Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How Long to Wait for a Response

I'm new to your blog and hope this is not an inappropriate question. At a small conference I met with an editor and pitched my psychological thriller. She spent extra time with me and said if I could do what I was attempting, I was a ‘friggin’ genius’—her words, not mine. She requested a full as soon as it was polished. Several pubbed authors have critiqued it and also have given it high praise. I sent it off on July 5, 2007. Haven’t heard a thing. I’m hoping that means that she’s considering publishing it. Does it usually take this long? Should I make contact? Am I just being too anxious? I'd like to start querying agents but I don't know if I should at this point.

First let me welcome you to the blog and thank you for your question. There are no stupid questions and everything is appropriate. Especially since I will always make sure your questions remain anonymous.

I’m going to say it fairly simply: start querying agents now!!! And by now I mean yesterday. If you really do have an editor who is that excited and that interested in your book, then what are you waiting for? Get more people interested and excited. The truth is that July was a long time ago and anyone who really was as excited as she seemed be be would have responded within months, weeks, or even days. A lot of time has gone by, and at this point it just doesn’t seem that she’s as excited as she once was. Who knows why that is. Maybe her tastes have changed, maybe the direction of the publishing program at her house has changed, or maybe she is just bogged down and hasn’t gotten to it yet. Whatever it is, you cannot put your career on hold because one person, at one time, expressed enthusiasm. Whenever you get that kind of response from an agent or an editor you should absolutely be excited and get your work out, but you should also be looking for others who might be just as excited, or in this case, more so.

Let me ask you a question . . . are you looking to get published or are you looking to get published in the best possible way? If it’s the latter, then you want an agent on your side. Someone who can not only negotiate an amazing contract when the time comes, but who can also ensure that as many publishers see the book as possible and that you get sold to the one who can best move your career forward. Whether it’s this editor or not is yet to be determined, but even if she calls with an offer tomorrow, it serves you best to have an agent there to help you manage the terrain.

And last, I would definitely make contact with the editor. Let her know that you’re still alive and anxious to hear what she thinks. And then get querying.

Congratulations on having an idea that clearly has someone’s attention, but there’s no reason to pin everything on one editor or one agent. Life is too short and she’s already taken too long for someone who is supposedly so enthusiastic. Find an agent now who is excited enough to want to take your book to as many editors as possible and negotiate you the best deal.



Julie Weathers said...

I agree completely.

I look at it like selling my house. I want a professional out there handling it and getting maximum exposure.

There is one publishing house that gladly accepts unagented manuscripts, but they say it will take about twelve months to get back to you. They are perfect for my work, but I don't have the luxury of sending an exclusive and waiting twelve months to hear back.

If the book is this exciting, you should be able to find a good agent to look out for your interests and give you solid, objective advice on how to build your writing career.

Aimless Writer said...

Thank you, I loved this answer.
I don't think editor's ask for exclusives but what if this was an agent who wanted one? How long do you wait then?

Kimber An said...

Good question and a good answer!

Thanks to Miss Snark, I send out queries and forget about them as I churn out the next thing. One time, I received a request for a partial and I could not remember sending the query. At first, I thought it was for a Middle Grade I'd just launched into Queryland. Turned out to be for a Science Fantasy I'd launched into Queryland eight months before! It's a funny business. Just keep learning and chugging away, that's what I say.
I do keep better track of what I send out now, however!

whimper1823 said...

Excellent advice, as always, jessica, but I noticed you didn't invite her to query you. Was it because you didn't want to brag about Jacky, Kim or youself?

I think, judging by what books you handle, it would be right up your alley, Jessica. Hopefully the person who asked the question will read this.

If you are seriously looking for an agent, Jessica, Jacky and Kim are at the top of their class. Aside from being top notch agents, they have the one quality that all of us writers seek out in an agent, they care about each one of us.

My advice, check out their blog, go browsing. Jessica is currently taking a look at pitches that writers have sent in. If you don't already have yours laid out, it would be a good place to start. Unfortunately, the learning curve for pitches is steep, was you will see, but thanks to the help from Jessica, she practically does everything but write the Gall Darned thing.

Good luck with your project. If it were me, I wouldn't settle for anyone but bookends, LLC.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, Jessica. This subject is very much on my mind. If you have a moment, could you tell us what's the best way to inform agents that we've got an editor interested? Kristin once said that if we say it in the first paragraph, it sounds like we're trying to impress. I've done this with mixed results and wondered if it's best to casually mention it at the end of the letter. Thanks so much.

moonrat said...

every author, especially every fiction author, should have an agent. even if this editor was jumping all over your book, you should still get an agent. an agent will make/save you FAR more money than the perceived 15% cost.

Anonymous said...

Many times editors are more excited than agenst about certain ideas...I've had much more excitement coming from the editor direction than from agents -- but I do think you should at least be looking at agents ;) It's only when you've heard agents say 'I love this, but' a billion times that you might start thinking of a different way to go, imo. When that happens, then you might just decide to wait for an editor offer and see if that won't get an agent's attention.

Paul West said...

I had a similar experience, but with an agent. She asked for a partial. When I hadn't heard from her for over three months, I sent a polite letter asking the status. She wrote back and said she'd sent a rejection two month earlier, but for some reason it got lost. Fortunately, she hadn't asked for an exclusive and I did not stop sending queries during this time.

Josephine Damian said...

I know most of the romance writers go directly to the publisher, but for crime fiction, all the decent houses are through agent only submissions.

Totally agree. This writer needs to query like crazy!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "friggin' genius,""high praise" and the little word "if"

I note the editor who has not responded in half a year, said "if" you could do what you were attempting. Perhaps, after receiving your full, she decided (and perhaps immediately!) that you had not. Yes, I can picture in my cynical weatherbeaten mind, the editor's hand as she tosses your full onto a loathsome (to the editor) pile of other disappointing fulls - that tanked, failed, missed the mark.

