You have sent your project to an editor or an agent. Their guidelines state “We will respond within 6-8 weeks.” Do you mark your calendar on day 56 and send that person a query the minute the deadline passed?
This past week one of my clients set a personal record for waiting.
She was contacted by a magazine asking to publish a poem she submitted…in 1990. You read that right. Twenty-six years after submitting the work, it sold.
Various reactions centered around the question”what?” Not only had this magazine kept the submission in a file…they actually looked at it 26 years later.
We had another client sell her novel 22 months after we submitted it to a publisher. After nearly two years she had already moved on and sold other novels elsewhere. But was happy to accept the offer.
Maybe there is a lesson here. Both of these clients are consummate professionals. They don’t have just one piece they rely upon for publishing success. The non-fiction writer is always working on new material and submitting ideas to periodicals. The novelist is constantly working on the next project while writing the current one and studying the market to see if there is something she can target for her proposals.
I receive the occasional note from an annoyed writer wondering why I haven’t responded within eight weeks. A couple weeks ago one enthusiastic author called the office the day after emailing the proposal wondering if we had read it yet. Another questioned the legitimacy of the agency and my statement of faith because I had not responded to their email query (which only proved the person had not read the guidelines on our website very carefully).
Maybe the real lesson is if I contact you in the year 2042 offering to represent the proposal you sent me this month…try to act surprised.
Been waiting 11 months for 6 publishers. Keeping very busy writing and editing. And Karen has told me this about a hundred times now. But feels good to hear it again. She will thank you. Because now I don’t have to ask her again. 😉
Ah, yes. Patience is a virtue. God works in His timing, not ours. Thank you for the nudge, Steve.
I try to stay realistic by not expecting an answer to begin with. Then, if I do get an answer, it’s a great surprise. As Judith stated, all in God’s perfect timing.
I received a request for a full manuscript after selling and having the book published 2 years before.
It’s hard to beat the 26 year wait though…..
At least by 2042 I’ll probably have a revised version of my manuscript available. It might even be better. 🙂
Hah! It better be.
Hope I’m still able to see it in 2042.
But I suspect by then we’ll be reading something in 3-D with all five senses engaged…virtually.
Or a robot will be reading it for us.
Thank you for the advice about having several projects so that success doesn’t depend on just one. Working on different projects hones my writing skills so that each benefits the other. I was in a hurry with my first book. With this book, not so much. I am more just enjoying the writing process and discovering my characters. Writing is funner when I don’t pressure myself. I don’t usually re-ask when I submit a query; I know the agents are busy, and I don’t want to bother them. If they like my project, they will contact me. I am going to start checking my email more often. Maybe some people who haven’t gotten back to me in three years will make me an offer. . .
You picked up on exactly what I was trying to convey.
(I apologize for the length of this response, but this post brought up a few thoughts)
I agree that patience is a virtue we (meaning I) need to cultivate to a greater degree until the day death dawns, and I understand the many reasons for the long waiting periods in the publishing industry (Like when Steve or Tamela are slammed with travel, events, meetings, etc.).
At the same time. . .
Say someone writes a book with huge market potential in the short term because it’s linked to current events (like the current political landscape). They finish it on time, have a huge platform ready to market it, representation from an agent, and a 20 month window where it will do outrageously well. The agent submits it, then waits 12 months to hear a reply that by the time the publisher puts the book out 6 months later, its useful lifetime will have nearly expired.
I have a hard time believing that publishers who only accept proposals represented by agents can’t maintain a fairly quick response time (1-2 months). In comparison to other industries, it seems responsiveness and time sensitivity are undervalued. 22 months is an outrageous amount of time to wait for a response. In other industries, a worker would be fired for waiting that long to respond to a potentially profitable business opportunity. Obviously, something probably happened (proposal slipped under a desk/fell off the first page of emails/etc.), but to be asked to expect that kind of thing to happen consistently destroys my belief in their professionalism. Authors are expected to hit all their deadlines and respond with some form of immediacy (and for good reason), yet they’re the content creators (also the marketers of their own projects), and often have just as much on their plate as a group of publishing professionals.
