by Janet Kobobel Grant
“Waiting is harder than writing,” one of my clients observed in an email to me. That was it; the email contained nothing else.
I smiled when I read it. Yup, that sums up the life of a writer right there.
Waiting for an Agent
Obtaining an agent is the beginning of playing the publishing waiting game for most writers. Sometimes agents take forever to even read your work. As a writer, you’re left in limbo. Should you start another project? Take tap dancing lessons to help speed up the passage of time? Bug the agent? Pitch another agent?
The silence can be uncomfortable and long.
Waiting for the Agent Part 2
Often unrepresented writers think waiting will be an occupation viewed in the rearview mirror once you obtain an agent. The skids are greased now!
Actually, at this point, the Books & Such agents will take a deep dive into your proposal to seek out every weakness in the presentation of the project, including the writing of the sample chapters. With only one chance to obtain a yes from a publishing house, we do meticulous work in enhancing the highlights and positioning any weak areas in the best light possible. That takes time.
The writer waits to receive instructions in how to shore up the submission.
If several clients submit their proposals to the agent for review at the same time, suddenly the agent has more work to do than can be fit into an already full calendar. Days or even weeks can tick by as the agent methodically makes her way through each one.
Waiting for the Editor
Once the proposal has been sent to a raft of editors, both the agent and the writer wait to hear responses. This, by the way, is the phase my client was in who wrote the brief but astute email at the beginning of this blog post. Since this is his first project to be submitted to publishing houses, he’s learning that this is just another waiting station on the path to publication.
Sometimes editors quickly read proposals. Other times travel schedules, heavy editing on contracted manuscripts, or an author missing a deadline–which leaves the editor having to make up for lost time–all can conspire to keep the editor from working through the submission stack.
Waiting for the Publishing Committee
Even when a project is slated for discussion by the publishing committee, that committee might not meet for several weeks or even months. Especially in the summer, when vacations keep the committee members moving in and out of the office, it can be an agonizing wait.
Knowing the day in which the committee meets can build false expectations about hearing good or bad news shortly. Since most meetings last a full day, the editor won’t have a chance to inform each agent of the results of the committee’s discussions until at least the next day.
Waiting for the P&L
The publishing waiting game continues as everyone–the editor, those on the publishing committee, the agent, and of course, the writer–wait to see if the potential book is likely to be profitable. The only way to know is to run the numbers–sales projections, production costs, and marketing budget are all compiled. The numbers show if it makes sense to offer a contract for the book, and if so, how much of an advance works with the projections.
That can take a few days after the committee meets, especially if decisions were made to possibly offer several contracts.
Waiting for the Contract
Your book was approved. Hooray! At last the waiting is over…except, now we’re waiting for the contract. Some publishers will send a draft contract in a week or so. Others can take months. Yes, months.
Most writers will not wait for the contract to be ready to sign but will move forward with working on the manuscript. That’s always a bit of a risk since something unexpected could cause the deal to fall apart, but writers tend to believe plenty of waiting has already occurred; it’s time to get to work!
Delays can happen during negotiating the contract’s details, especially if the publishing house has done a major revamp of its contract or if the agent and the contracts administrator can’t agree on certain contractual clauses. That’s when the writer can realize this publishing offer can slip away. All he or she can do at this point is…you guessed it, wait.
Waiting for Word from the Editor
Once the author has completed the manuscript, waiting continues as a watchword while the editor reads the manuscript and puts together notes on revisions. The writer has no idea if the suggested changes will be minor or significant enough to require an entire rewrite. This might be the most agonizing wait of all.
Waiting for Marketing and Publicity
Marketing departments segment their publishing calendars into seasons (usually four seasons). Each title will be assigned a release date, placing it in a season with a lineup of other releases. So as to remain focused on the upcoming season, marketing doesn’t turn its full attention to any other seasons until their turn.
This can be frustrating for the author who wants to know what marketing is planning to do to promote her book, and what plans she should lay for herself. But to ask marketing this sort of detail is only to engage in a futile exercise. Until marketing’s calendar indicates it’s time to talk details with you, there are no details to share.
Waiting for the Book’s Release
At last, the publishing waiting game concludes with the grand moment you’ve dreamed about long and deep–your book’s release day. Suddenly all that waiting seems worth it.
Other spurts of waiting are sprinkled throughout the process, but these are the major ones.
Which part of the publishing waiting game is hardest for you? What do you do when the waiting becomes hard?
Writers lament: Waiting is harder than writing. What’s with all the waiting in publishing anyway? Click to tweet.
Why writers need so much patience: There’s a lot of waiting in the publishing process. Click to tweet.