The Best of Times. The Worst of Times.

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Back in the days when I was writing and submitting my work, hoping to catch the interest of an agent or editor, I would spend hours trying to strategize the perfect time for my query or proposal to land on their desks. I decided to give you a cheat sheet and save you from hours of analysis. Here are a few of the worst times for your work to appear:

  • The weeks just prior to a major trade show— BEA or ICRS
  • The week just after a major trade show
  • The week before a writer’s conference at which the agent or editor is giving a presentation
  • The week after a writer’s conference
  • Three or four weeks after a writers’ conference when all the requested manuscripts begin coming in and bury your submission
  • The week before the editor’s or agent’s vacation
  • The week before or after a three-day weekend
  • Thanksgiving week
  • The week before Christmas
  • The week after Christmas
  • The week or two following NANOWRIMO

How about the best times to query:

  • The day your target agent or editor finally cleaned out his inbox and answered all his queries
  • The day the agent or editor decided he is looking for the exact book you’ve written
  • The first week of the year unless, like two of our Books & Such agents, your recipient is attending a new year conference
  • The first week in September (another new year) as long as the recipient has no major writing conferences planned
  • In one of the ho-hum months where nothing much is happening

Hopefully you’ve already guessed this is written with tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek. There is no way, short of being a stalker, you can pick the perfect time for your query or proposal to land on the agents or editor’s desk.All my strategizing back in the day was probably a huge waste of energy.

So what’s the best strategy then?

  • Offer a novel that will get attention simply because it’s a fresh story, beautifully told; or, in the case of nonfiction, a great idea written by the perfect person.
  • Meet the editor or agent at a writing conference if possible. Nothing beats having that personal connection.
  • Make sure your name is recognizable and memorable if you can’t meet in person. You do this through social media.
  • Do your best to send the query at a good time– not Christmas, not trade shows. Leave the rest of the timing to God.
  • If you don’t hear back or you get a “no thanks,” try again with your next book. Sometimes it’s just because there’s another book too much like it in the pipeline.

Anyway, that’s my half-brain-dead advice on the day I’ve come home from both the major trade show of the year AND a writing conference, all in the same week.

So. . . what’s your advice? What kind of schedule wisdom have you absorbed. What do you think is the best strategy for timing of submissions?

 

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79 Comments

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    Wait for that holy nudge. Which I didn’t even recognize as such until AFTER the fact.

    I think all you can do is polish your book to the very best of your ability and then try not to submit at an obviously bad time (day two of ICRS, Christmas Eve, etc.). I LOVE to look at circumstances and “see” where God is headed with something. Over the years I’ve finally begun to realize that the only thing I can count on when I anticipate God’s direction is that I’m WRONG.

    • lisa says:

      I love that, wait for the holy nudge.

    • “A hold nudge” ? Amen, sister!

    • Sarah, I’m joining the crowd of fans of your words, “holy nudge.” :)

    • Jeanne T says:

      Sarah, I’m joining the club too. :) Waiting for God’s holy nudge is always best. I confess, I have also been wrong (more times than I care to count) when trying to anticipate/predict God’s timing and direction in my life. :)

    • Wise advice, wait for a a holy nudge!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Perfect answer, Sarah.

    • Dear Wendy: I am a writer but also own and run Her Majesty’s English Tea Room and my shoppe Fairchild’s. When a rep calls on me and I say no to an item it is often a great item but not right for my business or not right right now. I can re-look at the same merchandise at another time when my focus has shifted and it is exactly what I want and need.

      So…that said, I believe in writing, writers need to know that their theme or story line might be just fine or great or whatever, but possibly not at all what a particular agent is looking for or looking for right at the moment.

      I find it is very difficult to determine what an agent sincerely wants. Most of the agent write ups are very general. And in my own excitement I think that could be me they are looking for.

      It might not hurt an agent to say though they certainly have an interest in many fields their highest level of enthusiasm is in…

      Also it helps not only for an agent to list their authors but show the book covers. A cover is worth a thousand words in helping an unpublished writer look at that jacket and think, yes this is my type of work or gee, I am really off base.

