Multiple submissions

An author has just asked me:

I know from your most helpful website that you suggest authors do NOT make multiple submissions.  [A certain commissioning editor] at [a well-known press] has asked to see my book proposal, and I just need to confirm to her that you would not be amenable to this.

What can I say? Well, this in part is how I replied:

Of course, publishers aren’t wild about multiple submissions because of the threat to the time and energy they invest in a project. However, until an actual ms is submitted for peer review, the financial investment is not that big; thereafter, when we start paying money for peer reviews, we resent seeing this wasted.

As such, I’m not wild about [the rival editor] getting her hands on your proposal but there’s nothing I can really complain about, especially since you are so up front about this issue. There are risks in taking this course of action, of course. For instance, I might well put your project on hold until its status is clarified. On the other hand, there are potential benefits.

I then invited the author to read this blog post. Here are my fuller thoughts.

Let’s face it, all too often authors are left dangling, waiting on a publisher to respond to a book proposal. It is thus tempting to submit your proposal to several publishers at once in the hope that one (at least) is interested enough to want to go further and review the ms. Unfortunately, there are certain pitfalls here, especially if not all of the publishers contacted are of equal interest to you:

  • Should you be honest and tell all these publishers that you have submitted multiple proposals? Their reaction may be to treat your approach as a form of spam and ignore it.
  • What will you do if the least-interesting publisher likes your proposal and quickly asks for a full manuscript to assess? In this situation, doors will slam whichever way you jump.
  • If in fact two or more publishers respond and (very properly) you choose one of them, there is a danger that the chosen publisher may not be gratified but rather feels ‘just another publisher’ and loses enthusiasm for your project.

Whatever you do, do not submit multiple manuscripts for peer review. Remember that there are only so many good external reviewers in a given field and that the same reviewers may well be approached by different publishers. The danger is, then, that you’ll get caught out and, if not, you’ll be faced with informing one publisher that you are withdrawing your manuscript. This will get all publishers affected seriously annoyed. The net result could see you being blacklisted.

As such, while I appreciate the attractions of multiple submissions, I suggest you think things through very carefully here. My own advice would be to do the following:

  • Make a short list of your preferred publishers.
  • Rank these publishers in order of preference.
  • Contact the first publisher with a short query, asking if they would be interested to receive a book proposal on XYZ.
  • If yes, send them the proposal and gently press for a fairly quick response (say, chasing if you haven’t had an acknowledgement within a week and a response within a month).
  • If not, move on to the next preferred publisher.

Here, identifying and ranking your preferred publishers is crucial. More about that in another post soon – or, to read it all in detail, you could wander down to your local bookstore or visit Amazon and buy our book.

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