The Publishing Quest: Hurry Up and Wait
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
If you are a planner, no career is tougher than that of a published writer. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could sketch out a timeline? In a perfect world it might look something like this:
- Sign with the perfect agent– six months
- Work with agent to finesse proposal and manuscript– six months
- Agent shops proposal– three months
- Offers come in–three months
- Contract signed–at the end of three month offer period
- First half of advance arrives– upon signing contract
- Book due– six months later
- Book accepted, 2nd half of advance rec’d– within a couple weeks
- Edits come– with ample time to respond
- Galleys come– with ample time to respond
- Second book contracted– so that there is no down time writing-wise
- First book published– plenty of time to celebrate
- Marketing for first book– happens long before book is published and long afterward
- Writing Book Two–while doing all marketing tasks for Book One. Creativity flows no matter how many little details need to be addressed.
- Book Two due– six months later. Plan for book to be completed early to allow plenty of time for rewriting.
- Book Two accepted, 2nd half of advance rec’d– within a couple weeks
- Edits come– again
- Galleys come–again
- Third book contracted– like clockwork
- Second book published– see schedule above and repeat.
Sounds like a plan, right? As Robert Burns said, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ’men gang aft agley.” (In today’s English: The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.)
Let me take a few of these and shed some light.
Sign with an agent. If you follow agent blogs you already know that finding the right agent may be one of the toughest steps. When you decide to start seeking an agent your manuscript may not be ready. If that’s the case you will have to receive a boatload of declines (or silence) and revamp to start all over again. There’s no way to “make it happen.” Putting a time limit on this would just frustrate you.
Work with your agent to finesse your proposal. This may take no time at all, if your proposal was near perfect when the agent signed you or it may be a very long process. Remember, the agent has dozens of clients and his or her schedule may not allow for the kind of immediacy that would be optimal.
Agent shops proposal. Writers get impatient when the agent takes what feels like a long time to shop the proposal. Trust me, no one wants to sell your book more than your agent, but we know that we are likely to get only one shot with your book at each house so we hold it back until it’s ready and then we work hard to be strategic as to the timing. We want the book to have the best chance of success. We pay attention to what is happening in publishing and with each editor, trying to give them what they are looking for at the best possible time.
Offers come in. This is not a given. Sometimes multiple offers come in. Other times we get declines or silence. There is no timeline here. It is a buyers market and editors are up to their eyeballs in possibilities. They have books going through the editing process at the same time. Too much work, too little time. When we don’t have any luck on the first round of submissions we get creative and find other houses that may have an interest. Still no bites? We may have to come back to you and suggest we put this manuscript in a drawer and try another book. It’s not unusual for a second book to sell first and a first book to be published later when the author is successful and the publisher is looking for more books by the author.
Contract signed. Even after an offer is accepted it may take a very long time to get the contract, depending on how backed up the contract department is. When the contract comes your agent has to go work on it– sometimes there are many back-and-forth negotiations at this point. When the contract is finalized, your agent requests signing copies. Only then will you receive it. The first half of your advance usually arrives thirty days after all the signatures have been collected.
Book Accepted: You may break your neck to meet your deadline and then. . . silence. The editor must read your manuscript and accept it before your check is ordered. Editors work hard to do this in a timely manner since they often have tight deadlines but if another author was late or a book was slipped in before yours, your editor may not be able to get to your book right away. This can be a time of self-doubt and bitten fingernails if you don’t understand the process.
Edits, galleys, etc. Remember the editor is also on a tight timeline. You may receive edits and have to jump on them immediately to make the changes by the deadline. The same with galleys. This is where the author can offer grace and flexibility.
Marketing. Many authors are surprised that they don’t hear from the marketing department right away. Hopefully you’ll hear from the publisher with an idea of what you can expect. Your book will come up on their calendar on a certain day and everything will be put in motion. Active marketing for your book will end on a specified day as well. You need to know when your “season” of active marketing will begin and end. After that there will be bits and spurts and you may continue your own marketing but by and large, the push will be over and word-of-mouth must kick in.
Second book contracted. In a perfect world. . . Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. This is where many authors get discouraged with the journey. They know that in order to keep their readers engaged they need to offer a steady flow of books. The publisher, on the other hand, may want to wait to see how the first book does before he commits. This can be an uneasy waiting time.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Until a successful multi-book career is established, the writer needs to be able to wait with grace. This career is an exercise in patience.
How does one find the patience for this kind of journey? Some have thrown their hands up at the seeming powerlessness of the traditionally published author and decided to self-publish. Do you think they face any similar challenges?