I often get feedback from new writers who lament the long response time (or no response at all) to their requested queries/proposals/fulls to agents and editors. I empathize with them, but I also try to help them understand the daily story of an industry professional’s life.
I have yet to sit on the other side of the desk as an acquisitions editor, nor have I been an agent, but I have many editor and agent friends. I’ve come to empathize with both sides of the story—for those submitting and those receiving.
Here’s a peek into the publishing side.
Agents receive hundreds (sometimes thousands) of queries a week. They (and if they’re lucky, their assistants) must sort through each one, decide if they’d like to see more or not. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to field 100 one-page single-spaced emails a day.
After agents express interest, they often (as in the case of novels) receive “the full.” This is the entire manuscript. Or if they’re looking at a nonfiction project, they ask for a proposal, which is three chapters plus a proposal. This usually ends up being between 50-75 pages.
If this is all an agent did, he/she could possibly keep up with follow-up emails, but agents also:
- Negotiate deals.
- Manage a business, along with accounting and tax issues.
- Cultivate long-term relationships with industry professionals.
- Attend conferences to teach and take appointments.
- Shape their existing author’s proposals and/or novels, and provide visionary support.
- Step in between disputes with authors and publishers.
- Read, manage, and execute contracts.
- Research, learn, and grow so they’re savvy about what will sell.
Editors receive queries from agents in similar proportions, including unsolicited queries. After attending a conference, editors face a flooded inbox. Add to this their other jobs:
- Edit existing manuscripts.
- Prepare for pub board meetings where they have to “sell” their pet projects (AKA your book) to the committee.
- Attend other publishing, editorial and sales meetings.
- Manage book projects from acquisition to publication.
- Keep in contact with authors, answering questions, putting out fires.
- Attend conferences. Often, they will teach. And then sit through 100 15-minute meetings.
- Do all this within the parameters of their publisher’s goals, strategies, and vision.
- Bear the blame if a book doesn’t succeed.
So you can see both agents and editors are living busy stories.
But you may say, “Hey, I have a lot on my plate too, but I return emails.” True, but you cannot control someone else’s response time. With that in mind, here’s my advice for those who have submitted something but not heard back:
- