Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Timing Counts

A while back I posted a series on the query letters that first introduced me to a number of my clients. One of the comments I made on J. B. Stanley’s query was that while the hook grabbed my attention four years ago, if she submitted today I’m not sure it would even be a blip on the radar screen. Yes, like much of life, timing can be everything in publishing, and in J. B. Stanley’s case, the timing worked in her favor. She had a hook that hadn’t yet been done, but now it’s been done more than a number of times.

Timing is important in so much of life and publishing is not immune to that. A number of you commented on the timing of her letter in the comments section and one reader was inspired to email me a question. In her email she shared the story about a request she received from me about a year ago, a request for a full manuscript. For various reasons, primarily based on fear, the author has yet to send the requested material and wants to know what to do now. She still wants to send the book, but wonders if it’s too late.

The thing is, when material is requested we are excited about it and anxious to read it. Think of it this way, when you’re reading a book you’re excited about you can’t wait to get back to it anytime you put it down. What if you had to put it down after the first three chapters and weren’t allowed to come back to it for another year? Do you think you would have the same level of anxious anticipation to get back to it as you would if it was only a matter of hours or days? Moving quickly on a request works to your benefit because the agent, presumably, is still excited to read it.

That being said, and luckily for all of you, there is no statute of limitations on agent requests. You are allowed to submit requested material whenever you feel it’s ready. In fact, just recently I received a proposal I had requested, not kidding, two years ago.

The problem that author faced and the problem many of you face if waiting too long to send out the requested material is that the magical window called timing had closed. When I requested the proposal that took two years to create I was looking for a different kind of book and publishers were looking for a different kind of book. At the time of the original query the proposal fit those guidelines. By the time it landed on my desk, however, the holes for that kind of book had been filled. The books that publishers were looking for had been bought and published and we had all moved on to something new and fresh. Does that mean the author with the two-year-old proposal or the authors asking the question shouldn’t send their work, no matter when it’s finished? No. I think that if you have a request you should use it. It’s sort of like having a gift certificate that doesn’t expire. Use it, whenever you feel ready. Just be aware of the fact that the market may have changed in that time and the book may no longer be as viable as it was a year or two ago.



Richard Mabry said...

Financial analysts warn us not to try timing the stock market. It appears that timing the publishing market is equally risky. But, as you point out, if your work is outstanding, it may grab someone's attention at any time, not just when everyone else is in love with the concept. Thanks for the post.

Kimber Li said...

If agents and editors want to see material immediately, they really ought to consider accepting it electronically. I've had a Full request for Manic Knight and must wait until pay day, so I can make a special trip into a larger town to buy ink for my printer. They Full request before that I had to buy a whole new printer. I live in the middle of Nowhere, Alaska. I can't just run down the block to Kinkos. As one might imagine, the Internet is hugely popular up here! It allows us to live where we want, yet still communicate with the world.

Kate Douglas said...

My case is a perfect example of good timing--when I submitted my early erotic romances to Jessica (she was already my agent) the NY market for sexually explicit romances was just beginning to crack open. My Wolf Tales series went on to launch Kensington's Aphrodisia line and continues to do well, even though that market for new authors has just about bottomed out. It also has led to another contract with a more mainstream paranormal series to be released in mass market, something that might not have happened had I waited to send the material.

Kimber An--I would think that most agents and editors would be willing to accept digital submissions if you explain your circumstances and ask them. I'm in the same boat in rural California with the closest print shop an hour's drive away.

hmm...word verification is "undies"

Anonymous said...

Now I'm confused: If agents are so excited to read our requested mss., then why do they wait so long to respond? My full has been out w/ a top agent for months--but when I followed up, it seemed it hadn't been read yet.

The ms. is with other agents but I don't think it's fair to leave the writer in limbo like that, esp when you follow all the rules and submit the ms. right away.
I could have written a new book by now...and have already started one. Please advise!

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I would hope you have started a book. In fact, I would hope you've been writing that book well before the request for the full even came in. There are many reasons why agents take so long, the biggest being that they are just busy. You don't need to have the manuscript there overnight by any means, but sending it out within a week or two only makes sense.


Anonymous said...

It is sad that writers have that kind of fear which would keep them from sending in a request for full. Sure it could be a rejection, could be the 'no thanks' that you dread, but that's the definate answer if you don't send it. Slim chance is better than no chance, at it's an opportunity to get feedback, from an informed and educated source, for free! Timing is so important in this business. You get your foot in the door, don't be afraid to send your work on through. The worst thing that will happen is that it will get handed back and you'll be where you were anyway.

Anonymous said...