I love the publishing professionals I’ve worked with, and have great respect for their abilities and dedication. I see great value in traditional publishing. But one thing that’s struck me fairly hard is that some publishing companies treat their authors as if the authors owe them. Maybe I’m naïve, but in every other industry, content creators are treated differently.
What other industry will you ever find a company putting out 30, 40, or 50 products a year without any marketing budget behind them (or with very little), in hopes that the person who CREATED those products will do all the marketing on their own dime and time when they make less $$ per unit sold than the company putting them out? If you told any MBA student that the above was the structure of the business they’d have to take over when they graduated, they’d say, “That’s an unsustainable business structure, and it will need to change immediately.”
Obviously, one distinct challenge in the book industry is the very low cost per unit. It makes traditional forms of advertisement very difficult, because you can hardly ever get any positive ROI. That forces authors and publishers to be very close partners, but sometimes it seems publishers don’t value authors and their projects enough. Without authors, publishers wouldn’t have a business. If they truly value an authors’ work, why the long wait times?
Linda Riggs Mayfield
I studied economics in college, graduated with credentials to teach HS economics (and other things), taught the subject in several guises over the years, and actually wrote curriculum for it. I’ve started and run a successful business. I think your assessment that an MBA student would think that’s an unsustainable business model was generous–I think my HS students would have thought so, too, for the same obvious reasons. You put together a summary of a lot of the details about the process that have often left me scratching my head. I’m willing to work within the process, of course, because there aren’t many other options at this point, but I’m still scratching my head. ;-D
Brennan, if an author has time sensitive material and a huge platform, self-publication makes a lot of sense. Remember, it is easier to turn a small ship than an aircraft cruiser. In the same way, if a novel is pertinent to a time frame, the author needs to select the right tool for the job to move the material quickly…self-publication. A publishing agency can always pick up your novel after the fact.
Right. I didn’t want to mention self-publishing because I thought I had introduced too many auxiliary points already. But I do think traditional publishers can learn a bit from self-published authors’ flexibility and Amazon’s author-centric focus. There are publishers of all different sizes. Some small, some huge. Will self-published authors always be more flexible in a shorter time period? Probably. But are traditional publishers capable of a great deal of flexibility? I think so.
In regards to the ease with which a big ship can turn, I often think of Convoy of Hope, a disaster-relief organization with hundreds of employees and tens of thousands of volunteers. They re-direct their course in mere hours when disaster strikes, and efficiently target areas in need of relief.
It seems to me that traditional publishing’s biggest bottleneck is with physical book development/distribution. If they did a digital-only rollout, they could put content out extremely quickly.
There is a common misconception on what happens inside the large publishers. I tend to think that they are smart enough to recognize a time sensitive project and move quickly when needed. There have been a number of “instant books” done by many publishers to take advantage of a burning topic. They can, and do, publish digitally and use print-on-demand technology for the print side.
There isn’t a slow-down for the production of print. There is about a 4-6 week lead time needed to print a book and ship it to the various outlets. But that book has to be presented to the retail outlets beforehand…even Amazon places pre-orders for new books based on what they think they will need initially…just like a regular bookstore.
But rather than debate the merits of traditional publishing or independent publishing or the economics of publishing or other complex topics. Let’s keep this to the topic of the day….
Patience is a virtue.
The sheer hilarity of a 26 year acceptance of a submission was worthy of a post. It is news because it is unusual.
The normal time for turn around to hear from publishers is 2-3 months. The editor reviews the proposal. They take it to their editorial committee which meets periodically and if it makes it on that agenda it is discussed. If not it gets bumped to the next one.
Then it goes to the publication board meeting, also held periodically. Right there you have weeks of schedules to coordinate.
Then comes the finance approval, then the negotiation for the contract. And if there are multiple offers it can take longer.
