submit verb 1. To yield in surrender; 2. to subject oneself to conditions imposed.
The hard work is done: your manuscript is polished and your beta readers love it (even if you don’t exactly anymore). You are finally ready to send it out to agents and publishers. Embarking on the submission process is exciting – there’s nothing like the (nauseating) thrill of pressing send that first time. But it is also very stressful ... and tedious – be warned, you will mostly be waiting. You may get a blistered thumb from repeatedly checking your inbox, all the while, fighting the urge to send upbeat ‘just checking’ emails, knowing that pestering is a strict no-no. A response may come within a week, a few weeks, maybe months; there’ll be a few ‘not quite right’s, occasional ‘requests for the full’ that stop your heart, and one day, you may even get that ‘Yes, please!’. But more typically, it’s kind rejections that arrive. It is not unusual to have no response at all.
So, that’s a writer’s experience of submission (OK, mine!), but what about the other side? How do our manuscripts make their way to an editor? I spoke to Ruby Ashby-Orr, Senior Editor at Affirm, to demystify the process a little.
EC: How does an unsolicited manuscript make its way to you – and into your heart?
RAO: Before an unsolicited manuscript gets to me it’s usually gone through a round of shortlisting. We ask the assessors to look out for books that show writing skill and have good commercial potential – and that suit our list. It’s a pretty subjective set of standards, of course, so when they come to me I’m usually judging them on the exact same criteria.
EC: What makes a manuscript stand out for you?
RAO: The first thing I ask myself when I’m assessing is do I want to keep reading? When you read constantly every day, a book that can leap out and hook you is rare and exciting. But it always helps if the author has a bit of publishing history – not necessarily previous books, but journals, competitions etc.
EC: What is your favourite unsolicited discovery story?
RAO: The first book I ever commissioned was the memoir ‘One Italian Summer’ by Pip Williams, and it came out of the unsolicited pile. It had the perfect combo of a warm, strong voice, a good commercial hook (Italy always sells) and a lovely author who was a joy to work with.
EC: What is the difference between submitting directly to Affirm and via an agent?
RAO: An agent gives you a higher chance of getting read sooner. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true – we have so much reading to do on top of our editing and general admin that getting to new submissions can be very difficult. Having an agent say ‘I know Affirm Press and this book is right up your alley’ can help to get eyes on it. But on the other hand, there are other ways to get direct attention from a publisher: pitching events, masterclasses and competitions are great ways to get your foot in the door.
EC: What’s the best part of your job?
RAO: The variety. Every book I work on is different: different challenges, different author styles, and often completely different genres. It makes it impossible to get bored!
EC: Any exciting Affirm projects pending that we absolutely must keep an eye out for?
RAO: Always! We have some great fiction coming up later this year, including Christian White’s second page-turner ‘The Wife and the Widow’ and Melissa Ashley’s decadent historical novel ‘The Bee and the Orange Tree’ – it involves fairy tales, assassinations and is set in 1690s Paris – what’s not to like? I’m also working on an incredible memoir called ‘Snakes and Ladders’ by Angela Williams about her experiences on the wrong side of the NSW prison system – it’s dark and heartbreaking and somehow still funny and inspiring, and will be coming out early next year.
EC: If someone is interested in submitting to Affirm, what do you recommend?
RAO: The first step is to make sure you follow the instructions on the website carefully – not doing so can put a cross through your name before you’ve even started. We have pretty wide interests but we’re always in need of great nonfiction to add to our list.
About Ruby Ashby-Orr
Ruby Ashby-Orr joined Affirm Press in 2013 and is now a Senior Editor working on both the fiction and non-fiction lists. In her time with the publisher she’s edited a wide range of titles crossing literary fiction, commercial memoir, sport, comedy and more. She’s also written books for Affirm Press including the literary masterpiece 'Death by Coconut: 50 things more dangerous than a shark'.