Roseanna always dreamed of being a writer--and her husband always dreamed of being a publisher. When their dreams combined, she ended up the senior acquisitions editor of his ever-growing small Christian press, WhiteFire Publishing. Working with fabulous authors as an editor and with amazing editors as an author, Roseanna's days are full to brimming with the written word--just how she likes them. You can connect with the WhiteFire crew on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
How Long Until I Hear?
Submitting a book to a publishing house can be a nerve-racking thing. Authors work so hard on their books, on their proposals, pouring time, energy, sweat, and tears into them. (Hopefully no blood. Although papercuts can be dangerous things...) Sending them out into the world is scary. Very scary. And then, once you hit that "send" button, the really hard part begins.
And waiting some more.
When publishers submit their info to market guides, they have to say how long it usually takes them to respond to proposals. And most will say 3-4 months. But let's be frank here--that's just an optimistic guess, LOL. Publishers can sit on manuscripts for years sometimes, while at other times they have contracts out within two weeks. And while we all might hope for the second option, how often is that the case?
How long, we all want to know, until I get a response? When can I follow-up?
First, let's take a moment to look at the world of acquiring. When an editor is in acquisitions, sifting through the slush pile isn't his or her only job. She also has to work on the books she has acquired, which means that reading those queries and proposals is not top priority. It comes between other projects, in a few spare moments, often travels home with them over evenings and weekends. This is why it's so crucial that your proposal is attention-grabbing. And it's also why response times vary. If she has two books scheduled back-to-back for content or copy edits with tight due dates, she simply will not have time to look at the proposals waiting in her inbox.
Add in to that the publisher as a whole. I can't tell you how many times, as an author, I've heard my agent say, "They're not acquiring right now." That doesn't meant that the publisher has all the authors it wants and will never take on a new one--it just means that they only schedule so far in advance, that schedule is full, and the next round hasn't begun yet.
Publishing houses, like the rest of the world, often have seasons. I know we at WhiteFire do. While we might pick up a title one-by-one now and then, most of our acquiring is in big swaths. We'll fill out the non-fiction line all at once, schedule the first six months of a year within one committee meeting. Obviously, this means we've all been gathering submissions that are worthy...and it also means that during that time of gathering, we're not actively acquiring. So while you might get a ready "no," you're not going to get a "yes." You may or may not get word we're taking it to committee. Because we may or may not bother opening the proposals until we start to see the direction a given line is going to take and have an idea what other books we want to fill it up.
The editor also know how the rest of the house is leaning, if they're focusing on this genre or that, if they want to fill out somewhere. So she'll be focusing on the proposals that match their current goals...but not necessarily dismissing those that don't. Because who knows what the focus will be in six months? She might read your cover letter and decide to save it for later, when they're back to actively acquiring historicals or YA or what have you.
Right now, I have submissions I'm taking to committee that I received six to nine months ago, after our last big round of scheduling. And while I feel bad for keeping authors waiting that long, that's kinda just the business. As an author, I've waited over a year, closer to two, to get word that eventually led to contracts. And not with other small presses, either, LOL.
But it's okay to followup. If you have an agent, they'll do this for you. My first agent referred to it as "nudging." My current agent always says she'll "see where we are." Agents understand the process well enough--and know enough about what's going on in each house--to know when to give those nudges and when to let things ride. When we don't have agents to help with that, though, how do we know when to go knocking on those email doors?
I waited a year at one point. It worked out in the long run, but that was too long--I discovered that when the editor said, "Oh, good! I misplaced the file. Could you resend?" Had I sent that email six months earlier... But at the same time, you don't want to be a nuisance. When I get two dozen emails a month from an author asking if I've read their work yet, it makes me want to say no to them. Because if they're high-maintenance as someone just querying, what are they going to be like if we acquire them?
So the key is to keep yourself in the editor's mind without being too aggressive. You can do this pretty easily if the editor is on social media sites or blogs--just comment once in a while. Not about your book, just about the post. That keeps your name fresh. And then send a quick follow-up within 3-6 months of submission. Usually when an editor responds to that, it'll be with an idea of when you can expect to hear. So if they say it'll be a while, don't followup again the next month. Give them time to get to it. And then rinse and repeat.
Occasionally, you'll hit a publisher at just the right time, with just the right manuscript. In those cases, you might hear back really fast. Those are always fun times. =) But it's the exception rather than the rule. Publishing can be a very slow business, so start exercising those patience-muscles.