All good things take time.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Thanks for providing the balanced “other side” of Brennan’s points. I apologize for taking the economics tangent and running with it–it seemed relevant at the time. Patience IS a virtue, and the Biblical way of acquiring it is not one we’d probably choose. 😉
My experience has not always been like Carol’s. I once had strong feedback from an agent at a conference who had been the pre-conference reviewer of my submitted chapters. She asked for a proposal with more chapters. I sent them and heard nothing for a year and moved on. (Patience ;-)) Then, based on advice in this blog, I sent a pleasant, professional follow-up, and had a response in less than 24 hours–she had apparently just then found and read the proposal she had requested the year before. She still “loved” the book and would represent me IF I built a substantial platform first. My efforts at that have not been successful. From this side of the slush pile, when to be patient and when to be appropriately assertive is a difficult balance to strike!
Do you think that leaving authors waiting for months (or 26 years) with no response that would allow us to know if anyone has even seen our proposal and/or requested manuscript is a good practice for Christian publishing to continue (as well as a great opportunity to develop authors’ patience), or is it just one that has no (economically) viable alternatives and is consistent with the rest of the publishing industry (and also a great opportunity to develop authors’ patience ;-D)?
Thanks–great topic, informative post.
I know the differences between self-pubbing and trade pubbing is way beyond the scope of this post. I wasn’t trying to compare the two (that’s why I didn’t mention it in my original comment).
When I said, “I have a hard time believing that publishers who only accept proposals represented by agents can’t maintain a fairly quick response time (1-2 months),” I was referring to the initial response of whether or not there’s any interest, not a fully contracted project. 2-3 months is perfectly reasonable for an initial response. What I was referring to was not getting an initial response for 6, 12, or 22 months. (From signed contract to book release, there was a span of 9 months for my debut project)
How in the world does print production (if you’re not relying on POD) not delay a release date significantly? You could publish digitally as soon as you have the content ready, yet to print and distribute books you need (as you’ve stated) the date to be pushed out at least 4-6 weeks. Then when you add in, “But that book has to be presented to the retail outlets beforehand…even Amazon places pre-orders for new books based on what they think they will need initially…just like a regular bookstore,” that pushes the date out even further. Also, the typesetting process (which you don’t necessarily need for digital-only publication), and more. My point was that the perceived slowness of traditional publishers is sometimes due to their choice to diversify income streams (having digital and high-quality print versions sold through a variety of retailers without relying on POD)–that if they wanted to, traditional publishers could put out content extremely quickly.
I’m aware of “instant” books put out by traditional publishers, and that’s what makes the assumption that “everything always takes forever in traditional pubbing” seem all the more silly. I know you weren’t implying that. But many in self-publishing outright state that as a “fact.”
I suppose what I was trying to say is, “If a publisher fails to give a response within 12 months or some other outrageously long time period, what does that tell me about the publishers’ care for my work and level of professionalism?” Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be happy to go with them if they contacted me a year or two down the road.
Additional Disclaimer: I’m happily traditionally published and have no problem with the amount of time it took to do it properly. Again, my criticism was intended to be focused on publishers who are non-responsive for long periods of time.
There is an assumption here that digital is the only way the reader wants to receive their book. Ebook sales are around 50% of fiction sales and less than that for non-fiction. So if someone goes digital-only or digital-first, that is fine, but it can leave some unreached readers.
Publisher have been doing that experimentation too.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all format for publishing books. Which is what makes it so much fun and exciting in our industry right now. Nearly anything can happen.
But I would caution any notion that the traditional publishers are “always’ wrong in how they do things.
As for the novelist who got an offer after 22 months? That was an unusual situation. When the original proposal went in the timing was wrong. That particular line was full….completely acquired for over a year. Then they slowed down their release schedule, doing few books. So when it finally came time to have interest in that project 22 months had passed. But, as mentioned, the author had already contracted and published other novels in the interim so this came as a nice surprise. She worked it into her schedule and was able to write the book she desired. No complaints, but celebration instead.
There are many reasons for delays. Mostly based on sheer volume of inquiries. In my days as an acquisitions editor I would have 20-30 publishable book ideas on my desk at any one time. I could only present 8-10 per month at the publication board so I would have to decide which ones would go on those agendas. (My division published 40-50 per year.) After awhile I had to create a system whereby, if a book was bumped from the agenda three times it meant it was already on the bubble and should not be presented.
