Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Length of Time Editors Take

What does it mean when an editor holds onto your manuscript for two months, not passing but not accepting either? Does it mean they are waiting for additional reads, something to change, what? This drives me nuts.

I recently read it took the author of Percy Jackson 2 full years from query to getting an offer from an editor. Why do they hold on so long without telling you what's going on?

Honestly? It means absolutely nothing. The sanest thing you can do when getting a request from an editor, or an agent, is let it go and move on. In other words, continue querying agents and submitting. Waiting for an editor to respond is often like waiting for the water to boil when you’re starving. The best thing you can do is leave the room and find something else to focus on.

What an editor, or agent, is doing with it can depend on a number of things. The most likely, though, is that she just hasn’t gotten to it yet. If you’re submitting to editors without an agent you are at the bottom of the list. That means every agented manuscript that comes into the editor is going to get priority over yours. That includes those manuscripts that come in the day yours was submitted as well as the manuscripts that come in the following days and weeks. Unless you get an offer from someone else or the editor had already read partial material and almost wet her pants she was so excited, you’re going to wait.

Why do they hold onto it so long? Because they’re busy, because agents are coming to them almost daily with manuscripts that have their stamp of approval (so to speak), because they only have so many slots on a publishing list to buy for and those are being quickly filled by the authors they are already publishing and the manuscripts coming from agents.

Two years from query to offer might seem like a long time, but in truth it’s probably not. Keep in mind, you’re saying from “query” to offer. For all you know he spent a year querying agents before anyone bit. Maybe the book needed major work before it even went out to editors, maybe editors took months to consider.

Who knows what happened, and that’s the truth. You don’t. So keep writing the best books possible. And by the way, two months doesn’t even come close to being a long time.



God Girl Goth said...

Thanks for this insight. I think the boiling water/starving analogy hits its mark. We all wait to hear, but it's best to keep being productive so you don't have a pile of anxiety and wasted time behind you.

Anonymous said...

My first novel, submitted unagented, sat on the editor's desk for one year before she first contacted me. The actual offer came eight months later. So, 20 months... for the editor who actually bought it. That's not counting all the rejections it got before that.

Mark Terry said...

I don't believe Rick Riordan (author of the Percy Jackson series) spent that time looking for an agent. He was already a successful, award-winning mystery author. He did decide to find a different agent to handle the Percy Jackson novel, but when I interviewed him years ago about The Lightning Thief he said he made phone calls to agents he thought would be appropriate. I know that's not what most agents want to hear, because they might be deluged by unwanted phone calls, but in Rick's case it may have made sense--at the time I believe he was the only author to have won the Edgar, Anthony, and Shamus Awards.

I would also point out that I could be wrong (about the time frame). But I see by looking at various Wikipedia listings that there are varying accounts here, including one that says he finished the book in 1994 and didn't sell it until 2005, which seems completely inaccurate--probably finished it in 2004 and sold it in 2005. (There's some questionable data about it being picked up by Bantam, which I believe is incorrect as well. It was Hyperion, which may or may not explain some confusion regarding a sale to Miramax).

And since he posts the info on his site: his agent for the mysteries is the Gina Maccoby Literary Agency and his agent for the kids books is: Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.

Anonymous said...

2 months? Seriously?

LOL How about an agent requesting a full and waiting ONE YEAR to say no thank you? Or an editor requesting a full and two YEARS later, coming back to say no thanks?

2 months? Come on...that's nothing.

Kate Douglas said...

I had a lengthy dinner with my editor while at the RWA conference, and we talked about work load--she said her inbox refills daily and she rarely sees the bottom, her email never ends and, even with an assistant, she struggles to stay on top of things. And THEN she admitted she's a slow reader! (It certainly explains some things to me)

Point being, even though I'm a prolific author and have done almost thirty books and novellas with the same editor over the last five years, it still takes her FOREVER to look at my proposals. AND I have Jessica as an agent.

While you occasionally hear amazing stories of authors submitting and receiving offers in a matter of days, the reality of this business is that things run on a sort of military schedule--hurry up and wait.

Jessica's advice is excellent--submit your query or requested material and then get to work on a new project.

Anonymous said...

Why can't these busy agents and editors hire efficient assistants? Gosh, with all the unemployed editors out there, you'd think they'd have their pick. Even part-time help would speed things up. College students often work at internships for free, so what's the problem?

