Tuesday, September 22, 2009
How long should I wait to hear back about my manuscript?
"There is a local, regional publisher interested in the project I have submitted to her, however she says she doesn't have time to read it all now. Would it be disloyal for me to submit it to another publisher?"
Waiting time can be a major issue in most authors’ writing careers. I can’t begin to tell you how many authors I’ve met who tell me that they won’t submit their manuscript elsewhere—or even begin to think about writing a new book—until they first hear back from a particular agent or publisher. When I ask them how long they’ve been waiting, they often say several months. Some tell me they’ve been waiting for years, putting their career on hold all of this time.
This is problematic for several reasons: first, because publishing is so subjective, and because agents’ and editors’ needs change so often, it is impossible to predict if any given agent or editor will like your work, no matter how likely they may seem. You must understand that, statistically, the chances are that any given submission will end in rejection. This is why getting published is mostly about the numbers: the author who submits to 50 or 100 agents or publishers will stand a much greater chance of getting published than the author who submits to 10. Thus the author who submits to only a few people and who then sits back waiting to hear is in all likelihood just wasting his time.
Second, publishing is a slow industry to begin with. It takes time to read a 300 or 400 page manuscript: the average response time for a 400 page manuscript will be at least 6 to 8 weeks. If you want to submit to 50 agents, there is no way you can do so by submitting to one person at a time, unless you are willing to spend five years submitting a particular manuscript (which I would never advise). An aggressive submission can—and should—successfully reach 50 or 100 agents within 6 months. You cannot achieve this unless you are submitting widely, and simultaneously.
Third, if you put your life on hold and spend months waiting for just one response, chances are that, with nothing else to do, you will dwell on this person, and will invest a lot emotionally on his response. If the response finally comes and it is a rejection, it will upset you much more. But if you had had your manuscript out with 100 agents, and 5 rejections had landed in a single day, it would hardly phase you: you would tell yourself that it is still out with 95 others. This will make the psychological roller-coaster of a submission much easier to handle. And it is important to manage the psychology of a submission.
Fourth, you should not look to the industry for validation. Many authors tell me that they will wait to hear whether the industry accepts their novel before they consider whether to continue writing. This is a big mistake. You must remember how subjective the industry is, and realize that even if 100 agents reject your manuscript, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t eminently publishable. You must reach a point where you are satisfied with your work. When you do, get behind it and stay behind it, regardless of how many rejections come in.
Finally, there should never be any downtime in your writing. Writing is a muscle, and the more you write, the better you will become. When you finish one book, turn immediately to the next, and don’t use a submission as an excuse to take a break and not do the hard work of continuing to write every day. A writer should never be “waiting”— only “writing” or “submitting.” In fact, the word “waiting” should not even exist in the successful author’s vocabulary.
You may encounter some agents or editors who demand that you give them exclusive reading time. If they are legitimate, and sincerely like your work, then in select cases, you might grant them exclusive reading time—but only for a finite period of time, which should be clearly stated in your letter. Otherwise, don’t submit exclusively. You don’t owe “loyalty” to an agent or editor who you’ve never met and who may not even like your work. You do, however, owe loyalty to yourself. As an author, there are so few things you can control in this industry. Waiting time is one of them. And it should indeed stay in your control.