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Q&A: Is it acceptable to submit your proposal to multiple publishers?

Q: “When seeking a new publisher, do I only talk to one acquisitions editor at a time (wait for them to send my materials out for review and either other a contract or not) before sending material out to any other editor, or is it acceptable to send materials out to 2 or 3 at once?”

A: Richard Hull, Former TAA Executive Director:

“Self interest indicates you should send the proposal out to as many publishers as you can, trying to maximize your chances of getting an acceptance. But this may lead to other moral dilemmas: what if you get an early response, accept the offer, and just as you are about to close the deal you get another, better offer?

On the other hand, decent consideration for the potential publishers and their referees indicates you should decide on an order of submission, then send it to the first and wait until you get a definite answer. That may result in long delays until you get an acceptance, necessitating revisions because the manuscript has aged.

One possibility is to try to escape between the horns of the dilemma: send it out to the first publisher on your list (perhaps preceded by a phone call asking what their review time is), give that publisher a decent amount of time to review it; when that time is up, send it to another.

If you have the ms out to several publishers, perhaps as the result of adopting my suggestion, and you get an acceptance from one, you may wish, out of decency, to retract the submission to the others.

Alternatively, you could be completely self-interested, send it out to a bunch, collect offers, bet a bidding war started if you can, and take the highest bidder. You’d better be sure that the highest bidder will accept subsequent manuscripts or you may have burned bridges for future publications.

It may shorten things and avoid the delays caused by sending a proposal to inappropriate publishers if you call ahead and ask if the publisher would be interested in a proposal/book of your book’s description. Sometimes the formal proposal can shorten the process.

Ultimately what you do will be an expression of your character, your needs, your estimation of probabilities, and how thoroughly you research potential publishers.”

A: Michael Lennie, Lennie Literary & Authors Attorneys:

“If you are talking about commercial publishers (as opposed to juried academic publications), sending to multiple publishers is definitely the norm. This is the best leverage available. There is no moral dilemma whatsoever. I never send out multiple submissions without advising each recipient that I am doing so, and I wait to receive multiple responses before prematurely jumping at an offer. I never send out proposals without first sending a query asking if the publisher would like to receive a proposal.

If I should be so lucky as to receive multiple offers, terrific news! I am now ‘in high cotton’ as my west Texas (and I suppose Southern) friends would say.”