Instead, they'd rather waste our time while they sit on potentially hot mss. Not hard to figure out, people...

Eileen said...

Don't forget the editor's job isn't just reading manuscripts as they pour in. She's editing the manuscripts she took on, meeting about covers, running to meetings with sales and marketing, fielding calls and emails from her the current writers on her list, most likely helping an intern etc.

The best advice I was ever given was: writing is a craft, but publishing is a circus. You can't control the circus. When I find myself getting nuts over waiting for contracts or copy edits that were supposed to come last week and haven't arrived etc I go back to what I can control which is whatever I am writing at the time. Or I drink wine and gorge on cookies. It could go either way.

Anonymous said...

There's also a missing part of the answer to this question. (There always is, it seems.)

Editors are arrogant, absent-minded, self-absorbed, and don't get paid enough to care. And, nowadays most are terrifed of losing their jobs because so many new authors and new editors are switching to e-publishers because they are being treated with respect instead of attitude.

Rayka Mennen said...

Thanks for the insight Jessica. I think we hear this, but it helps to have it reinforced. Takes one last look at inbox/boiling pot - still no replies from agents- and leaves the room to practice shadow boxing.

Unknown said...

A colleague of mine and I were just talking about this the other day and decided on a top ten of writer time sucks.

Obsessing over queries, rejections, and OMG she's had it for *insert amount of time* made the top of the list.

I've had one sale. Two weeks after that sale my editor asked to see another book. In that time, I've written three more. Now, I can obsess about those too. *laughs*

Launching yourself into another project is the best way not to go snap-crackers. :)

Unknown said...

Wow, I am slow in the morning. What I meant to say was that since he requested the second book and I've been waiting to hear back I have written several other books.

That makes a little more sense. *g*

Sheila Cull said...

Another really good post with a lot of useful information.

I notice that many of your Followers are published authors and it is also great being able to read their feedback. Thank you Jessica.

Mark Terry said...

Food for thought: last night I listened to a teleseminar by a woman who runs a ghostwriting organization, primarily hooking business leaders and executives up with ghostwriters (I've done some). She commented that some of the business people are trying to beat the trend curve by getting their ideas and approaches into book form before they become commonplace. And in fact, said she had a businessperson and writer who put together the book, then it got picked up by one of the big 6, but when the publisher told him it would take 2 years to hit the shelves, they pulled the book and self-published it. She said it's still in the big box stores and was very successful.

Sometimes the publishing industry shoots itself in the foot with its long timelines and I've been in book publishing long enough now to wonder about the 12-18 month standard timeline as well. I can understand the lag time for editors to respond to manuscripts, but I'm often puzzled by the lag time involved in actually getting a completed manuscript to market.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I guess "get on with your life" is a good motto for submitting and for a great many other aspects of life, too.

Thanks for your article. It helped. I have a full and two partials out for six months now. And I've pretty much written them off now -- going on to submitting and refining my novel.

Thanks, again. Roland

Katie Ganshert said...

I've been waiting since April for my book to go to Pub Board! So, yeah, 2 months sounds like heaven. :) Great advice on the "move on". That's the only thing that keeps me sane. Working on another project.

Prettypics123 said...

Thanks Jessica and Kim for that information. I am learning that the name of the writing/publishing business is patience. You're invited to stop by A Camp Host Housewife's Meanderings and Levonne's Pretty Pics when you have a few minutes! I'd love to hear what you think.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Probably the last thing you want is for an agent or editor to pick up your manuscript when they're feeling harried, rushed and overloaded.

Remember that they keep telling you that it's subjective?

Well, as unfair as it sounds, your manuscript can stink or star, depending on the subjective mood of the reader.

Just a thought...

jjdebenedictis said...

Goodness. I can't get through my TBR pile in two months. Why would I be so demanding as to expect anyone else to?

Jennifer Foushee said...

Thanks for the sanity check, Jessica! Your blog is always so helpful with keeping us focused on how things really work. Cheers!

Erika Marks said...

After years of submitting and waiting, I think the only way to stave off the inevitable "hurry up and wait" constant is to forge ahead with a new project.

My own sale took off quickly once it got into my (now) editor's hands, but before that, there were periods of long, long waits with other editors. Always keep in mind too that even if one editor is thrilled (or one agent) they will most likely want/need feedback from another in their house or agency. In other words, that editor may be waiting just as you are to hear back about your project.

Unknown said...

