Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ask An Editor: How Long Until I Hear?

by Roseanna White

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.

Waiting.

And waiting.

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.

32 comments:

  1. I'm not even *trying* to publish my novel yet, but I'll definitely have to come back to this post when I do! Wonderful advice, Roseanna!

    -Abby

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  2. Thanks for the great post, Mrs. White!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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  3. All this stuff about editors and publishing is so helpful to know *before* I'm ready to start publishing. Thank you so much!

    I have one question, though: when you're querying to a specific publisher, is there a way you can kind of figure out which types of books they're looking for at the time? Like, would it be on their website?

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    1. Great question! Sometimes they put the information out there, yes. But honestly, more often you'll hear it from other authors they're working with, or who have talked to the editor, or from those who went to conferences with the editors. It's more something passed around word of mouth than posted on the websites. So that's where it's great to have other writer friends and belong to writer groups. They usually share that stuff. =) And it's also okay to ask an editor this question outright. We'd rather answer the question and get targeted proposals than have to wade through a bunch of queries and proposals that don't fit our model.

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  4. I'm the same as Abigail, and have bookmarked this post for the day I finally decide I can edit no more. Pfft -- my first draft isn't even done! I'm nowhere close to ready. But this is great "file away for later use" stuff, thanks Roseanna :)

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    1. A lot of this stuff is good for those brain files, so you have an overall understanding of how the different parts of the industry work when you DO get there. =)

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  5. Gah. Those patience muscles. Let's do twenty-five reps! :P

    Thank you for the post, Roseanna. At least now I'll know if I don't get a reply in three months it might not be that they forgot me, but just that they're busy. While exercising patience muscles, I will work on other stories as well. :)

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    1. That's always the ticket--to keep working on other stories. =) It helps ease the pain of patience, LOL.

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  6. Wonderful post, Roseanna. It's super helpful to get a better picture of what's happening behind the scenes. But stretching those patience muscles can be quite painful sometimes. I guess the writing process can be described as "hurry up, and wait."

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  7. Sorry about the spam that's leaking through! The filter is catching a bunch of it, but I just had to delete a couple. Spambots love you, Roseanna :)

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    1. Yeah, why is that?? I must be a bot magnet.

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    2. I think it's the "Editor" thing. Our biggest spam drawing posts are the ones that involve the word editing or editor in the title. Though, ahem, Tips for Kissing is quite a magnet as well :)

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  8. Thanks so much for this post:) It's something that I have needed for a while. I love what you are doing here, people:)

    Layla.

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  9. I've always thought publishing went in cycles. It seems like there's certain months a slew of really good books will come out and then its slower for a few and then another great month!

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  10. Thanks for this! Very interesting.

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  11. The longest I waited on a partial was three months, and I'm still waiting on queries from last October. I guess by now though I've pretty much given up on getting a positive reply. I'm investing all my energy into this second book now. Second time's a charm, I hope!

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  12. Okay, totally unrelated but...

    I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT THIS AFTERNOON. *dies*

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    1. Ooh, so exciting! Congratulations :)

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    2. Congrats! That's such a big accomplishment! :)

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    3. Thanks guys :) Now I'm reading the GTW book...xD

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    4. *blows noismaker* *throws confetti* YAY!!!

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  13. Thanks for such a helpful post! I'm definitely going to keep this bookmarked :)

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  14. I'm submitting to agents now, would the same rules apply? When would be a good time to follow up? One month? Three months?

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    1. Good post by the way. Thank you. :)

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    2. Agents are just as busy as editors, so I'd say the same rules. Thanks!

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