      I suspect there are many writers who find their genres bleed from one to another. Not quite middle grade but certainly would work that way due to the children involved.

      Romance but calm enough to be just fiction.

      A hint of mystery and yet basically a cozy story. These are situations that are hard to pin point where they belong. Any thoughts on this? Is it necessary to limit your genre to just one area or what to do with the over lap?

      I realize the words chick lit are gone and have been replaced by contemporary women’s fiction. Somehow that new title is so wide and vague it is difficult to find exactly where a more cozy story belongs. Any thoughts? Thank you for always having great advice. Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild

  • Prayer. And a discerning ear. As Sarah said “wait for the holy nudge”.

    Grab a coffee/Earl Grey and get comfie…

    Yesterday I prayed for a peace about a submission.
    I write family sagas, so I know they have to be TIGHT and emotional and sweeping-y. So sweeping and gripping you forget what day it is. Oh, and there’s a horse, too.

    So what happened when I prayed for peace about my (fake) little family?
    AHHHH!!!
    Not what I expected.
    I’d previously shared one (that’s ONE) re-written scene with a friend and she began to expound on the entire MS (she’s read it) and then suggested I change the story lines of FOUR characters.

    FOUR?

    Why not just, you know, ALL of them?

    As we say here, “seriously, eh?!”

    I cannot tell you how many times I listened to Suo Gan yesterday. That’s a Welsh lullaby, BTW. Oh, and the Last of the Mohicans score. And some Aretha Franklin…

    Finally, once I was all calmed and chilled, I looked at her suggestions, and as a well established writer friend/mentor/Yoda said, ” this is when you say, “thanks so much” — and move on …”

    So I did.

    The thing is, there is an agent who knows I’m working on a submission and to whom I’ve given an ETA. I don’t want to say “I’ll have it to you by the first week of July” and then send it in November when I’ve gotten the entire book re-written in haikus because somebody likes haikus and thought a story about an Indian would be great in Japanese poetic style.

    Annnnnnd all that to make this point…

    I told a trusted friend I didn’t feel like God was putting on the brakes by using my other friend to have an adverse reaction. God does not usually speak His will by making the recipient extremely anxious and doubtful of the words on her page. He does not speak through fear.

    I’ll say it again.

    He does NOT speak through fear!

    So, today? I’ll format the last few pages of the query and PRAY.

    Pray for a holy nudge, a calm spirit and the kind of peace that passes all understanding.

    • I hear ya about giving an ETA to an agent and then wanting to follow through. It’s an especially nail-biting experience when they give you a few friendly nudges to write faster. I can’t tell you how many late nights I wanted to face plant on the keyboard in exhaustion. Self-inflicted deadline be gone! But I learned a lot about how to pace myself and what I was capable of. It also highlighted my many areas of needed growth.

      • Jenni, I too have inflicted those self-imposed deadlines and been buried by them. Pacing is a virtue, and learned and rewarded practice! I’m presently honing that skill.

      • Jenni, I so like what you said “But I learned a lot about how to pace myself and what I was capable of. It also highlighted my many areas of needed growth.”
        Pacing oneself is not easy, especially when that desire to be perfect is all-consuming. But I learned a while back that I’m useless if I’m fried!

    • I can’t wait to read your book, Jennifer. What commitment! And you are so right about fear. Be gone little demon. PRAY and let the grace abound!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Critique is always tough. But like a medical diagnosis, sometimes its good to get a second opinion before putting your baby under the knife. :-)

  • I’m wondering if that comment was long enough?

    Slaps forehead…grins anyway.

    Hey, I was away for 2 weeks!!

    • You needed to get it out. The frustration, I mean. Bottom line: you need to ignore “helpful” people. There comes a time when done is done.

      And you are absolutely right: God doesn’t use fear. Actually, God answered your prayer. You let it go and came to peace. (God doesn’t speak through fear, but sometimes He has a funny way of giving us what we ask for. Ask God for patience and He’ll give you LOTS of experiences that will help you LEARN patience.)

