Monday, July 27, 2009

Give Me Your Tired, Your Confused, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Know What the F***'s Going On...

In which you have questions... a lot of questions. Jeez, you have a lot of questions.
Q1. Given these recessionary times, are nervous publishers holding back on making decisions to take on a book? I have a legitimate, well established agent and my novel was submitted to several of the bigger publishers precisely three months ago and no decision has been made about a deal from any of the publishing houses. Q2. Is it indicative of the depressed market, taking much longer to make decisions? Q3. As agents go, do publishers give them a pecking order, and so my agent may be lower in the pecking order? I'm so frustrated right now, because my agent is not giving me any reasons as to why. Even though I asked, I'm just told they'll be in touch. I'm not badgering or taxing anyone's time by any stretch, and I'm certainly not the impatient type. Just trying to figure out what's happening.

I'm a writer from Texas and I recently signed with a literary agent. About five weeks ago, my YA fiction novel went out on its first round of submissions to a collection of major publishing houses and....I haven't heard a thing! I'm going looney. Q4. What happens once an agent submits to a publishing house? Q5. How long does it take for an editor to read a submission? Q6. Do they contact the agent if they're interested or just plow forward in preparation for an offer? Q7. Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing that I've yet to receive a response?

I'm in the exciting but wretched Waiting Place: my full MS has been requested after a query + three chapter submission. Three questions, which might be difficult to answer but here goes: Q8. From roughly what proportion of partial submissions do you then request the full? Q9. Of those fulls you request, what proportion of manuscripts would actually be acquired? Q10. Are you more likely to request a full if you met the author and got on reasonably well with them at a conference or workshop, or would that have no bearing whatsoever on your decision? Q11. Or if the author had already been published, would that be more persuasive? I know answers would vary for each editor, but I'm interested to get just a rough idea, if that's possible!
Q1. No, they're just paying a bit less for them.

Q2. Sometimes we kind of waffle about manuscripts, figuring if it's something special the agent will get in touch to tell us about the interest it's getting at other houses, and then we can put it at the top of our priority list. (We know we're being lame when we do this. We're too busy, dammit.)
It is indicative of the depressed market that some of our colleagues have been fired and those editors remaining are expected to do more with less, which, considering what we were already doing with how little, is a mathematical impossibility.

Q3. Sure. But the pecking order will vary editor-to-editor: I have a couple of agents who are very frequently on my wavelength. I love them.

Q4. Something similar to this.

Q5. Varies. A couple hours, sometimes. Overnight, maybe. Or four months from now.
Yes, that's right. Deal with it.

Q6. I'll usually let the agent know I'm interested, because I want to be kept abreast of whether I have any competition from other houses. If I know I have an exclusive, though, then I might not.

Q7. Either. Neither. Could mean nothing.

Q8. Probably 1 in 10. But that's really, really going to vary per editor.

Q9. Perhaps 1 in 10 again. I'm guessing, though-- I'm certainly not keeping a tally sheet.

Q10. Having the sense that the author is a pleasant, sane, professional person who will not be a pain in my ass during editing does buy some points, yes. Not enough to forgive crap writing, though.

Q11. Depends what they published, where, and how well it did.

Waiting is tough, I understand. It can seem like you'd need a theoretical physicist to explain why time seems to move so much more slowly around publishing houses.

But I imagine it feels the same way to the people who supply firehouses with equipment. Why haven't the firefighters responded to the new line of hoses? Are they ever going to place an order? What are they so busy with, anyway?

Authors should attempt to cope with this by keeping themselves extremely busy as well-- setting lots of deadlines for yourselves for creative tasks, errands, self-promotion, etc etc etc.


Andy J Smith illustration said...

based on questions 2 & 6, it sounds like it is ok (expected?) for agents to submit multiples copies simultaneously. is this so?

Anonymous said...

All I can say is if you think waiting for an editor to make an offer is tough, then you better toughen up because there's still a LONG way to go after a manuscript is bought. You will be waiting for contracts. You will be waiting for money. You will be waiting for edits. Then you will be waiting for the editor to read them and get back to you with more edits. And then again. And then maybe even again, or maybe on to copyedits, all while you wait. And then first pass pages, and then you can wait for the ARCs. After that, then you can wait for your book.


And write. Just keep writing. Write something new. Waiting is part of being a published writer, but writing is what you can control, so do it!

And just because AE didn't mention it, I'll add this bit. Think slow, and then add 20% because it's summer. And then add another 10% of slowness for August. My book was submitted in July. It sold in late September. It was 18 months from sale to pub date, which I believe is pretty average.

You truly just have to make peace with this slowness that is publishing because if this is the road you choose, it's a slow one. Love it.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Great questions, and great answers. I never considered asking some of them before, and I appreciate it.

jjdebenedictis said...

I have a legitimate, well established agent and my novel was submitted to several of the bigger publishers precisely three months ago and no decision has been made about a deal from any of the publishing houses.