In a perfect world every writer/agent would receive a letter within two to three months. But ours is not a perfect industy. 🙂
I’ve never held the assumption that digital is the only way the reader wants to receive their book. I read nearly 100% physical books. I’m beginning to think something’s been lost between my brain, the keyboard, and the miles of fiber-optic cables between us.
You raise a lot of good points. I enjoy novels that seem ripped from the headlines or offer that sense of immediacy. Perhaps as Christian fiction moves in new directions (geo-political thrillers, eco-themes, etc) the time lag will need to change.
26 years? Sounds to me like the original person who received the submission either retired or died (hopefully the former). The successor found it while clearing out old files.
I had much better response time. When I was asked by the general acquisitions editor to send my full manuscript to one of her imprints, the first imprint editor passed it on to another imprint within two months. She told me by email that she had passed it on. The second editor read and replied within three months. She decided not to acquire, but she also sent me her annotated copy of my full manuscript and some other suggestions for how to improve it. I was ecstatic to get that quality of feedback.
You’ve often told us that submitting anything to an agent or editor is like tossing your manuscript into a black hole: everything goes in, nothing comes out. Even the common courtesy of a form email stating lack of interest is neglected by most. I don’t believe it has to be.
If an agent received a thousand submissions a year, those emails would take his or her assistant less than 5 minutes a day. Who doesn’t have that amount of spare time in a workday?
I have great admiration for that publisher, given how many in this industry act. If I were faced with multiple offers, I would most certainly chose that publisher. If they even treat rejected submitters that way, I’m sure they would be superb business partners.
Spending only five minutes on a proposal would be a luxury. Especially if it is a very good one.
The bad ones can be eliminated quickly. But they still take time. And there is an assumption here that every author in the world sends a professionally presented proposal.
Some send the entire book in the body of the email.
Some send the proposal in the body of the email, but fail to format it so that it appears readable.
Some send the cover letter as an attachment and then each subsequent piece of the proposal in separate attachments.
Some send a PDF that is so large it chokes the Internet because their author photo is super-hi-resolution…enough to create a roadside billboard.
One person sent a PDF with 900 pages of material.
And remember, the assistant can look at it. But then I’m the one who decided yea or nay. So it has to cross my desk. And my priority is my existing clients and THEIR proposals and contracts and career related issues and royalty statement review. (Received a 480 page royalty statement this morning…guess what my happy reading will be the rest of the morning?)
And what if we like the sample chapters? Then comes the full manuscript of 100,000 words. That can’t take “five minutes” to review.
All that is to say, it sounds easy in theory, but in practice it is not so efficient.
Steve, I have no criticism of the amount of time it takes to get to a no. As you say, there are many things that can make that take several weeks, even a few months.
My only question is why an assistant can’t simply send out a form email to the person once that rejection is decided. When I submitted my first manuscript to you when it was only 2 months old and still in omniscient narrator, you let me know it was rejected within the time you quoted in your guidelines for hardcopy submission. I was disappointed (even though I know now it was so not ready for prime time!), but I really appreciated being told.
I think it’s cruel to leave people hanging on and hoping when they need to be moving on to the next thing if this one is a failure.
Many do just as you suggest.
But with email there is a “danger” of engaging with everyone.
When we do say “no thanks” we often get barraged with hate mail. Some rather personal. You have no idea. (even phone calls from writers screaming at me on the phone…yes, it has happened more than once.)
If we ignore we get criticized for being arrogant and out of touch.
Let me put it in a different context. Let’s say I apply for a job at a large company. I fill out the forms, I create the perfect resume. And then I hear nothing. Ever. I assume they weren’t interested and move on. If I do get a response I appreciate it but I still move on. I do not expect a response, but appreciate it when I do get one.
In the writing world some feel that a response is required. And other think a complete editorial critique is required.
It is impossible to make everyone “happy.”
Linda Riggs Mayfield
I understand your point, but I don’t think the job application analogy works here completely. A job applicant offers future benefit to a prospective employer for the promise of pay. The employer takes a chance that the applicant can deliver as a future employee based on what s/he says s/he has done in the past. At that point, the applicant has made no investment in the company, and if the company has no wish to hire, nothing is gained or lost for either. A “Don’t call us, we’ll call you within three weeks if we’re interested” is reasonable. A writer, in contrast, has already devoted months or years to honing a project which the editor or agent has already seen at least a part and expressed interest–there is hard evidence of what is being requested and offered, not just the hope for future performance; and the agent or editor has usually invited the submission based on some level of interest.
