How do acquisitions work?


[You can find a more recent version of this post here.]

Every so often we have someone ask, via interview, at conferences, or during conversation how our acquisitions process works at Carina Press. I’ve often wished I had a handy link that I could just say “go here for all your answers” because it’s not a short answer. So now I’m going to create one and give you some insight into our process, which will also help you get a sense of timeline as well.

To start, all submissions run through our email address. Even when a submission is sent directly to a freelance editor from a returning or referred author, the submission is forwarded to me at that address so we can track it in our system, and have a record of all submissions.

Once a submission comes in, it’s entered into the system. Generally, submissions get assigned to an editor for reading within 2-3 weeks of hitting the inbox.

Submissions are assigned based on a preference basis. This means I keep a spreadsheet (a very thorough spreadsheet) of editor genre preferences. They’ve indicated if  a genre is preferred, something they’ll read or something they don’t want to see. This allows me to match up editors and manuscripts, so no editor is reading a genre they don’t enjoy, and they are often reading genres they love. Additionally, I check in with the editors every few months to see if they want to make updates or changes, or if they’d like to see more or less of a genre. Also, I should mention that editors are paid for each step of the process, so we’re not asking for free labor from our freelancers and they have incentive to meet the deadlines (and incentive to read, read, read your submissions. It’s a win all around!)

When editors indicate they’re ready to read submissions, I send them out in batches of ten. Editors then have a week to respond with a preliminary report (of a few sentences to a paragraph for each book) based on a read of no more than 3 chapters (and often much less, as they get good at weeding through submissions). Do they recommend rejection, a full read or a look by another editor. Sometimes it’s a genre they enjoy, but a particular book is not for them but seems to have potential. For instance, we had a recent submission of dark urban fantasy that the original editor found a little too violent, but recognized as good writing, so she suggested a second editor have a look. That ended in an acquisition!

Once the editors have returned their prelim reports, they have two weeks to return reports on any manuscripts kept for full reads. Based on those reads, they recommend either acquisition, rejection or revise and resubmit (we’ll talk about revise and resubmits in a later post).

Manuscripts recommended for rejection get filed by me for response, unless the editor has worked with the author in the past, then they may send the response. Those recommended for R&R will get responses from the editor. And those recommended for acquisition get moved to a special folder and put on the agenda for our weekly acquisitions team meeting.

At the weekly meeting, I present the editor’s recommendation report and an acquisitions team member (comprised of people from marketing, production, promotion, sales, community and editorial) volunteers to read it. From that time, the team member reports within 2 weeks at a team meeting what their recommendation is. If the team member didn’t like it, it’s given to a second team member to read. Two people must say yes (the editor being one and a team member being the second) before a manuscript is acquired, but a manuscript isn’t rejected or sent for R&R without at least two acquisitions team members looking at it first, to give it a fair chance.

If you’re counting along at home, this means that once the manuscript reaches the acquisitions team, it can take up to 4-5 weeks (depending on when the report is received, especially if it’s received the day after the weekly meeting) for it to go through this step of the process. Acquisitions team members also report on the manuscript, and offer feedback.

After we’ve agreed to make an acquisition, I assign it to my list of calls/emails to make. I generally make these every 2 weeks, unless there’s an urgent deadline on a manuscript. If an author is in the US or Canada, I make the offer call. If an author is outside US/Canada, I send an offer email. And from there, a new process begins!

So, if you’ve been counting along, you can see how we come to need 12-16 weeks for some submissions. The process can be prolonged in several places: if the original editor recommends it be seen by a second editor, if the acquisition team needs more time or a second reader, if anyone in the process (the editor or me) needs more time in the process. The reports I’ve mentioned along the way, those are what I use to evaluate and send rejection letters. Sometimes the editor has included critical advice I think it will benefit the author to see. Sometimes the reports’ language is meant for my eyes only. We’ve discussed rejections in detail here and here.

And now you know the secret, behind-the-scenes acquisition/submissions process. Did it answer questions or raise more?

27 thoughts on “How do acquisitions work?”

  1. its nice to see how the process works on the inside, I always rush off to read people’s call stories so I can get a glimpse of what things are like.

  2. I really liked this post. Nice to see how things work from the inside.


  3. Jackie Carol says:

    Wonderful post. It’s great to get a glimpse of what things are like behind the scenes, and why the process can take as long as it does (though Carina seems to get through submissions much quicker than other places, so kudos to you!)

    Just out of curiosity, how often do you send rejections? And do you always send all rejections out in the same batch, including those that came from the acquisition team meeting, or a rejection sent to an existing Carina author?

    1. Angela James says:

      I usually do rejections in a batch, setting aside one to two days to go through all that have accumulated over that time period. This happens probably every six weeks, though I’ve resolved to do better and do it more often (though I don’t see it happening more than once a month). We’ll see if I can make this happen, but I’m going to try. Part of the reason the process takes so long for me is because when I do it, I read every report and try to parse out something I can share with the author, and sometimes I go back to look at the manuscript (because occasionally I’ll decide it should get a second look by another editor).

  4. Rizzo says:

    This is all great information, especially since I’m at week six waiting with a manuscript from Carina. As you were listing off what gets done on what week, I was counting it out with my fingers to try and figure out where I might be in all that, Thanks! :)

  5. Ooh very interesting! And since I’ve recently received a ‘revise and resubmit’, I can’t wait to read that post :)

  6. That’s really interesting, Angie! The process is very precise and well laid out. I am in awe of your organizational skills…I have trouble figuring out how to track and organize any project that requires more than just a few steps. LOL!