Authors need a thick skin for sure, and well, nothing will ever get sold if it's not subbed in the first place. I'm sure there are many, many talented authors whose works will never see the light of day because they don't have what it takes to get to the next step. Basicaly nerves of steel. If you're afraid of rejection, this is not the business for you. we all get them, they suck, but they're part of the business.
I agree with Jessica and Kate, timing is an important part of this whole process. So if you're asked for something, get it out there pronto. There's a hundred other authors waiting right behind you, and they just might slip in there ahead of you, because for them, the timing was perfect.

Devon Matthews said...

Here's my story about terrible timing. Back when Harlequin Historicals was still based in NY, I won a chapter contest and received a request for the full, along with some incredibly glowing comments, from the judging HH editor. Before I could get the ms. in the mail, Harlequin announced they were closing the Historicals line. Then later, they decided not to close the line, but shipped it over to the UK. The requesting editor was transferred to another NY-based line. I have no idea what I *should* have done. What I did was nothing. I didn't submit and I've always wondered what would have happened if I had gotten the full in front of that editor. So here's a question. What should I have done in those circumstances? Should I have submitted the ms. anyway to the new location and write a note saying it had been requested, etc.?

Ava Quinn said...

Hi Jessica, I love your blog. It's kind and fun and informative. But my question is about Kate Douglas' comment, and maybe you have some insights on this as well.

Kate - What prompted you to say "even though that market for new authors has just about bottomed out." about explicit romances in NY.
Just wondering. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree.

I see my students query material before it's complete (even though I warn them not to) and then they wait three, six, nine months to send the materials and wonder why they're rejected.

I always tell them, don't query until you've got the complete manuscript, the logline, the one paragraph summary, the outline, the synopsis and a kick ass query letter.

When you get a request for materials, send it by return mail.

Anonymous said...

The red flag here for me is that I've always been told that when it comes to fiction, the book must be written in full, perfect and polished before the author queries agents -- and I'd say that is the way to do it so that when material is requested, it's ready to go. If I wanted to query agents with a manuscript I'm revising and editing, I could do that now. Sure, it will be finished by the time anyone asks for anything, but that's not the way I work. I think that someone who holds off on submitted requested work was not in the position to be querying in the first place. I think, I hope, I would jump on the chance to have an agent read a partial or full. And I'll only query when I'm sure I can do that.

Anonymous said...

Ava, I can't speak for Kate, but she might be referring to the fact that the Aphrodesia line is cutting back. I understand that they're putting out half the titles they used to. (Or will be) So a lot of authors will find their options might not be picked up, which means for newbies it will be that much harder to break in.
I think it's like anything else. Something blasts out of nowhere, like erotica and the market gets flooded with inventory so that when things slow down a bit, or are cut back at the various houses...they've got lots to carry them through and acquiring will slow down for sure.
Just my 2 cents

Ava Quinn said...

I'd heard that about Kensington, but didn't know if it was a trend or one publisher. Thanks for your 2 cents!:) ~Ava

Sookie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherrie Petersen said...

I think writers can be like painters sometimes, always wanting to make a few more changes. It's a huge step to let it go and trust that you've done your best. Some writers even say that once it's printed they still find things they would change. But if you never send it out, you'll never see it printed. And if someone wants to see it, by all means, send it out! Even if it's rejected you've done something right to get the request in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this an argument for repeatedly querying the same agent, especially knowing that "Not right for me" might mean "I can't sell this"? In three or six or twelve months, mightn't that change?

Traci said...

If it were me, I would make sure that I was REALLY ready before querying an agent. That's my plan anyway. :-)

The Screaming Guppy said...

Very helpful post. But I agree with the not querying unless you are ready to send. And if you panic when it's time to send, well, sounds like you weren't really ready?

Either way, this post was very insightful, as they always are.

Thanks for sharing with us!

BT said...

Hi Jessica,

I'm interested in the holes which get filled, the hooks that are in vogue for a time and then over done a little while later.

I'm guessing during your talks with those in the industry, they tell you what they're looking for, what they'd like to see, what they've seen enough of - what hooks are in vogue, what are dated, and what holes have been filled.

I would think a regular update on this type of information would be invaluable to writers. It would be almost a type of trigger for sending in specific work.

I don't mean when someone says, "I'm looking for more historical romance, or dark sci-fi", I mean in a little more detail if that's at all possible.

What type of hooks ?
What do publishers think is becoming hot and why?
What patch of earth is looking plumb to have a new hole dug in it?

I realize this could be construed as searching for the goose laying the golden egg, but anyone trying to write something based on this info would be missing the boat by the time it was ready anyway. This info would only be useful for those with manuscripts in hand (or in drawer).

Thanks in advance


jbstanley said...

Boy, did I have some lucky timing or what?