Or maybe weren't as "polished" as the editor needed the manuscript to be? So that's qualifier #2 - not only did you need to "do what you were attempting," your full also needed to be "polished."

And maybe getting "high praise" from "several pubbed authors" is just a way of putting off the day of reckoning (we writers all have them) - when we admit to ourselves, "No, I haven't pulled this off just yet" and "no, this isn't anywhere NEAR being as polished as it should be."

People want to be nice. People want to avoid embarrassment in social situations. Sometimes when someone perceives how much something means to someone else, they're going to tell that person what they want to hear.

When you get down to it there are only 3 opinions that matter: The agent(s) who offer you a contract; the publisher(s) who buy your work; and then your OWN.

I think the last one is the most important. You must be your own worst critic! You must be your own biggest cheerleader! Or to continue the sports analogy: You are the team, the cheerleading squad, AND the coach.

I get nervous when someone asks, "I’m hoping that means that she’s considering publishing it" and 6 months have gone by, and in the meantime you've only collected more praise...and not rejections. The one good thing about rejection provides an opportunity for cold self-scrutiny, that would otherwise be put off forever. Not that your manuscript is "terrible," it just may need more roll-up-your-sleeves work. And you can do that!

Couldn't help sending out to you, a little of the "cold light of a January day"

Wanda B.

Julie Weathers said...

Just an odd bit of information. When I was querying a lot, I kept a three-ring binder with ledger pages. I tracked exactly what was sent to whom. Then I entered when I received a response and wrote a brief comment. The letters from them I put behind their page. Each agency had their own page.

If they were total jerks, and a few were, I flagged them to make sure I didn't waste my time with them ever again. I also flagged agents who said they liked my style, but the project didn't fit their needs and invited me to query again.

They system works for me, but then I have an obsession with three-ring binders.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

My binder doppleganger - we have encountered each other at last.

Dear Julie,

May I just mention - I hate 3-ring binders! The corporate-ready exterior, promising order and continuity - and then inside, finger-pinching nastiness if you're not careful. Maybe binders remind me of all my old temp jobs (have I a "brood" of them now?) - being
handed a folded twenty so I could order an ad exec's lunch, and being peeved about it, until I noticed her fingernail polish was chipped, and then I felt sorry for her (though I still didn't want to order her lunch.) Or having a "friendly debate" (what else do temps have with the perms?) about being called "girl," and then afterward one of the nursing staff came to talk to me, why let it bother me? Except it was International Holocaust
Memorial Day, and this nurse was from Germany, and always shaved her head that day, so here was this young, bald nurse with wire-rim glasses crouching down by my desk,
looking up into my face, and saying in her German accent: "It doesn't have anything to do with anything."

I am always finding 3-ring binders and making all sorts of Martha-Stewart-y plans for
what I'm going to do with them - I save them, I stack them, I stash them...then after the requisite period of time...I toss them out. Guiltily - I think there must be some way to recycle them, these office venus flytraps, so seductive, yet so repellent! Where is my binder doppleganger when I need her?

Currently I have an old (I mean, circa WWII) light blue binder with a musty smell (I just can't bear to part with it, why? I need binder therapy); a burgundy binder with weird plastic pockets I can't figure out what's supposed to go in them (floppy disks? tarot cards?
one's wallet collection?) - two huge white vinyl binders with black plastic slats on the inside - I think I keep these because they remind of "mod" white vinyl raincoats from the '60s, that you would wear a black turtleneck under...then you were "with it"...

Anyway, I had to riff on binders a bit, I think because I am re-reading Joan Didion's "White Album" essays, gearing up to write an intro to a book of poetry of mine, and I hate writing intros (prologues, prefaces) almost as much as I hate binders!

Wanda B.

Julie Weathers said...


Thanks, I needed that laugh. I moved from a spacious house with a nice office and lots of storage into a tiny apartment. Long story. I didn't have room to unpack everything, obviously, but I still have, just a second, counting. Fifty four binders. Wonder where the rest of them are?

In my defense, three of them are for when I am working for the racing magazine. The others are mostly filled with research.

*Fondles her notebooks. "My Precious. Don't listen to lady talking about throwing notebooks away."

Shaun Carney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shaun Carney said...

I have a magnetic clip on the fridge with all the rejection letters. I should call them rejection notices really, because they are NOT letters. I had one email that *appeared* to be personally composed, but you can never tell. The "notices," however, are clearly canned replies. I understand, though. Agents are very busy people.

But that tells me a lot. It says my queries are just not hitting the mark. No matter how good my books are, if I can't convey that in a concise letter, then I have no chance of getting an agent or getting published. So, that's what I need to work on: the query and the pitch. And THAT is why I follow Jessica's pitch crituque so much.

Stet said...

To the original posting of how long to wait: I had a similar jump-up-and-down moment in December 07. I sent a query letter to a NY publisher and received my letter back (after 2 1/2 weeks) with a scribbled note from the assistant editor to submit the first three chapters and an SASE. I sent them and to this date have not heard anything. About 4 weeks ago I sent a status, inquiry query (per their submission guidelines) and still no answer. I agree with Wandy B. on these issues. I am always one step into the next query letter or submission when I send out a query. I expect the rejection and having a-next-in-line approach helps with the drifting and non-essential feelings that come with waiting. My experience has given me 2 beliefs. When a publisher wants you she lets you know immediately. When a publisher does not want you she lets you know immediately. What happens when the publisher doesn't do anything? Other than "my dog ate it," any thoughts?