With our Ask WNDB column, we get industry insiders to answer your burning questions. This month we discuss the ins and outs of book publicity with Sabrina Pyun, assistant editor at Scribner.
What do you wish authors on submission knew about the process, from your perspective?
I’m sure most authors know this, but I’d love to emphasize that editors are fielding tons of submissions near-constantly, so if your submission process is taking a while, I’d request empathy and understanding! Also, this industry relies heavily on personal taste and the imprint’s track record, so if your book isn’t for one editor, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t succeed. I’d also note that editors need to generate excitement among their coworkers, and especially the publisher, to get clearance to pursue a project, so it can be an uphill battle.
For authors submitting without an agent, I’d strongly recommend researching best practices for submitting/pitching. I often see emails from authors on their own copy-pasting chapters into the body of an email, which is unwieldy and difficult to read. Make sure everything is in order!
What’s your best tip for authors working toward publication?
Make sure you are reading! Especially make sure you are reading the books in the sphere of what you are writing that have been published in the past two to three years. It helps to know what is current and why it is working. Don’t overthink your writing, but reading and understanding the market will help inform your writing naturally. This will also help your agent pitch your book to editors and will help editors work with the publisher to make an appropriate offer to buy the book faster.
What happens when a book goes on submission, can you walk us through the process?
This is going to be a journey! I’ll preface this by saying this is my understanding/experience with the submission process, assuming that a literary agent is involved.
First, once the agent and author decide the manuscript (or proposal) is ready to go out on submission, the agent will reach out to editors in their network/on their radar that they feel would be interested. The editors then receive the submission letter and manuscript and will read and evaluate. If the editor is interested in the work, they will typically bring it up in their editorial meeting to discuss with their colleagues and get secondary reads. Alternatively, the editor might even ask coworkers to read before the meeting to drum up early support.
If the editor receives enthusiasm from their colleagues, they’ll likely set up a call with the author and may invite other coworkers to join (i.e. marketing/publicity colleagues). Some editors will take a call to get more information and other editors won’t set a call unless they think they will make an offer. It all depends! If the editor plans to make an offer/pursue the book, they’ll get together a profit-and-loss sheet based on comparative titles and see what advance level they can go in at.
At any point in this process, the agent may set a “closing date” which is the deadline for all editors to submit their offers by. There are several different types of auctions with different rules and each agent will decide on their most preferred method. Sometimes, if an editor is completely in love with the project and gets support early, they might try a “preempt,” which is an early offer to try and take the book off the market before it gets to an auction. Either way, once the agent receives the offer, they will take it to the author, discuss the options and someone wins the book!
Once the deal is made, the agent will inform the other editors involved (if any) that a book deal has been made. The editor will then draft contract proposal materials to create the legal agreement, discuss plans for editing with the author, and set a date for the complete manuscript to be delivered. That is the very condensed version of the submission and acquisition process!
What does your day-to-day look like?
My day-to-day varies a lot depending on what projects I’m working on and what stage we are at in the publication process. Right now, Simon and Schuster is still on a voluntary hybrid office plan, so I go to the office twice a week usually. I come in on the days we have our weekly editorial meeting and one other day (maybe for an author event or book mailing). I officially start my day around 9 am and check email. I might be sending revisions from authors to the production team, marking appointments on my boss’s schedule, drafting tipsheets (informational packets summarizing the important details of a book), updating the online copy and publicity quotes for a book, drafting descriptive copy for a book jacket, checking on if we have finished books in the warehouse (in which case, I will reach out to the authors and agents to see how many finished books they want and where they’d like them sent), and so on. I might also be preparing a reader’s report for an editor on a submission they asked me to look at, or I may be requesting reads from coworkers to evaluate a project I’m interested in pursuing.
