Let’s call her the Publishing Insider. She said:
We had a publisher start here a few years ago and part of her remit was to start commissioning for her own imprint – one that focused on commercial literature and okay, a bit of chick lit and farm lit. So she started the weekly submission day. It worked so well that they opened it up across the whole list.
The way it works here is that we have a couple of dedicated staff members (normally publishing assistants) who will scan through the submissions and pass anything they think requires another look to the relevant publisher. This might not happen on the day the book was submitted – the designated submission day is really just to limit the flow of submissions to one day so that it is manageable.
If the publisher likes something and wants a second opinion, they might then ask an editor to read it (in our own time, usually over the weekend and unpaid). It is rare, however, for an editor to get involved until much later. Usually after the manuscript has been accepted, reviewed by the publisher, possibly had a bit of a structural edit and some other refining and rewriting done, then eventually it will be officially handed to the editor to organise an actual copy edit.
We have had a few successes through the manuscript submission day. I worked on one book last year that came through that system and it has been reprinted several times already and we are bringing it out in a new format. I'm not sure how many get through – as the publisher doesn't always tell us how the author was discovered.
I don't know how it works in other publishing houses but I'd be really surprised if an editor got to clear their desk for a day to read through the slush pile. And it isn't something they'd hire an extra person to come in and do for a day each week (at least, not here in Australia with the industry being so dire!) If they have an intern for a few weeks they'd probably give them the job.
In terms of what gets through to a publisher, having an agent is still a much safer bet. Unless you are a celebrity (even D-list). Then it doesn't even matter if you can't write as long as you have a profile.
Oh! And if there are submission guidelines on the website (for example: word file, double-spaced, first two chapters, summary, author bio – whatever) then the person submitting should follow it! This sounds like really obvious advice, I know.
So it seems that publishing assistants are the ones we writers need to please. I myself have worked as a publishing assistant, but in educational publishing, in my mid-twenties. From my experience, it’s an administration job one only wants to stay in for one year, maybe a max of two years, before getting a proper publishing job. I had to do lots of photocopying of page proofs (for the people with real publishing jobs), analyse market research and badger Maths authors for their manuscripts.
Australian manuscript submission days:
Penguin – Monthly Catch, 1st–7th of every month
Allen and Unwin – Friday Pitch, every Friday
Pan Macmillan – Manuscript Monday, every Monday
Momentum (ebooks) – Momentum Mondays, every Monday