You are being impatient. I have a legitimate, well-established agent also, and my book has been on submission for over a year now. It's not the situation I would like, but it's also not unusual. Start writing your next book and chill out about this one.

Andy J. Smith: Yes, many agents do simultaneous submissions, but some only submit to one editor at a time. It varies from agent to agent.

Lisa Schroeder said...

You know, I think people hear about auctions where a book is wanted by multiple houses within a week or two of being submitted, and they think that's the norm.

But, as many of us know, it's not.

My debut novel sold after 3 months out with multiple editors. I know some authors who have waited 6 months to a year on agented submissions.

Literaticat said...

Hey ed, could you go to my absolute write thread and tell the person there what "not strong enough writing" means?

I don't trust myself to answer without being mean, and it is fine if YOU are mean, cause you are anonymous. and clever. and an editor. so.

Brigid said...

>.< Fiction novel...

Anonymous said...

My goodness, there are people out there who think 3 months or 5 weeks constitute a long time? My tracking software default for flagging a submission as needing attention again is three months. If somebody gets back to me in five weeks, I'm pleasantly surprised (even if it's a rejection) - it means I didn't get shoved to the bottom of a pile.
Peni R. Griffin

Anonymous said...

Questioner 8-11 here. Thanks very much for answering, EA.
1 in 10 (roughly) is probably better odds than I was expecting.
My follow-up question is, if the editor has said her usual response time is 4-6 months, but she requested the full MS within 3 weeks of getting the query/partial, does that mean anthing or nothing?

Anonymous said...

Uh... (the second paragraph) someone is freaking out because their ms has been out on sub for FIVE WEEKS without word?

Are you serious?

I've had agented stuff on subs for four and five months at a time without word. And even after agent nudging, their response, was sorry, we'll get to it when we can. Not to sound bitchy or anything, because God knows I wish it were different, but editors take however long they want. Unless it's an auction-type situataion, where one editor has already offered to buy it and then others have to get off their ass and decide it they want to make an offer as well.

The trouble is, as a writer, you always hear all these stories of a manuscript being sold in like, five minutes, in a multiple round auction that ends in pre-empt. Nice if that's your book, but it doesn't happen that often.

Take heart, it's not just you. I'm sending good vibes your way for a sale. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I would like, if I may, to return to Q3, if only to get something off my chest.

EA’s answer assumed, I think, that the writer has a reputable agent with a good record of sales to major houses, and I certainly hope this is the case. It is true that even for reputable agents there is still a Peking order (not necessarily based on the quality of the agent, but on how often the editor has worked with the agent previously, how many submissions are currently sitting on the editor’s desk, and the editor’s initial level of interest in the book based on the pitch). But I know from my own job as an editorial assistant that many writers settle for agents who might have good intentions, but who have little or no experience in publishing. I imagine this occurs because so few houses accept un-agented submissions, and these writers figure any agent will do as long as it gets the manuscript through the door. This is simply not true.

Yes, it absolutely matters who your agent is, not just that you have an agent. If having an agent was all that mattered, a writer could just ask his lawyer, best friend, or tarot card reader to act as his agent—-heck, the writer could just make up a fake name and pretend to be a third party submitting the manuscript. Unfortunately, those kinds of things do happen. But editors didn’t come down with yesterday’s rain—-it’s not difficult to spot an inexperienced agent. Manuscripts submitted by people whom we don’t know either personally or by reputation are treated as only marginally more important than slush.

*getting off soapbox*

Anonymous said...

This question... "Are you more likely to request a full if you met the author and got on reasonably well with them at a conference or workshop, or would that have no bearing whatsoever on your decision?..."

You are mixing up friendship with business. The two don't meet in publishing.

You can THINK your agent/editor is your friend, if that makes you feel better, but thinking doesn't make it so. I learned this the hard way. I went out of my way to (and spending money I didn't have) to meet my then editor at a conference, just so I could see her face to face and chat a bit. After jumping through hoops for her with unrealistic deadlines (which she freely owned up to -- due to her not getting me the ms back in time) and being nothing but delightful lest she think me ungrateful, she's turned down my subsequent books, without as much as comments attached.

For her, she's making business decisions, for me it's -- do you have any idea that crap I've put up with, ate it with a smile, because I thought we were forming a partnership...?!

Partnerships don't exist. Though I'm sure if you are a best-seller then everyone in publishing fawns all over you and pretends that you are brilliant. It's your job to remember they don't really mean it.

Is that being cynical? Yes. Is it also the truth? Probably.

Anonymous said...

‘You are mixing up friendship with business. The two don't meet in publishing.

You can THINK your agent/editor is your friend, if that makes you feel better, but thinking doesn't make it so.’

Although I do think your advice is very good, Anon 9:45, I didn't mean to imply that I think the editor is my friend. Not at all. I have no ongoing relationship with her; she is not my editor yet by a long stretch, nor do I assume she will become my editor because she has met me and we had a few really good laughs. I followed all polite, professional protocol in my submission. So I’m not actually mixing business with pleasure.

