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.