Thursday, July 7, 2016

It Only Takes One Yes...or Does It? By Joy McCullough-Carranza

So there’s a lovely bit of encouragement that gets repeated when people are giving writerly pep talks to those on the road to publication. It goes a little like this: “It only takes one yes!”

Pep talkers will say this to people who’ve sent 290 queries (as I did): “It only takes one agent to connect with your manuscript and LOVE it!!”

They will say this to people who’ve had multiple manuscripts go on submission without selling (as mine have): “It only takes one editor to connect with your manuscript and LOVE it!!”

The implication is that it could happen any moment! Maybe right this very second, while you’re reading this blog post, that elusive agent or editor is reading and loving your manuscript. It’s totally possible!!

It is. I don’t take issue with hope. It’s why I write middle grade.

But the idea that “It only takes one yes” breaks down upon further inspection. It’s not always false when it comes to agents. Often, an agent can read a manuscript, decide they love it, and make an offer. But sometimes an agent has an intern or a reader who goes through their queries first. So in that case, it requires the intern’s yes AND the agent’s yes. Sometimes an agent must get the agency’s approval to offer representation. So there might be someone else (or even a couple other people) who must say yes.

But the real place where this platitude irks me is on the submission level. “It only takes one yes” is almost never true in this situation. I have one friend whose editor made the offer late on a Friday night – she was head of the imprint, and after she read, she called the agent immediately to make her offer. Even then, though, it was to say she would be making an offer. She still had to run the numbers by finance to make the actual offer.

But a far more common situation is the editor who loves a manuscript, and then must get it through both an editorial meeting AND an acquisitions meeting. Often editor colleagues read the manuscript, and it will be discussed at the editorial meeting amongst the editors, with the editorial director or publisher also weighing in. If it gets through that group of people, it goes to acquisitions, where departments like sales, marketing, publicity, and finance must also weigh in. If it’s a middle grade book, the school and library departments will also have input. Different publishing houses may have additional hoops, like Scholastic has a stage at which the book clubs department must weigh in.

I don’t mean to be discouraging. But I don’t think hollow platitudes are super useful along the writing journey, because when a writer invariably discovers these things are false, the disappointment is that much more frustrating.

My agent, who tends toward the positive (and thank goodness, for he balances me out), had this to say about the various stages it take to get to an offer:

In some ways, it feels like a series of obstacles to run through, but in other cases, it can become a series of opportunities—Sales doesn’t think it will do well in trade, but then School and Library will think they have a great shot with it.

So I’m going to do my best to think about it as a series of opportunities. And if you’re playing the waiting game, remember that it may take more than one yes, but there’s every chance your manuscript is currently making its way through the various obstacles (opportunities! sorry!) like a (super slo-mo) pinball on its way to the high score.


  1. Joy~ thanks for some honest talk about the various stages that lead up to a book offer. This is a business where there's not always a lot of transparency, and I always appreciate knowing what's going on behind the scenes.

  2. Yup, a great behind-the-scenes look. And the first time I've seen publishing being compared to super slo-mo pinball, which makes a nice counterbalance to the usual glacier.

  3. I appreciate this post. "It only takes one" seems like such a positive phrase, but it can needle those who already know that auctions aren't the norm. It does only take one, but often you don't get that one. Or that you can, as Joy says, have that one champion, but that it takes a team to say yes, not one.

  4. Joy, I had one very big "yes," then acquisitions had two "NOs," so yep---I've experienced this personally. That's why, when someone actually contracts a book, it's a HUGE accomplishment! Same thing with agents...

  5. This is a such a great post, Joy-- realism balanced with optimism. Thank you!

  6. You've shared one of the hardest truths about this lovely, wacky, frustrating industry, but also a reason I'm glad to part of it. If all the "yes-es" line up, the manuscript should be a good one...and in the final stage, good enough to hold up to reviews later on ;)

  7. I very much like this series of opportunities vs. obstacles! As YES, it is a series of steps. Some go up, some go down. Keep moving forward even when the steps seem to go nowhere. It's never just one step!

  8. You have many good points here. Most publishers require various groups of people to approve manuscripts. Only very small presses can operate with one or two editors.

    Best wishes for the summer!

    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the award-winning book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006), and the middle-grade book for kids The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).
    My website is

  9. How long does/can this process take? I was asked to submit directly to an editor at a major publishing house, but haven't heard anything since.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!