Manuscript Submission Timing

Not every part of the year is made equal in terms of manuscript submission timing. Of course, it’s true that agents and publishers sometimes go “open” to submission and then wink “closed” on their own schedules. That’s why doing rigorous research is so important—you will want to check everyone’s submission guidelines before you send your query or submission package. Sometimes an individual is overwhelmed, on maternity or paternity leave, deciding to scale back on signing new clients, etc.

But there are definitely times of the year that are generally considered to be poor submission targets.

manuscript submission timing
You feel the urgency to submit, but there are some times you’d be wise to hold it.

Times to Avoid Manuscript Submission

We are now deep in the no-go zone: Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Agents and publishers are vacationing, sleeping, or, more likely, catching up on submissions and slush from the rest of the year. Most are either officially or unofficially closed to submissions. Most agents won’t even go out with client projects after November 1st because a publishing decision requires consensus—and consensus is out of town.

The same could be said about the end of summer. Traditionally, August has been a slow time in publishing, though I’ve heard over and over that the 24/7 business environment has gotten in the way of this summer idyll.

You may also want to be cognizant of some of the bigger publishing trade shows, which happen in March (Bologna—specific to children’s books), June (London Book Fair), and October (Frankfurt), and whenever for whatever is happening to Book Con/Book Expo. Obviously, a lot of these events have been up in the air since the pandemic, so publishing people aren’t traveling all over creation.

A note about the last few mentions, though: You cannot predict what a person is doing right down to the second, or when they will sit down to read submissions. You don’t know if they’re going to Frankfurt. You don’t know if they’re having a baby. You don’t know if they just got the flu.

Manuscript Submission Timing Takeaway

You can only do your best to prognosticate about when to submit. Just avoid Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Sometimes this means that the agent you were hoping for will go closed to submissions suddenly. That’s okay. I’d recommend having a favorite and a Plan B at every major agency, just in case.

What To Do With Downtime

As we near the biggest submission blackout period of the year, you might find yourself wondering what to do with your submission/writing/manuscript energy. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Plan the future! Work on another project. After you submit, you’ll want to keep your creative wheels spinning, so plan your next move.
  2. Revise! If you want to shoot your best shot, you’ll want to have the strongest possible manuscript to go out with. Authors admit that they tinker with already-published works in their heads as they read. You can always do another revision polish. Why not now?
  3. Read! If your writing or revision work needs a break, catch up on your reading pile. This may not seem like “active” writing or revision work, but you are gathering information about the craft and the market by reading—inside and outside of your category.

When the new year dawns and it’s time to submit, you will be that much of a stronger candidate.

If you’d like advice on your Submission Package Edit in the meantime, consider working with me as your freelance editor.

2 Replies to “Manuscript Submission Timing”

  1. I’ve read this, but I just sent out some submissions to those who were open because…it seems like a mute point when you’re just someone in a queue. I figure they’ll get through their query queue at some point, so what does it matter if I send it in December? In fact, I’ve wondered if it’s better to get into the queue when everyone else assumes it’s a bad time?

  2. Cary Smith says:

    The very question I was asking myself. Thanks.

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