My agent, a very good one from one of the best NYC agencies, has submitted my memoir proposal to 14 publishers last week. Though I've asked him, he can't really tell me how long it will take for each to respond one way or another, whether wanting to read the entire manuscript or not. So, my question is this: in general, how long does it take for a publisher to READ and then RESPOND to a proposal?
I've answered this question in past posts, so please visit www.landaliteraryagent.com and download the free PDF with 600 pages of information, including the answer to this question.
But I will answer again here: there are many variables. A lot will depend on how long your memoir "proposal" is--i.e., is it 10 pages or 200? In general, a typical non fiction proposal runs around 30-40 pages, and typically publishers will respond at varying times, ranging from a few days up to around 8 weeks. If it were a finished manuscript, then it could take 12 weeks.
A lot will depend on the agent's style, too--i.e., is he aggressively keeping the pressure on editors, doing his best to build a buzz, setting an auction and naming a closing date? Some agents will set an immediate closing date to try to build a sense of excitement, and might close within 1 or 2 weeks. That can backfire, though, since sometimes editors won't have a chance to read in time. Other agents are more laid back and will just wait to hear. An agent's approach may also differ if he feels your proposal will garner a 10k advance or a 1 mil advance. A good agent will know how to handle it, and no one way is necessarily better. As I said, there are a lot of variables.
But all things considered, for a typical non fiction proposal, if you haven't heard in 8 weeks it likely won't sell in that round of submissions. And if you are going to sell it for a large advance, often that happens quickly, sometimes even within a few days.