      So now that you are “calmed and chilled,” format your query, send it and put into God’s hands. Do not fear. As a priest at my church said Sunday, “God’s got your back.”

      You are in my prayers, Jennifer, and in God’s hands. All will be well.

      Blessings.

  • I’ve definitely tried to figure out the best times to submit to editors, but every time seems like the wrong time, vacation/conference wise. In the end, you just have to get it out there when it’s ready to roll and pray it hits the right desk. I was shocked last year when it seemed many people got book contracts RIGHT AFTER THANKSGIVING, which wasn’t the time I’d pinpoint as prime-time for editors. In the end, you just never know. You just keep writing, submitting, and praying. In the meantime, there’s lots of time to work on platform/get your name out as an author, as you mentioned, Wendy.

  • Alex Myers says:

    I think your post does a great job of pointing out that there is no perfect time (or even good time!) to send that query.

    To add a little ray of sunshine, I will say this: when I was querying for my first novel, I got some wonderful replies (requests for more of the MS or helpful comments) well after I had despaired of ever hearing from the agent. So, even if you send at a bad time, there are those who dutifully read and respond to the queries they receive.

    -Alex.

    • That’s encouraging to know, Alex. Thanks. :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Bless them. It’s one of the things I dislike most– not having time to engage with those that may not yet be ready for representation. It’s one of the reasons we each make it a priority to be available one day a week on our blog. (Even a day when I should be emptying my suitcase, sorting papers and doing after-trip wash.)

  • Perfect timing for this post for me, Wendy. Thank you! I was just messaging with a writer friend about this very topic, and her input plus your post equals great advice. Feeling that holy nudge….

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    Too funny! I’m with Sarah–prayer or a “nudge” tells me it’s the right time.

    The only wrong time is if the book isn’t ready. :)

  • I had planned to submit my book last February. I was headed that direction when I heard from three people ALL in the same day tell me I was stressing too much and should just slow down and enjoy the process.

    So instead of charging forward with my own plans, I stopped and prayed. And I felt the command to slow down. Not something I’m good at.

    I still haven’t submitted the MS, but my book is better for it. I’m better for it, too. I now have a good goal — get the book completely and fully ready for ACFW, where I’ll pitch to agents/editors and can see if I get any requests. Then, I’ll take it from there–always with prayer and consideration of what God wants, not what I want.

    • Sarah Thomas says:

      And as a Genesis finalist, you’ll be in an awesome position to pitch! I guess God nudges us forward AND back at times. Can’t wait to meet you at ACFW!

    • Jeanne T says:

      Lindsay, I’m so excited for you. It is fun to watch how you lean into God’s nudges on this writing journey!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      ACFW is the deadline for many a novelist. I can’t wait to meet many of you in person at ACFW. (Janet and I are not on the roster because we are coming incognito– as fellow conferrees.)

      • You are?! That’s kind of cool. It’ll put a different spin on things, won’t it?

        Exactly what do you mean by “many of you”? ;)

        I totally think the restraining order will be lifted by then and hopefully the ankle bracelet won’t beep at all.

      • I look forward to meeting you in person as well!

      • Jeanne T says:

        Yay! Is it okay to say I’ll be on the look out for you just so I can meet you? :)

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        By many of you, I meant those we know from our blog community. And, Jeanne, we’d be disappointed if we found out you were there and we never had a chance to say hi.

        It’s a big conference and it’s often hard to connect but we’ll be out and about. If you are going to be at ACFW, please come and let us meet in person.

      • Wendy, I certainly hope we get to meet at ACFW. Thanks for letting us know you’re open to us saying hi. :)

  • Lori says:

    I believe you should never submit a book to an agent or editor until it is ready. Even when you think its ready, it still may not be.

    Then of course you pray that everyone will be beating a path to your door.

    Wendy, just between you and me is October a good month?

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      The first two weeks of October are great. Janet and I leave for the Allume conference in the third week followed by a working vacation in SC. But that’s just between us– don’t tell anyone. ;-)

  • Thank you, Wendy. The post was both humorous and encouraging despite your “half-brain dead” condition.

