I've been reading and loving your blog for the past few months. Thank you for the humor, information, and humanity in your entries.Three years is ridiculous, no question. Of course, it's also just something that happens sometimes. It shouldn't, but there it is.
I'm writing for advice about one of my manuscripts, which has been with a certain publisher for over 3 years now. I sent a query letter initially, and they invited me to send my YA novel. I was in contact with an associate editor. Every six months, I would e-mail, just asking where my book was in the process. She would continue to apologize for the delay and to tell me that she was interested as were others--that their editorial meetings had been canceled, interrupted, etc. and that she would get back to me soon.
This past September 2006, the response I received from my query was that she loved my story and writing. The editor-in-chief had read it again and loved my story and writing. Then she explained which section of the book that they were having difficulties with. I wrote back that I was open to changes and suggestions. I never heard from her.
I waited until January 2007 to repeat my willingness to rewrite. Never heard from her.
I waited a month or so and rang. It turned out that she left in December to go to grad school (something she had to know ahead of time). I asked the assistant on the phone who had my manuscript after telling her the history. She assured me that she would get back to me to let me know what was happening with my book or the person who now had my manuscript would. They didn't.
I called again and learned that the editor-in-chief had it. I wrote her a letter, asking about my manuscript, how pleased I was to hear that she liked it, and mentioned that it had been 3 years since I sent it to them.
That was in April. This is June. I've never heard from her.
I would love for my book to be published, of course, and haven't wanted to jeopardize that. And if they are seriously considering it, then great. But how do I get any response from them?
I don't know what to tell you about these people. It sounds as though your manuscript has gotten lost in the limbo of "we like it, but not well enough to acquire it straight out and not little enough to let it go."
Now, editors are very, very good at letting things go. With as many submissions coming in as there are, we have to be. So the fact that your manuscript has hung around for as long as it has is an indication of real, honest-to-goodness enthusiasm for it. Obviously there are also some doubts.
What I would recommend is to go ahead and take a serious stab at rewriting the section/aspect they had trouble with--sometimes a good rewrite is the proof editors need that you're going to be a good person to work with. (The ability to rewrite is the thing that separates the good from the great in writers, over and over, in my experience.)
While you are doing this, or directly afterward (in case you end up feeling your rewrite has improved the text), KEEP SUBMITTING IT ELSEWHERE. Because it's also possible that all the real, honest-to-goodness enthusiasm for the project left with that associate editor, and your manuscript is just going to languish in the editor-in-chief's office in a nameless drift of paper until she retires or her office catches fire.
Keep your sense of humor, and your patience. This industry takes a great deal of both from everyone who works in it, on either side of the desk. And keep your chin up. Clearly you've got something that speaks to people.