@ Mark Terry

I think much of the lag time, as you put it, has to do with the sheer number of people who have to synchronize their schedules to get a single book to market, and who are all working on multiple books. Then too, the process sometimes has to be extended. If marketing doesn't like the cover, it goes back to for a re-design. If the top editors still hate the cover, it goes back for a re-design, etc. I'm picking out just one tiny part of the process, but it can happen at any stage, because it's so important that everyone involved in bringing the book to market can stand behind that book and say that it's the best it can be.

The amazing thing to me is that with the sheer number of books juggled by one house at any given time (for the most part) any of them make it at all. It requires tremendous coordination and dedication from already frazzled people.

Now, I don't think publishers are perfect, and I'll fight with mine when there's something serious worth fighting over--but I honestly admire the work that gets done, and the perseverance and skill of the people doing it. I've read some really fine books that could not have been what they were without remarkable editors--a remarkable team--at the helm.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a lot of arrogance on the part of new writers, who think that their work should be read before anything else in publishing gets done.

Reading slush is the absolute LAST thing on an editor's list of things to do. Why should they stop and read slush when they have authors they've already bought to take care of? Books that need editing...books that have already been paid for and need to have marketing, sales & art department attention, all supervised by the editor. They have backlist titles that need attention and payments to release. They have option books to read because they're trying to build the careers of the authors they've already invested in.

It took me two years from first interest to sale and another year and a half until publication. I did one book a year for three years and then was able to up my publication schedule so that I've had three books out a year every year since. I paid my dues.

If you want it bad enough--you will, too, and you'll learn not to whine about it.

Nicole said...

I once waited 6 months before hearing back from an agent. The answer was no.

2 months is a drop in the bucket, querying agents or waiting on editors!

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:10: If agents are SO busy, thn why don't they hire some help? Also why don't they close to submissions so they can properly service their clients? Writers aren't whining--they just want a simple yes or no so they can move on. Requesting a ms. and then leaving the writer in limbo for months is just bad business, not to mention RUDE.

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 1:44 --

Uh, most agencies -- including BookEnds -- already do those things.

Anonymous said...

Kim--not in my experience. Last year I waited 6+ months for one top agent until I finally withdrew my full. This year it's going on 5 months...I'm not pointing fingers at Bookends, just publishing (agents & editors) in general. Read the comments above. With so many unemployed editors, it seems agents and publishers could use their help!

Jeannie said...

@ Anon 10:41

I think you're missing the basic premise of how an agency works. These unemployed editors won't volunteer their time for free. You'd think agencies might be raking in the cash, and a few are, but many can't begin to afford more staff.

Revenue does not correlate to the amount of work to be done. Most of what agents do (such as read the slush pile, review manuscripts, etc.) does not pay. Nor does it make sense to hire an employee for tasks (such as read the slush pile) where there is no direct payoff, and only a dim chance of finding another client. The reward-to-risk ratio is just too drastic. I've heard talk of agency commissions going to 20%, just so some could make ends meet. Whereupon many writers threw up their hands in horror.

Bottom line: agencies don't exist to serve writers who are not their clients. They put their clients first, and leave the door open for new ones--persistent, patient, excellent and mature writers--so far as possible.

Anonymous said...

Jeannie: Agents who can't handle REQUESTED submissions should close their doors to new clients, not leave them twisting in the wind, especially when they state a definite date. This pompous, apathetic attitude is why writers will find alternative ways of getting published and/or submit directly to editors with an open-door policy.

If only all agents were so sensible, mature and patient with potential clients who are just trying to follow the rules--even as they change along the way.

Anonymous said...

Jeannie wrote:

Bottom line: agencies don't exist to serve writers who are not their clients. They put their clients first, and leave the door open for new ones--persistent, patient, excellent and mature writers--so far as possible.


Anon 12:10 -- You're totally missing the point. Just because a writer has to wait doesn't mean they can't have a great career. I waited a lot in the beginning--months and months, but now I'm publishing regularly with awesome publishers. Agents/editors didn't make me wait because they were rude. They were busy. I used that time to write another book and kept submitting.

If you want fast and easy, then pick another publishing model or industry, but it's rude of YOU to assume that editors/agents who are busy are wasting your time. Your time isn't worth anything to them when you're only a POTENTIAL client.

You kind of remind me of the door-to-door solicitors who come to my house and get mad when I won't open the door.