Everything is sort of all happening all at once all the time, but schedule-wise, we typically prepare for the titles publishing next year about a year and a half ahead of that season. So, as of March 2023, we would be preparing for the Summer 2024 season. We have three seasons: Fall, Spring, and Summer. It can be chaotic, but we have the publishing and managing editorial departments to thank for wrangling us, time-wise! They will let us know the key meetings coming up (where we present our list to our sales force), or when what is due to production to get the book made (when we send in the jacket copy, when each pass of the manuscript is due for revisions, and so on). We’re a symbiotic entity!
When do you read submissions? (People think your day job is reading!)
As best I can, I try to read (or listen to) submissions during the work day in between other tasks, whether that’s for other editors or for myself. (Pro tip: the Word app on your iPhone has a read aloud feature which I absolutely take advantage of). I will try and get a sense of what is the most exciting or urgent and prioritize those manuscripts. Unfortunately, this industry relies on the fact that we read enthusiastically during our personal time. That being said, this is technically a strong method for evaluating submissions: is this something you would not only read in your off-hours, but would you also spend money to do so? That is what we’re asking consumers to do: pay for the pleasure of reading THIS book.
Do you have time to read for fun?
The running joke is that no one in publishing has time to read for fun, which goes twofold for those in editorial. That being said, I do actually have time to read for fun. I have a long list of books that I’ve started and want to finish or books to be read that I’ve been meaning to. I adore the Libby app. It’s my favorite thing about having a New York Public Library card. Most often I listen to audiobooks while doing something else (commuting, baking, working out). I get motion sickness in moving vehicles, so I can’t read in transit; I have no choice but to listen. I also find that audiobooks help me get into the book faster, and once I start thinking faster than the speaker, I pick up the actual book (or start the ebook). Listening to audiobooks can definitely backfire on you, though. I have straight-up started crying in public and had to stop.
What is your best piece of advice for those looking to work in editorial?
Do as many informational interviews as you can! Many people in editorial, especially assistants, are very happy to chat with you and inform you about the department and about the industry. There is so much you cannot learn without already being in the industry. If you can, do an internship, but you don’t have to have done an internship to get in (I had no editorial or publishing internships prior to joining Simon & Schuster). You want to build your network and keep in touch with people who can help you and bring up your name when HR is looking for new employees to fill entry-level roles.
A secondary piece of advice: know what is being published currently! You can absolutely cite Jane Austen or Agatha Christie or Edgar Allan Poe as some of your favorite writers, but you should be aware of who and what is trending now and why, even if you don’t read everything or anything on the New York Times bestseller list.
After I graduated college and began hustling to get into the publishing industry, I told myself I would never forget how hard job hunting was psychologically and emotionally. That goes beyond just this industry, but for anyone trying to get into publishing as an author or editor or anything really, know this: you can be doing a good job and doing everything right and it will still feel brutal. Rejection is inherently upsetting no matter how much you can rationally understand that it’s not a reflection of your self-worth. However, if you persist, you will find your moment, and it will be amazing what you discover and get to work on once you come out on the other side.
Shelf Life with Sabrina:
What’s your favorite trope?
Protagonist becomes emotionally attached to non-human entity.
What book do you most often gift to others?
I tailor the book to the person, but I want everyone to read Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin.
You’re stuck on the subway. What book do you have in your bag?
I don’t read on the train since I get motion sickness, but most recently I took home a galley copy of Dear Chrysanthemums by Fiona Sze-Lorrain since it’s the first book I’ve edited (coming out May 2023)!
What author has you captivated right now?
R. F. Kuang! I’m dying to read YELLOWFACE.
You’re picking the book club title this month. What book are you picking?
The Hopkins Manuscript by R. C. Sherriff (Scribner 2023)!
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Sabrina Pyun is an assistant editor at Scribner. She works with Nan Graham and Kara Watson. She is the editor of Dear Chrysanthemums (May 2023) and handles The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin and C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) on the Scribner backlist. She is looking to acquire literary and upmarket fiction (particularly fiction with speculative elements), memoir, narrative and big-idea nonfiction (especially those including psychological research), and baking cookbooks. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University where she majored in Writing Seminars.