I DO understand your valid explanation of why responses are not sent by most agents and publishers, but I keep thinking about how it could be done in a way that would benefit both the sender and the recipient. Colleges require students to run their papers through software like Turnitin to rule out plagiarism before the paper can be submitted to the professor. Someone could develop software to weed out all the submissions that come in with no compliance with the Guidelines and/or basic rules of grammar–or any other filter the agent might want, then crank out a simple ” Send more” or “No, thanks” email. Every agent and publisher would want it! Hmmm. But that would diminish the writers’ opportunity to learn patience. I’d take the trade-off. ;-D
Of course the analogy doesn’t work completely. It is a universal illustration of submitting and waiting. It is not meant as a one-to-one. I maintain, however, that a book proposal is a lot like a job application. It must be professional, it must follow the guidelines, and there is an entity (person) on the receiving end who decides whether or not this is a person or project they want to work with.
In a perfect world software and robots could do all the work while I sit back and contemplate the universe.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Oh, mercy, Steve! LOL! Neither of us would think that would be a perfect world! We LOVE words too much! But wouldn’t your life be just a little bit easier if your assistant and you didn’t have to be the ones to weed out the “I know you don’t publish this kind of book, but…” and “God gave me these 127,000 words to send to YOU” submissions? Even just a little bit? I didn’t mean to offend. I’m afraid I too easily see multiple possibilities and a smidgen of humor in almost every situation and assume others do, as well. I always learn a lot from your posts and will attempt to restrain my creative enthusiasm in my Replies in the future–at least a little bit. 🙂
Linda, what if God really did give someone those 127k words specifically to send to Steve because He knew Steve was the perfect agent to get that work published? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
That’s awful! I imagined some who received rejections might implore you to reconsider, but the rest of these reactions are stunning to me! After a few of those zingers, the potential for getting another one certainly would cause one to consider carefully before sending a rejection! Please just keep on explaining this process today. At this rate, we’re all going to learn so much from this post and exchange that we’ll be perpetually patient, as well as genuinely stunned and deeply grateful if we ever receive any responses from anyone!
No worries. No offense taken at all. I see this as the occasional opportunity for more information about the industry. And to redirect if there are misconceptions that I can address.
I keep learning too. Constantly reading other experts and listening to new ideas. It is, and should be, a never ending quest.
Technological solution to the hate mail: block all future email from that address. You wouldn’t want such people as clients, anyway.
I read someplace that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. I know the folks at your agency are never indifferent to the needs and feelings of authors. In fact, y’all are just the opposite. But every manuscript is the author’s baby, and never hearing anything hurts, even if it’s what’s expected.
The delete key works too. !!!
I also keep a folder for the worst of the worst in case the authorities ever need proof of what was sent.
Many years ago I took a personality test during a job application process that revealed that I’m patient to a fault (literally–I was off the chart on patience for a job that required pushiness). I work really hard not to ‘pester.’ While I haven’t waited 26 years for an acceptance, I did get one not long ago where I had to go back to my files to even see what I’d submitted when I received a contract from a magazine. It had been two or three years since I’d submitted it–on request.
Thanks for making me laugh. A lesson persistent patience, perhaps?
Thank you for laughing with us at the professional hilarity of the situation.
The author of the poem and I both said, “Seriously? That is hilarious! Sign the contract!”
So…..you’re saying I should take “pester Steve Laube” off my November 23rd to-do list, then?
So you “planned” to write the day before Thanksgiving? Maybe wait until after the holiday weekend. hah! 🙂
Right, good point.
Monday, November 28th.
1. Awaken to yowling cat.
2. Head to kitchen with intent to feed cat.
3. Trip over cat.
4. Manage to feed ungrateful cat.
5. Coffee and devotional time. Push cat off lap because he likes to rest on whatever book I’m trying to read, in this case the Bible. (Not sure where I’ll be in late November. Possibly Isaiah. Hard to tell because I can’t see through overfed and lazy cat. X-Ray vision on the fritz.)
