Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Proof of Life

I've been reading and loving your blog for the past few months. Thank you for the humor, information, and humanity in your entries.

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?
Three years is ridiculous, no question. Of course, it's also just something that happens sometimes. It shouldn't, but there it is.

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.


Anonymous said...

Does this also speak to the value of having an agent? Maybe this author could submit her MS to an agent, saying that she has a publisher interested but has been unable to get clear information regarding what revisions are required. My agent had revision suggestions -- so maybe even the agent will know what it needs.

Since I'm one of those hand wringing authors -- I have to tip my hat to you for being so patient. Good lord.

Anonymous said...

Why would you want to publish a book with people like this? It's like marrying a guy who treats you atrociously when you're dating. Even if they did ultimately buy the book, do you really want to be stuck with them?

Anonymous said...

Yes, you have the patience of a saint.

In terms of doubts, are there not always doubts? Or is it that some doubts are greater than others?

How often does a ms come in that is so clean and sparkly and perfect that there are no doubts?

What percentage of mss do you fall in love with completely from the word go? And have no doubts over?

Sorry for all the questions. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I know someone who published a picture book with a small but reputable house. Her second picture book, they sat on for two years (the last I heard) with no response. Two years! The editor--the same editor she'd already worked with--didn't even return her calls. Did the writer send her manuscript anywhere else? No. She just sat and waited to hear something from this one publisher. Why? I don't know. I think maybe the norms of publishing are so counterintuitive and author-unfriendly that some writers will put up with absolutely anything.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This really gives me some perspective for the five months that I've been waiting. Glad I finally decided to just get busy working on the next project. I'd have lost my mind by now.

Anonymous said...

"I think maybe the norms of publishing are so counterintuitive and author-unfriendly that some writers will put up with absolutely anything."

Right on. Compared to other businesses, the norms of publishing, particularly the actual sale/acquisition of the ms., are completely different and radically, permanently skewed in favor of the buyer. No seller of any other kind of product would put up with this, period, and no potential customer would still be in the running after hedging and dithering and hemming and hawing for three years.

This is not rare, folks. A member of my critique group is in the same situation -- 3 years and counting -- with a company she has already published with! -- and I know it's not the same company the questioner means. There are two ways I know of to mitigate this situation. (1)get an agent; then it's his/her headache more than yours; (2) DO NOT do single or exclusive submissions. Ever. Make it your business policy. Your career should halt for three years, your product should be off the market for three years, while ONE company yanks your chain? Or, more often, doesn't? I don't think so.

I'm a published author of a number of books, and guess what, that fact doesn't speed up the process! Which just brings me back to (1) and (2) above. I don't know what else you do.

Anonymous said...

I feel the need to defend the industry...I have no idea why. I'm not stoned or drunk. I think reading, making revision comments, proof reading, copy editing, all those things take enormous amount of time and energy. Plus, remember, the kitchens of agents and editors are stacked throat-high with mostly horrible manuscripts for which authors are each anxiously awaiting a thoughtful response.

I think agents and editors are saints. Yes, I wish they communicated more often and worked more quickly and liked more of my exquisite prose. But, dang, I couldn't do what they do. I have a stack of magazines a foot high and I can't get through it. I toss most of them -- unread.

The answer is, indeed, simultaneous submissions (or exclusives for 2 weeks or 3 max.) Keep your work out there...it's bound to bubble to the top of some murky slush at some point or another. (Or better yet, send it to agents instead of editors. Agents have more impetus to read their slush than editors...editors get to focus on manuscripts that have been offered by agents, and prescreened.)

Stephanie J. Blake said...

You are so patient!

Makes me feel a tiny bit better on the fulls I'm waiting on.

Anonymous said...

I don't go for exclusives with time limits, for this reason: Let's say you give an exclusive for three months. Let's say they don't even open the envelope for four months. They see your three-month limit in your cover letter, and there's their reason to reject you. You just handed it to them. Many suggested time limits for exclusives are so short (4, 6, 8 weeks)that you hardly have a prayer they'll read it by then, much less be able to reach a decision that is dependent on committee meetings, p & l's, in-house support, etc. Even if they read it within your time limit, if they know they can't offer a decision that fast then what will stop them from just cutting you loose unless you're the next JKR? I think time-limited submissions are too likely to backfire, and that unreasonably short times may even show ignorance of the business, or sound demanding or presumptuous. "Read and accept my opus within four weeks, or lose your chance." I wouldn't blame an editor for greeting this with little more than a yawn.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience of an editor calling me out of the blue to say she "loved" my picture book, keeping me hanging for months with assurances that "everyone loves it," then... I never heard from her again. I wrote a few times, then gave up. I thought perhaps she left the company, but no, she's still there three years later. I figured that they didn't really love it all that much.

Anonymous said...

For EA or Anonagain or those who have published ... does your contract indicate how long the editor might have exclusive rights to your next work? That's how I thought it worked. Once, say, two months or whatever is up, isn't it understood by both parties that the manuscript may be heading elsewhere?

And I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who waited an extraordinarily long time and then had a manuscript accepted. My experience has been that a long wait usually precedes a short "no."

Anonymous said...

When I was talking about exclusives I meant for agent submissions. If you query an agent and they ask for a full some will ask for a 2 or 3 week exclusive. I gave it to my agent when she asked.

I wouldn't give an exclusive in a cover letter...that doesn't make sense. In fact, my agent said while talking to a group of writers at a conference, "Whatever you do, don't tell me that I'm the only person you've sent your MS to. Send it to several people and tell me who you've sent it to so I know that I have to act quickly if I'm interested."

Anonymous said...

Replying to the question about the option clause -- My contracts have never contained one. But if a contract does, and it's not stricken, then you do want it defined/limited somehow, by length of time, type of book, or both. In this case, a short-ish time limit is reasonable and necessary.

raspberry beret said...

When it comes to having to wait a long time for a response to a submission, I don't tink authors should necessarily take this as suggesting the decision is likely to be negative. from my experience, slush piles can grow very big, very quickly, and it can take months for us to get around to reading the mss (including agented ones). If the editor reads something and then passes it to their colleague for a second opinion, you can add several more weeks to this, and yet again, months if then mss is then passed further up the chain or sideways to another department. multiply this situation to the nth degree, and, yes, 3 years is ridiculous....but i can sort of understand how these things happen. hang in there - and keep submitting

Anonymous said...

Hey, question asker:

I don't mean to name names or anything, but was it by chance Holiday House that was not getting back to you in this story? Because I had practically the same exact thing with them, and the person who was looking at my manuscript also left the house for grad school in December.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it was Holiday House. Please do tell me about your situation.