The Submission Process (queue scary music)
Author writes a query and sends it out into the lonely world. Probably to more than one agent at once. Hopefully, they remember to include an SASE. In any given week, I receive somewhere between 70-100 queries and I tend to read them in large batches. At this point, I'm either hooked by the pitch and request materials, or it doesn't grab me and I send back a rejection. (If anyone is interested in the odds, I tend to request only 1 or 2 things a week, and frequently have had weeks where I request nothing at all.)
Assuming I'm intrigued enough to read further.... I request that the author send me materials. Usually this is a partial manuscript (somewhere around 50-100pp to start and that amount largely depends on how much I've got in the pile already) and a synopsis (the dreaded synopsis). Oh, and an SASE for reply (and return of the materials if the author would be wanting them back should that unfortunate event occur).
I read the partial. Sometimes this happens quickly. Sometimes it takes several weeks. This largely depends on how many clients have turned in things that are under deadline or how much other paperwork is on my desk. During royalty season (like deer season only not as yummy), I'm quite slow to respond. Holidays throw the whole schedule askew. I should note here that I also always read chapters before the synopsis (the dreaded synopsis). Someone actually mentioned in a query letter that they were encouraged by this because they had so much trouble writing their synopsis (all together now: the dreaded synopsis). I always figure it's the writing that has to sell me. And ultimately the editor.
Two paths diverged in a wood.... (1) Reading the partial results in a rejection. There are so many reasons why a book might not work that I'm not going to get into that here. Suffice to say, that if I have requested the material (and only if; unsoliciteds get treated as if they were a query, do not pass go, do not collect $200), I always offer some reason for its return. (2) I finish reading the sample pages and curse the day when the volume of submissions caused me to request only partials and not completes. I immediately request the remainder of the manuscript.
Of course, once I get that manuscript, those other factors of getting enough time to read it come into play still. And it takes a lot longer to critically read a manuscript than a partial, as you might expect. So, this can again take me upwards of several weeks or even a few months, depending. Frankly, the shorter that pile of paper is, the less cranky I tend to be when I come into my office in the morning. So I really will read them just as quickly as I can get to them. It's an eternal game of catch-up, though.
If I should, perchance, decline at this point, I will usually offer a more detailed letter than the one that I send back with a partial. I might even offer to read a revised manuscript. If, on the other hand, I have fallen desperately in love with the story, the characters, the setting, and each and every other thing about the book (even if I might have a *few* comments to offer on possible improvements for the author's consideration), then I call the author and offer representation. One of the original questions that prompted this post wanted to know if I have final say in taking on new clients. I am blessed to say that I do, indeed. If I had to go through an acquisition process the like of some of the editorial boards of which I have heard, it would no doubt be maddening. In any case, if the author accepts my offer to represent their book, then I make up a marketing plan (sometimes this is already somewhat sketched out from notes I've taken while reading), which I will discuss with them to whatever level of detail they require...
...and this is not the end, but another beginning...