  7. Kat Cantrell says:

    Angela, this is an interesting post! I love seeing how this process works from the inside and I think it goes a long way towards establishing the professionalism of Carina. You’ve recently bought books from many authors I know which also means you have good taste!

  8. I sooo wish I had all this information earlier. This is fabulous! thanks for sharing!

  9. Tracey Lyons says:

    I enjoyed this post. It’s great to know that there is a set way to do things. I know sometimes as writers and authors we think our submitted work gets left in a big black hole in outerspace! Since I’m also one who has a submission with Carina I now have an idea of the process and when to expect an answer.
    Thanks, Angela.

  10. Peter Knutsen says:

    A few questions and requests for clarification:

    1. The author can just define the genre and sub-genre of the submited story, and let you decide which editor to assign it to? Quite some time ago I read a blog entry or something, from CP, in which each editor wrote a little about which genres he or she preferred, so I took some notes about that, but it’s a long time ago, and editor preferences may have changed, and new editors been hired, so if authors don’t have to keep track of editor preferences, that’d be a relief.

    2. How often do you acquisition stories without a revise-and-resubmit?

    3. If you’re not going to make a phone call, do authors from outside the USA and Canada have to include their phone number with submissions? My written English is MUCH better than my spoken English, and I would much prefer to handle everything via email and MSN. There’s also time zone issues.

    1. Angela James says:

      @Peter The author can do either two things: they can address the query letter to a specific editor, if they’ve seen the editor asking for something specifically, and I’ll forward it to that editor. Or, the author doesn’t specify and I match up the best editor. This, of course, presumes the author correctly identified their genre/sub genre in their query letter, but other than that, it’s worked out very well.

      2. We acquire without revise and resubmit 9 out of 10 times.

      3. No, if you’re outside the US/Canada, you don’t need to include a phone number with your submission. We do ask for that information post-acquisition, for our records.

  11. JB Lynn says:

    Really informative post. Thank you for pulling back the curtain on the mystery Angela!

  12. Sounds like an intense process but glad to know my submission, Playing For Keeps, is in good hands.

  13. Briana Huffman says:

    Thank you for the insight into the process an author’s submission takes when it leaves our hands. It is with trepidation that many of us submit our hard work for scrutiny – and it is relieving to know that it is given such a fair chance when it is read. Keep up the wonderful work, and I look forward to hearing either way on my submission.

  14. Tami says:

    I was curious how much an author’s pen name plays a role in the acquisition process. For example: What happens if Carina receives an MS (from an established author), that gets a thumbs up by the editors, but the author’s name is not considered marketable?



    1. Angela James says:

      I can’t say it would never happen, but if we for some reason thought an author was unmarketable, it’s unlikely it would even get to the acquisition stage. If it’s just a matter of pen name, we will (and have) ask authors to choose a new pen name.

  15. Tami says:

    Thanks Angela!

    I know you’re a busy lady and I wonder how you juggle it all, but I appreciate your time in responding. I assume that finding the right pen name is quite a challenge for many writers.

    Best wishes,


  16. Antonia says:

    Thank you for a thorough and detailed explanation of how the process works, something I have often wondered about.
    I now have now qualms about submitting my ms even though I don’t live in the USA.

    Thanks again

  17. Isabel says:

    Thanks so much for that post filled with info.

  18. Steve Vera says:

    Very insightful; thanks so much for sharing.

  19. Sally says:

    Hi, I say this was posted October 14th, 2010, is this still fairly accurate? I realize that certain things sometimes change, and I was just wondering.


    1. Angela James says:

      Hi Sally! It is still fairly accurate, our process has changed in fine tuning, but the large details still remain correct.

  20. Tara says:


    General submission etiquette question here!

    I submitted my MS just over 20 weeks ago (on the 1st September) and waited the required 16 weeks before sending an enquiry email – I tried not to, but you can probably guess how antsy I was (and still am *grin*). I had a response on the 2nd January saying that it was with an editor and you would get back to me as soon as possible. So now I am in a bit of a quandary… I suspect that I just need to work on my patience and try to clamp down on the biting of my nails, but I was wondering if there was a suggested further waiting period before sending off another email enquiry? Maybe 6-8 weeks or something (seeing as you said you generally send rejections out in around that time frame)?

    I really don’t wish to pester – and be annoying into the bargain. :(



  21. Angela James says:

    Hey Tara! I don’t think you need to wait 6-8 more weeks. Maybe just until beginning of February?

  22. Tara says:

    Hi Angela, thanks for replying, I know how what a Busy Bee you are! Sitting on my hands for a couple of weeks is MUCH better for my nerves than the 6-8 weeks that I thought… thanks again for getting back to me! :D

  23. What a joy it was to read this post!! In fact I have never seen a website from a book publisher or agent with such a clear and thoughtful attempt to educate writers. After spending a day reading everything on your site, I feel like I’ve been through a tutorial on the process of submitting my work for consideration. You answered so many questions that have come up since I started submitting my latest novel. Questions that lacking answers weighed me down and discouraged me because it is discomfiting to submit your work to a “black hole” and get zero input back. Thank you for taking the time and caring enough to provide such a complete picture of your process. Kudos. Lynn

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