Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Differentiating the US and UK book submission process

Last week I wrote about the differences between the US and UK children's book markets. The post generated such interest that I wanted to continue the discussion, and share my experiences about the differences between the US and the UK's book submission process.

Like my previous post, I consider myself an expert only in that I've spent the past five years living in the UK, forming friendships with both American and British writers, and submitting to both markets. Please feel free to share your own experiences and thoughts.

Scholastic, New York, US
(copyright Scouting NY)
In the US, almost all agents require a query letter. This is a highly polished document, introducing yourself to the agent, explaining why you are interested in submitting to that particular person, and sharing an enticing blurb of your book (typically only 250 words). American query letters have become an art form, with several websites and forums dedicated to critiquing them (Query Shark is my favorite).

Why such a big deal? Some American agents will also consider the first five or ten pages of a manuscript, but many will only look at a query letter. So it's a writer's one chance to stand out from the crowd, and demonstrate both impressive writing and an intriguing story.

However, a UK agent will typically ask for a cover letter, a 1-2 page synopsis, and the first 3-4 chapters of a manuscript. What? No query letter? No, not really. Of course, your cover letter could include an enticing blurb, but I believe British agents usually only want to know in a sentence or two who you are and the basics of your book (genre, word count, etc). They will consider the rest of your submission package to determine if they would like to read more.

Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK
(copyright Dave Cousins)
I suspect this is because the UK is a much smaller country (roughly only 20% of the US's population). Like American agents, British agents are inundated with submissions, but it's just not the same magnitude. The submission process in the UK is probably less of a never-ending assembly line, and British agents have more time to consider each manuscript that crosses their desks. On the flip side, British agents seem to take slightly longer to say "no," and there are no websites like QueryTracker where authors can share agents' request rates and response timelines. The system as a whole is less standardized.

The UK being a much smaller country also changes the agent and publisher selection process. In the US, authors anxiously await "The Call" where an agent offers representation. In the UK, an agent may call, but just as often an agent will arrange a face-to-face meeting. For probably less than £50, one writer friend flew from Dublin to London to have lunch with her potential agent. Another writer friend had her editor take the train from London to Bristol to discuss revision suggestions over coffee. I know one author who first met her agent when the agent invited her to her home to share dinner with her family. Really (though that did happen over ten years ago).

Likewise, if your manuscript is being considered by multiple publishers, a British agent will often arrange for a writer to meet with each editor separately in a whirlwind London tour (London being the predominant home of UK agents and publishers). This enables British authors to make sure they are comfortable with their editors, and to discuss marketing and revision suggestions, and whatever else, in person.

However, unless an American happens to live in New York, New York (the predominant home of American agents and publishers), American authors rarely meet their agents and / or publishers upon signing an initial contract. Indeed, many authors never meet their agents / publishers at all, unless both happen to be attending a conference, or going on a book tour together. The expense and travel times in the US are just too great.

Are there any pluses to the American market? Well, it is bigger. There are always new agents setting up shop, and new publishing houses forming, all eager to consider debut authors. New publishers and agents do emerge in the UK, but less frequently, and there are definitely a finite number of submissions possible. And of course, if your book hits it big in the US, there are a lot more readers, too. See, I'm trying to end on a positive note for all my American readers!

Has my description of this process mirrored your experiences? Have you noticed any other differences between the UK and US submission processes?


  1. Waited for this, after reading the preceding. Thanks for not leaving us dangling.
    Your description of the British way of doing literary business reminds me of the U.S. A. some ten years ago.

    1. Well, it was your encouragement that led to the post! So thanks for that!

      And yes, I wondered if the US system used to work the same way. Makes me nervous for the Brits; what will their business model look like in ten years? Heck, for that matter, everything could be vastly different in ten years! A brave new world! *shiver*

  2. This is really interesting. My agent is in the US like me. I think I did query some UK agents, though I did not know a lot of this at the time.

    1. Thanks, Kelly. I'm often bowled over by how much I didn't know when I started this whole business! ;)


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