Good publishing takes time. Time to write well. Time to edit well. Time to find the right agent. Time to find the right publisher. Time to edit again and re-write. Time to design well. Time to market well.
While there can be a lot of activity it still feels like “time” is another word for “wait.” No one 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. Business experts claim faster is better (see Charles Duhigg’s book on productivity Smarter, Faster, Better). Many years ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved in traditional publishing. Reviewing that post from half a decade ago reveals that nothing has changed!
A successful author learns how to wait well.
Waiting for the Agent
Why can’t agents respond faster? Don’t we just sit around all day and read? We try our best to reply to submissions within eight 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 pages in a proposal.
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. Remember that 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.
But if your agent is unresponsive that is a conversation for another blog post.
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 all 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.
That record was recently surpassed by a client who was contacted by a magazine asking to publish a poem she submitted twenty-six years ago…in 1990. You read that right. I wrote about it in October in case you missed the article “How Long Should You Wait for an Answer?” In 1990 I was still working as a bookseller and never dreamed I’d be a literary agent. Evidently this magazine keeps great files and a new editor must have been going through the archives!
Waiting for Your Contract
Once terms are agreed upon 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. That way your expectations will be set.
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 creating Facebook posts, without inventory online or in stores, to back it up the window of sales opportunity closes.
“But e-books solves that issue because they can be ready today!” you shout. True. But don’t forget that a lot of people still buy physical 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.
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 will take a full 30 days before issuing the check after the contract is counter-signed and officially executed.
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 an “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. My suggestion is that you take your due date and then add four months…that way you don’t budget for the money to come earlier.
Waiting for the advance to earn out and new royalty earnings to arrive — yes, some books do not earn out their advances. But many do earn out and the royalties eventually start coming, even if in tiny increments. This can take awhile, depending on the advance and the book. We recently had a client’s book with a small advance finally earn out five years after it had been published.
Indie Authors Wait Too
For those of you who are publishing independently you may feel like you’ve skipped most of these stages. And that is partially true. But a wise writer won’t put their book out into the market before it is ready. This means taking the time to write the best book possible. Taking the time to have the book edited professionally…not by just anyone who took an English class is school. Taking the time to find the right book cover to represent your book. Taking the time to create and execute a strategic marketing plan (a plan that is more than simply uploading an ebook and charging 99 cents). Taking the risk of investing enough money in the right places for the right results.
At each stage the writer chaffs at the process. This is quite understandable. I once 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 how to wait. Some scientists even claim that it might be good for you (click here for the article). 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.
[A version of this post first ran in 2011.]