Things You Should Know from the Editors Panel
Panelists: Jillian Bell (Ellora's Cave), Shannon Criss (Harlequin), Toni Plummer (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's), Bob Podrasky (AudioGo), and Michelle Richter (St. Martin's)
1) They really prefer you have an agent. The exception here was Ellora's Cave since they are an e-pub that basically offers the same contract to everyone. Shannon Criss from Harlequin talked a lot about the different ways you can submit to the publisher, agent or not, but I definitely got the feeling that the majority prefers to deal with agent for business matters rather than the authors themselves. It helps keep the relationships separate because when you're dealing with an editor in an editorial capacity, it's more of a symbiotic relationship. However, in a business capacity, that editor's now going to be looking to get the best deal possible, which may not be the best deal for the author. I'm not suggesting they're going to be unethical or try to screw you; they're simply looking out for their own interests. An agent can be all aggressive on your behalf and your editor can play hardball with them, but keeping you out of it means your relationship with your editor remains healthy.
2) Unsolicited means do not send anything that hasn't been requested. At all. Someone asked this question at the end of the panel and I was a little surprised about that, so I thought I'd cover it here. If you see in Writer's Market or on someone's website 'closed to unsolicited submissions,' that really means 'If you send me a query/manuscript, I'm going to have an intern look at it to make sure that it's not something actually important and then reject it/delete it.' Even if they are open to submissions, unsolicited materials rank at the very bottom of the 'look at' list. One of the St. Martin's editors (I can't remember if it was Toni Plummer or Michelle Richter) basically described the hierarchy like Authors Already Under Contract -> Agent Submissions -> Conference Submissions (solicited) -> Other Solicited Submissions (contests, twitter, etc.) -> Unsolicited. This is yet another reason to attend as many pitch sessions as you can, online or in person, and more confirmation about why it's important to get an agent.
3) Don't call us, we'll call you. I know it's hard being patient when you're waiting for an editor/agent to make a decision, but the entire panel cautioned against aggressively following up on a submission. Shannon related an anecdote about a manuscript she'd been excited to read until the author started calling her every day to see if she'd read it yet. Now, not only does she have no desire to work with the author, she no longer wants to read the manuscript. My advice would be to find out what their time frame is and give them a gentle nudge two weeks past that. For example, Shannon says Harlequin's policy is to respond within 90 days. So if you submitted to Harlequin on April 1st, I would politely nudge on July 15th. Above all, be professional, folks.
4) A good manuscript will always trump the economy. Times are tough all around, but according to the editor panel, it hasn't stopped them from buying books by debut authors. Sure, they might do smaller print-runs or only buy the first two books of a series, but if they love your book, they'll still go for it. A wonderfully entertaining, beautifully crafted, story will always find its way if you are persistent enough.
5) Do your research. All of the editors complained about receiving submissions that don't fit their categories. Jillian Bell made a point of saying, no, Ellora's Cave doesn't publish picture books. Even a rudimentary glance at Ellora's website reveals its 18-and-over content. Shannon also mentioned that her last name is frequently misspelled on submissions (I feel I should point out that both Shannon's and Bob Podrasky's names were misspelled on the conference website). It wasn't specifically mentioned during the panel, but if you are un-agented, you should definitely do research on the companies themselves, especially the smaller e-pubs. A company may be "actively acquiring" dozens of manuscripts, but how are they getting all of those manuscripts edited? Who's doing the marketing? Which online stores are going to offer the book for sale? Do your research.
I also want to mention that Bob gave a pitch for Man in the Empty Suit that basically had the entire room salivating for the book. It sounded so good, I was surprised at the low GoodReads ranking. This is the power of a pitch that highlights the unique, people. I'm off to go do those edits, but, hopefully Part III (the Agents Panel) will be up next Sunday.