by Steve Laube
Ours is a process industry. Good publishing takes time. Unfortunately time is another word for “waiting.” No one really likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Awhile ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved. Below are some of the things for which a writer must learn to wait.
Waiting for the Agent
We try our best to reply to submissions within 6-8 weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few short proposals.
If you are already represented all I can say is that agents do their best to be responsive to your questions and phone calls. Crisis Management is part of our job description. But one of the first things a First Responder must do is triage. Some issues are more critical than others which can create consternation if yours is next in line instead of first.
Waiting for a Publisher
After working hard to get your proposal just right we send it out to a select list of publishers. Then we sit back and wait. It can take 3-6 months to hear an answer from a publisher. The longest our agency waited was 22 months before we received a contract offer. No kidding. Just shy of two years. [Both I and my client had already moved on, thinking the project was dead.] But that is truly the exception. I believe that if we don’t receive some sort of answer within four months it is probably not going to connect.
Waiting for Your Contract
Once terms are agreed it can take quite a while to get the actual contract issued by some publishers. Many can take as long as two months to generate the paperwork. We once had to change the date of the contract because it had taken so long to create the paperwork that the due date for the manuscript was earlier than the actual date on the contract! This delay can be excruciating. Ask your agent what is typical for the specific publisher you are working with. Some are quick some are slooooow.
Waiting for Your Editor
You met your deadline. And then you wait.
And you begin wondering if anyone is reading the manuscript at all!
This is actually quite typical. The publisher needs to have the manuscript in hand to know that it actually has been written. But don’t think the editor is sitting at their inbox, on the due date, with rapt anticipation of receiving your contracted manuscript. They manage their time in order to keep things in the queue and moving along. It can very frustrating to wait. The key here is to be in communication with your editor. It is okay to ask! Or talk to your agent to see if they know if there is anything going on that is preventing that editor from working on your book.
Waiting for Your Marketing and Publicity to Kick In
The new author is so excited about their new book that they want to start chatting about it the day after they turn in the manuscript. A great athlete or sports team wants to peak at the right time, never too early. The same with book promotion. If you begin tweeting and Facebooking (is that a verb now?) without inventory to back it up, the window of sales opportunity closes.
“But e-books solves that issue because they can be ready today!” you shout. Remember that a lot of people still buy books in stores, online, and off your back table at an event. The physical book is still alive and well and must be available if your publicity and marketing is to be effective.
Recently we had a client contacted by “People” magazine for an interview. Unfortunately their book won’t be out for another year. The story is timeless and we asked if they would be willing to wait for the interview and run it as part of a larger campaign. The risk is that they won’t do the story, but it would have been worse to tell the story and not have a book to back up the feature.
Waiting for Your Money
When I became an agent I didn’t know I’d become a Collections Agent…not just a Literary Agent. Getting paid can take time (i.e. waiting).
Waiting for the “on signing” advance — Normally the publisher can take a full 30 days before issuing the check.
Waiting for the “on acceptance of manuscript” advance — This can vary widely. Just because you turned it in doesn’t mean it is acceptable. One publisher we work with will not issue a “acceptance” check until the book has gone through every stage of the editorial process and has been sent to production for typesetting. This can take months.
Waiting for the advance to earn out and new royalty earnings to arrive — Yes, some books do not earn out their advances. (Read the post about “The Myth of the Unearned Advance.”) But many do earn out and the money eventually starts coming, even if in tiny pieces. This can take a couple years.
At each stage the writer chaffs at the process. This is quite understandable. Recently I read an author’s angry screed (on their blog) criticizing their publisher for the excruciating process of getting their book out. The problem, as I see it, is that the author’s expectations were not in line with reality. Much of a writer’s angst can be avoided by understanding the process and modifying their expectations to match.
Therefore my encouragement for you is to learn the waiting game. Some scientists even claim that it might be good for you (click here for the article). Truly it is to your benefit to accept the nature of this process and embrace the agony of waiting. Anticipating the result can be as fulfilling as holding the finished product.