Because that last letter in the mailbag was such a buzzkill (but thanks very much for all of the supportive comments!), here’s a very polite someone with very nice problems. Hotshot Harry (who is a historian) has a question about juggling prospective publishers:
I sent my book proposal out recently, and I now have two presses interested in my book project. I had sent the proposal to one, hadn’t heard back for a short while, then sent it along to another colleague for review. This other colleague forwarded it to his editor. In the meantime, press #1 got back to me with a “we’re interested, but could you clarify a few things?” so I did. No sooner did I ship the proposal off to press #1 did press #2 contact me to express interest. What to do? I want/need the thing off my desk (for sanity and extended contract purposes), so I don’t want push one off only to risk losing the other “upon further review.”
I normally wouldn’t lose to much sleep over this, except for the fact that friends helped make contacts with each of the presses.
It seems to me that Harry’s problem is really two: how to juggle interested prospective editors, and how to manage the friends who generously helped Harry make contacts with both presses. First, the easy problem: have a glass of wine before bed and stop losing sleep! You’re lucky to have such helpful and supportive friends, Harry, and I don’t think that they’ll really be disappointed when you go with one press over the other. They will understand that only one press can publish your book, and they should be pleased (and not to mention impressed) that two presses are interested in your project. That fact alone will ratify their judgment that you are a worthy scholar and friend–and most sensible people realize that different presses are better for some projects than for others.
Secondly, the slightly-less-easy “problem” of how to manage two editors who have signaled interest in publishing your book. At this stage, Harry, it’s just a proposal, and I think that editors and presses know and understand that savvy authors will be talking to and circulating their proposals among more than one press. Signaling their interest in your book proposal is just an invitation to a second date, not a marriage proposal (or book contract! As you suggest, they can change their minds at any point, too.) While most authors end up making their decision about which press to go with at the point they send out their manuscript, I’ve heard that it’s OK to send your manuscript out to two presses at the same time so long as you notify them that you’re doing so. (In other words, you don’t want Obnoxious University Press to ask someone to review your manuscript, only to have that reviewer inform them that she’s already reviewing the same manuscript for the University of Pretension Press. That would definitely be bad form.)
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in lo these many, many years in academia, it’s that no two people’s paths to book publication are the same. And, I’ve only submitted one manuscript to one press and published one book, so what the heck do I know? Not much. I’m eager to hear what my erudite and accomplished readers think, especially those of you with more publication experience, those of you who work (or have worked) in publishing, and those of you who have recently submitted book manuscripts (I’m thinking of you, Notorious Ph.D. and Bittersweet Girl, in particular.) Readers: can you advise Harry how to handle his happy problems?