6. Manage to finish devotional time, hopefully in a Christlike, charitable, and patient spirit.
7. Pester Steve Laube. No, wait, that would defeat the whole purpose of being in a patient spirit.
8. REFRAIN from pestering Steve Laube.
12. Go to work.
Thanks. I think that’ll be workable. And thanks for the laugh–I enjoy reading the blog posts.
You have a busy morning planned…
Honored to be “not” on the list!
Rebecca Barlow Jordan
Having received a gracious letter of “rejection from your office after sending you my first attempt in the “publishing world” was a treat in itself! And the word “merit” in the body of the letter gave me such encouragement. Publishing would acknowledge that I can “write” but It is not what motivates me the most. I have been given the gift of words and sharing that gift with friends and family are the most important of all. So I write letters, poetry, short stories, encouraging notes and know my words have reached the people in my world who need them the most. No letters, emails, or nasty phone calls from me, you folks do a great job!
Elizabeth Van Tassel
I really like the idea of not waiting for one type of writing to succeed but working from several sides of your idea pile at the same time. Just like certain segments of the fiction market are cyclical, perhaps her poem works very well for the market now. Or maybe it’s the best joke at the dinner table—ever!
As to the wait, I’d rather have a carefully-vetted look at my work than a “no” or even a “yes” due to some kind of rush. When I sold high-end jewelry, people would come in for appraisals and balk that we took our time to photograph the item and ensure it was a real gem first. I never liked telling people their precious ring or necklace was plastic or lab-treated. Our careful process made finding the real, sparkling ones even better, and our service guarantee to customers more meaningful.
It’s the same with stories or a well constructed nonfiction approach. Best to have all the sparkle and shine ready to go than not.
Thanks for sharing!
I truly am learning a lot from this blog. There is always valuable information for a new writer like me. Thank you.
Mary Albers Felkins
Steve, you just make me smile. Press on with what you’re doing. And just so thankful you don’t get to determine the authenticity of MY faith, either 🙂
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Interesting that you should make this posting this week, Steve. At the ACFW conference in Nashville, three agents asked me for my Suddenly Single manuscript. I sent it to all three, and the end of this week marks 8 weeks since I sent it. To all three……..
Let’s hope that all three don’t wait 23 years and then have two publishers fighting over your manuscript. 😉
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Oh, my stars! I sure hope they don’t wait 23 years!
Thank you so much for this post…a message of hope to me today. Just pulled up my email, and found out I was rejected again…hm…maybe this warm article will burn the flames of an author down the road…for now…I keep on pressing on…
Hi Steve and all –
great post – especially the lady who waited 26 years. Patience, indeed.
I submitted (in 1990) a MS as I went from ACE Publishing (seriously) on down the line. I received several rejections, but expected that. Then one day . . . almost a year later . . . I thought, maybe I ought to call the publishing house where it’s at–those were the days of boxes, SASE’s, and (anyone remember this?) over the transom submissions.
I wrote a letter, polite, wondering if perchance they threw it away, and I could move on. Well, long story short, the publishing house switched from fiction to non-fiction. The MS sat on a shelf, where it collected dust.
However, as the apology letter stated, ‘an editor was interested in your work. Please accept our apologies.’ They didn’t know the name of the editor.
On opening the MS box, sticky notes on multiple pages filled the script with requests for a change here or there . . . For a week I banged my head on the table until I re-read it.
It was a political thriller. I wasn’t thrilled. But, then again, I was glad to put it down. It didn’t represent my faith (at all) shaking me into recognition that my faith was mere lip-service.
So, that manuscript disappeared. I’ve never found but the research. Now that Steve Jobs had made my computer invention real — well that’s out. But I can tweak it and I have enough for a trilogy- not a trashy one book thriller.
God works all things together for good.
Ann L. Coker
Wednesday I had a record in acceptance time. I submitted a personal story via email attachment to a magazine (new to me). Within the hour the editor replied, “This is very good. ” He then asked permission to enter it in their writing contest.
Sweet! How exciting!