    I’m someone who tries to research, analyze and plan everything. Thank you for saving me from all that wasted time and energy. Based on your post, I’d say that the best time to submit is after my manuscript ready to the best of my knowledge (with the help of a couple professional critiques) and ability. Then the rest is up to God.

    Blessings! Have a wonderful Fourth of July.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I read a manuscript during my trip to ICRS and Speak Up that positively blew me away. I’m sure my roomie got tired of me talking about it but it was the best novel I’ve read in a very long time. I kept sneaking an hour here and and an hour there– reading on my iPad under the covers so the light wouldn’t keep roomie awake.

      There is nothing more exciting than to find that kind of manuscript. I still can’t stop thinking about it.

  • Wendy, thanks for the just-in-the-nick-of-time post. I was about to push the Send tomorrow, but will slow down and let the agent recover from the ICRS and wait on the Lord.

  • Jeanne T says:

    When I read the first portion of your post, I was busy calculating when the “best” times are for writers to query and submit. :) Then, as I read the second half I had to chuckle. Your words and suggestions are helpful, as always.

    Sarah has already said it so well—wait for the holy nudge. The other things I know is waiting until the book is truly done. To the best of my ability.

    God directs my every step on this journey. He knows how much time I’ll have to write each day, to revise, edit and polish. I need to be diligent to use the time He gives me wisely, and then when my book is ready, to step out in faith and send it out there. I’ve discovered that God’s timing is not my own. I’m learning to lean into that. It’s taken me much longer than I thought to work through my first book and to begin my second one. But I’ve learned so much in writing craft and in having an accurate mindset in the “extra” time it’s taking me. His timing is also perfect for when my story is ready to send out.

  • Hey, I know this is entirely off Wendy’s topic, but it picks up on the ‘holy nudge’ discussion.
    I was out running errands earlier and approached an intersection. The light was green, and vehicles were moving. I was about to proceed through and felt this “NO!” I hit the brakes, looked at the stopped bus on my left(which I couldn’t see through) and watched as a Dodge Ram truck gunned through the intersection in front of that bus and my van. Had I not stopped? The truck would have t-boned my van and crushed me and my son.

    All I thought at the time was “Now THAT was a HOLY NUDGE!!”

    God is good.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      If only we could see those unseen forces all around us. I think we wouldn’t feel quite so vulnerable. Thanks for this– we are all glad for that unequivocal NO that kept the two of you safe.

  • Rick Barry says:

    Wendy, you caught me on your very first point–I sent someone a proposal two weeks before ICRS.

    Well, I was headed out of the country and just couldn’t stand the thought of letting a completed proposal gather virtual dust while I was away. We’ll see what happens….

    Blessings to you and, as always, thanks for a thoughtful post.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      The truth is, the proposal will go in the queue and will come to the top at the perfect moment– simply because no editor or agent tackles his requested submissions until we’ve scheduled a breather and armed ourselves with a great cup of coffee or tea. Your proposal will be read when the reader has intentionally set aside a block of time to look for that next fabulous book.

  • This made me chuckle out loud. I appreciate the line, “Leave the rest of the timing to God.” Hope you are recovering from your whirlwind trips. Thanks for your teaching at the conference. I appreciate it!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Amelia! What fun to find you here after seeing you in Grand Rapids just a day or so ago. I’m still chewing on some of the things you taught in your sessions.

  • After I hit send recently I thought about reading through my ms again, but a friend of mine said, “Don’t do it!”
    Inevitability, I would find millions of errors, or beat myself over the head for not including this or that. Sometimes a break is a really good thing.
    I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters in my first novel, but I’ve met some new characters who are leading me into their world. I find myself gasping at the possibilities presented by their struggles, and the Lord’s plans to show up in the midst of them.
    Welcome home Wendy! The familiarity of ones pillow and flower garden can be invigorating indeed. :-)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Except my poor garden is practically desiccated from 108º temps! We’re trying to keep everything wet but it’s a losing proposition.

