Friday, April 25, 2008

Gather Ye Manuscripts While Ye May

I'm wondering what your take would be on my current situation. I sent my YA manuscript to a publisher a year ago. Writer's Market gave a response time of 4 - 6 months.

Well, Writer's Market may or may not be accurate. But a year?
In November I sent a letter asking what the status of the manuscript was (mostly because I wanted to send the manuscript in to a contest. In January I received a form letter stating that the publisher was still considering the manuscript. I could call in 2 months if I didn't hear from them. In March I got the same form letter saying that if I didn't hear within 1 month I could call. I called last week and the receptionist said they were still reading the YA manuscripts and I should hear something soon.

"Still reading the YA manuscripts"? As though they had had only one shipment?
Now, I'm new to this, so I take anything that isn't a "no" as a good sign. But I'm wondering if maybe I'm reading too much into the "still considering." Does that mean at least one person read it and liked it? Or could it mean that they just didn't get around to reading the manuscript until now? I know every publishing house is different, but what's your professional opinion?

I hope the person sending those letters is properly embarrassed. A year?
A year is not a good sign, but it's true that, even so, your manuscript might be being read for the first time so long after submission. But you shouldn't think of anything submitted so long ago as an exclusive, and no publisher has the right to expect such an accommodation.
Once again, we see the importance of submitting widely and persistently. Some houses take far, far too long, and it'll serve them right if they miss their chance at something good.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you stick to the same advice for revisions? I could have had a real-live baby in the time that this one editor has had the picture book I've revised. I've checked in twice but no response.

I feel bad sending it out to others when she put the time into the letter, but I have no idea what's going on and, for all I know, the silence is rejection.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I once had a magazine article submission (which I had sent in response to a solicitation) at a magazine for over a year. On the 12-month mark, I sent it (the article, not the magazine) a birthday card, asking it was being a good little article and not to annoy the editor. The editor responded within a week, with an acceptance.

Was I being too much of a smart-aleck?

Anonymous said...

You must be good at getting through your pile, EA, and that's awesome--but the sad truth is that a year's not uncommon from any number of places.

Kristi Holl said...

Absolutely loved the birthday card idea!! And yes, the writer's story is not at all uncommon. If writers would limit their "exclusives" to six weeks or two months, then after that multiply submit (and say so in their cover letter), I think writers would be happier. At least, that system has worked for me. Editors respond a lot faster.

Anonymous said...

What if the editor is one you're already working with?? Yep, getting in the door doesn't make things much better.

EA, would you be miffed if, come a couple of months after the option-clause time runs out, your writer sent to someone else? What's the etiquette here if you've already checked in and heard nothing?

eluper said...

I am a considerate and patient sort of guy, but when it comes to submissions, I always remind myself that this is MY career we're talking about. If I don't hear something back in the time frame promised (plus a few weeks grace period), I send a reminder letter and move on.

And guess what...I don't feel guilty about it.

Nancy Matson said...

This is why it really helps to have an agent.

working illustrator said...

The former English major in me can't resist noting that while the headline of this post plays on the first line of the Robert Herrick poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"...

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

...the poem's second line could have served equally well:

Old Time, he is a-flying.

The poem is all about not missing opportunities might not come again. Maybe it would make a nice follow-up note to an editor who doesn't respond to a birthday card...

Robert said...

I believe EA may have inadvertently given clues as to his or her identity, since opining that a year's wait is excessive narrows the field of possibilities by a huge amount. Indeed, I now think that EA is one of three editors I have heard of who respond promptly. It's okay, though. Mum's the word.

But seriously, if a year is too long, how about nine months? Six months? At what point are we entitled to be concerned? One editor from a large house who requested a manuscript from me says in an interview that he responds to requested manuscripts in three months. It has now been four months without a word. Do I hold him to his interview, or do I back off a bit? (I did not promise an exclusive).

I'm thinking of taking a laid back approach and appending a list of my outstanding submissions to my will for my executor to follow up on.

MichaelPH said...

I'm wondering about the responses editors give to agent-submitted mss. I'm looking forward to getting to that step with my middle grade novel(s)!

2readornot said...

I have heard from a couple of editors (at SCBWI conferences) that when they are seriously considering a ms, it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer.

I have two out right now that are going on 6 and 7 months respectively, but both are from houses that had editors at those conferences (in fact, one of the editors reading is one who said that if you *don't* hear from them right away, it's a good sign).

But then, I suppose there's a huge difference between 7 months and a year.

Anonymous said...

The cream shall rise to the top. Period.
But will it be sour by the time it is tasted?

Eyeball

Anonymous said...

EA,a year is common. Everybody in my crit group, all of us published, have waiting a year or more on at least 1 ms. Some were rejects, some were sales. Stated response times mean diddly-squat. It's in our best interest to limit exclusives, choose reasonable (as defined by the writer) grace periods after which to inquire about a sub, and a reasonable time (as defined by the writer) to hear back on a status query. If your deadline passes, move on.

Wendie O said...

The problem with waiting a long time to hear from an editor is that many, many houses have decided NOT to respond if they reject your manuscript. Which leaves the poor writer even more in a quandry. (if there is such a word.

And gets us back to the original question -- how long is reasonable to wait before submitting to other publishers. SCBWI suggests four months -- but many publishers take much longer than that, especially the ones that do respond.

Second question -- were all the first pages of poetry manuscripts we sent you all so very, very bad that you decided the contest you had set up was a lost cause? Just wondering.

-wendieO

ae said...

Yes, quandry is a word. It lies somewhere between quality and quantity.

ae said...

And if you spell it right...quandAry...it might even make its way into the dictionAry.
;) ;)

mb said...

At this point, when I get a rejection that actually arrives within the 3-or-4-month time frame advertised, I feel almost as pleased as if I'd gotten an acceptance. (...well, not really.) I'm starting to feel that losing one's manuscript to the black hole of slush and never hearing anything is the norm.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I do feel the same way about revisions. And option clauses.

You should certainly let an editor know when her time is running out and you're about to start submitting generally, because it's polite and because it might actually get her to hurry up. If it's an editor you really hoped to work with or enjoyed working with in the past, include that in the note.
Such a note will convey two things we like: you have respect for us, and you have respect for your own career.

I doubt I've given away much about my identity. I work cheek-by-jowl with editors who are vertitable black holes for manuscripts, and while that's deplorable, I can also understand their desire to have a home life, or, you know, weekends.

I think four months is generous, and I think most agents would agree. It does vary some based on the time of year and what's going on in the editor's life, but jeez! I know one agent who expects a response within two weeks and will (and does!) sell stuff out from under me if I'm not light on my feet. That's what the fast lane looks like. Most agents are working somewhere around the two-month mark in terms of expected response, I think.

I know, I know. These long timelines do happen. But for shame!

Augh, the poetry contest. (Yes, speaking of response times...) No, there's some good stuff in there. I've hit a confluence of tremendous piles of work, though. Trying to get to everything and not come down with the fresh sickness that's running around the office.

Robert said...

I was just kidding about giving up clues to your identity... but now that I know to look for an office where there's a fresh sickness, and where there's an editor who has not yet succumbed, I think it's just a matter of time!

Of course, I'm kidding once again. I don't really even want to know who you are, and if I had the answer in an envelope in my hands, I would throw it away.