But I did think that perhaps being able to put a personality and face to the name and MS might be a positive thing for exactly the reasons EA suggested: this particular editor can be fairly sure I’m not a 'crazy' or an ‘editor stalker’, and that I am very professional, polite, and friendly in the way I handle myself and my career, even in the setting of a small writer’s retreat where alcohol flows and inhibitions fly.

Michael Reynolds said...

Anonymous #1 has it right: nothing gets done in summer. To quote my lawyer/agent publishing is a series of "afters." After the first of the year, after BEA, and the mother of all afters: after Labor Day.

As an aside to commenters, you're editors and writers: give yourselves a name. Kind of hard to converse with a dozen different people all calling themselves "anonymous."

James Preller said...

Best advice I ever got: The day you send out a finished manuscript, start working on the next one.

That waiting mode can paralyze you and make you unproductive for a very long period of time.

Don't wait; get to work.

James Preller

ABH said...

I agree with Michael Reynolds -- commenters, please name yourselves! It would make the comments section more interesting and easier to follow.

You don't need a URL to click on "Name/URL" rather than on "Anonymous." The "Name/URL" option lets you type in whatever name you would like to use for just that comment.

ABH said...

OK, so I guess using my initials doesn't make the comments section all *that* much more interesting ...

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm an Australian author whose Australian agent got me a (well known, successful, experienced NY-based) US agent- I have no idea how that works, but boy am I grateful... said US agent then sold my debut novel (which had already been published in Australia, and maybe that speeds the process up- but maybe not. Who cares about Austtalia?!) to a major/top 5 publisher in three weeks. Yep, it happens, and I was as astonished as anyone... my wondeful Australian agent also secured me a (well known, successful, experienced London-based) UK agent in the same week, from whom- four months later- we have heard nothing. Nada, zilch. My agent has even checked with publishers directly to see if the book has been submitted to them, and it has, but it's all "really busy, will get back to you when we can"- and this is with a book that has now got a US seal of approval, so to speak.
Moral of the story- it can go either way, and usally does.

ae said...

James, that IS the best advice.

And, if you write picture books (the hardest books to write) work on two or three projects while you wait. I also really believe it is good to stretch your wings and challenge yourself to write different types of genres in the pb format. It keeps the work FUN, varied and less frustrating.

Word Verification: Princit: (Verb)To make something outstanding.

Anonymous said...

To the editorial assistant's post @ 9:43--

A Peking order?

Are they ordering Chinese food?

You mean a pecking order, yes?

Sorry for the snark. I got a reject this week, in which the rejector didn't know how to spell. On one hand, it was nice to know editors are human and make mistakes. On the other hand, it was very annoying that someone who couldn't spell and/or also didn't bother to proofread thought my ms was somehow below her standards. What standards would those be? The standards of stringing incoherent sentences together to form a reject that had almost nothing to do with the book I wrote?

Anna C. Morrison said...

I appreciate both the questions and the answers. I especially soaked in that we writers need to get used to waiting, and that writing is all we can control. And here I thought I had NO control...thanks for that. Waiting is fine with me.

Anonymous said...

You're an editor and you formatted your q/a like this? AND in italics?

Can you make it any harder to read?


Rebecca Knight said...

I'd never actually thought about the pecking order question, and I appreciate the answer. I knew agents had better relationships and history with certain editors, but then never made the leap to "my agent could be at the bottom of the haystack" when I get one.

All the more reason to research thoroughly before sending queries out. Look for an agent's "new" deals on their website or on AgentQuery to make sure they're out there mixing it up before querying.

Thanks for the info, Moonie!

Beck said...

Your insights are well-noted and humorously appreciated.

God bless agents, and God save the editors.

Deb said...

I thought long and hard about the pecking order question when I signed with my current agent. Now, I admire and respect her, and we get along well. And yes, even though we're submitting as a team, one submission stayed on the "maybe" list for 8 months. Not 2 or 3. It happens. Regrettable, but it does happen.

My thought processes were a little tossed like a salad, though, when right after I signed with her, another author in my market said, "Well, you know of course, that agency is considered a XYZ press agency."

I asked her what she meant, and it turned out that some agents in this agency write and sell their own stuff to XYZ publishers, and therefore have such a good relationship with that one house that they may be considered to be limited to selling to that one house.

Not bad, you say. The problem, though, is that I don't write the type of fic that XYZ is interested in. I know--I've both read their output and pitched to that publisher at conferences. The level of interest was underwhelming.

So I thought it through on the pecking order question, and I went with the agent anyway, about a year and a half ago. We haven't sold anything together yet--everything I've sold has been on my own. So the jury is still out. Is an agent low on the pecking order an agent you're going to want to work with? How low in the ranks are you ready to go? And is a low-ranked or "specialty" agent capable of thinking out of the box? It's hard to do sufficient research on these issues. Mostly these are things you learn as you go along...but by then you're signed.

You might want to ask and try to answer these questions for yourself before you commit to representation.

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