. Because of the sheer amount of submissions received, an editor will have to turn them down far more often than not. An editor will reject an agent’s submission for countless reasons, ranging from not engaging with the writing to not having space on the list at the moment. But if an editor does fall in love with a submission, it’s still a long path to acquiring the book…
Editors always need to keep in mind where a book will sit in the market and who will buy it – because much like an agent pitches a manuscript to an editor, an editor must pitch it to the sales and marketing teams at their publishing house. The editor’s passion for the book does go very far, as the editor will be the main champion of the book from acquiring it to publishing it, a process that lasts around 18 months. But the sales and marketing team need to feel confident that they can position the book strongly and sell it well – as for better or worse, publishing is a business. However, it is a business made up of people who love books – and when all the stars align and the right agent has the right manuscript that is submitted to the right editor, it can be the best business in the world.