  • JJ Landis says:

    Oh, how discouraging!! But yet also freeing. There really is no good time but God’s time. I am poised with my manuscript as we speak, letting folks settle down from ICRS and Speak Up. Now I suppose I should wait until after the Fourth of July as well. A sigh with a smile.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      JJ– you are another one I loved being with at Speak Up. Don’t sigh. You presented your project in a way that makes it one for which editors and agents will be expecting. (Note: there’s nothing like pitching in person.)

  • Kiersti says:

    Haha–I often felt like I ended up contacting you at the absolute worst times, Wendy. I’m grateful that God is bigger than our mistakes. :) And for your graciousness as well! I’m trying to learn, but thanks for the reminder to just do our best and leave the rest of the timing up to God.

  • Welcome home, Wendy! And thank you for the humor and honestly on such an important subject that we all face.
    I wish I had a wise and witty suggestion but I think Jennifer covered it from the get-go, PRAY and act without fear.
    Sometimes I think a manuscript is ready to go but I hold back and keep hacking away at it, not sure it is “perfect’ just yet. FEAR!
    Prayer releases me from fear and if God gives the green light, it is time to send.
    A recent discussion several other authors and I trudged heavily into was about this very subject. I was amazed by the unanimous resistance to release and hit the send button.
    Yet we all agreed God is in control.
    I did notice a common bond, all the authors are agented and wanted to be the best they can be for their agent too.
    God honors all acts of obedience so that is where we left the discussion.
    Pray without fear, and listen and obey!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      It’s a little easier, however, when you are agented because there’s already a team in place to work on things together.

  • Beth Fortune says:

    Having just sent my FIRST query letter to Books & Such yesterday I have to admit you had me when you began your post. I thought to myself, “Oh no! I should have waited one more day so I could have read this before sending that query!” Thank goodness it didn’t take me long to catch on ;-)

    Your post helps me see the wisdom in seeking God and following His leading. It’s all in His timing and I do feel a peace about hitting the SEND button yesterday.

    Thanks!
    Beth Fortune

  • Wendy, my advice for YOU is to take a few days off and relax so you don’t collapse. Happy Fourth of July.

  • I sometimes beat myself up at my slow submission pace, but then remind myself that if I haven’t gotten that “holy nudge,” it’s for the best. Thanks for the wise words, Wendy, and all!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Thanks, Carrie. And in this field there’s already enough to beat us up– you need to be the one who cuts yourself some slack.

  • Hey, Wendy, laughing here. I’m sure your brain half-dead is better than my whole one any day.
    But I hope you had a good trade show and conference and are able to rest up a bit.

    Taking your proposal to a conference so you can meet potential editors and agents gets my vote. Even if you follow a blog, or have a friend who works with another party, I feel being able to talk with people, interact with them, see what their personality is like, is so important.

    Working together on books is much more than a business arrangement. It encompasses the highs and lows of expectations and emotions. If you can visit with a person before making a deal, it may keep disasters from happening later.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Absolutely, Wanda. That’s the thing I noticed at the conference over the weekend. Much of our time was spend re-visioning proposed books.

  • This post was so timely for me. Like someone else mentioned, I was already calculating the best time after the first few lines! I realized the other day that I’m close enough to say this is the month I’ll start sending my proposal out and I was going to look into whether July is a good or bad time. Thanks for the honest post. :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      We used to say there was no sense in an agent sending a proposal out to an editor between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What is, until we found we sold quite a few projects during that time period. Now, we just admit we know nothing. :-)

  • Can you tell me your dog’s birthday and I will for sure – avoid sending you my query letter – for the entire week, or possibly month.

    (Ooops. You might have more than one dog or cat or other significant pets. In that case . . . just tell me the months when none of your furry friends don’t have a birthday.)

    Thanks.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Wendy, your post reminds me of an unsuccessful salesman who worked for me. He deduced all the days and times when he should not call on prospects, leaving only 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays as the only times to make contact. He didn’t work for me too long after that.

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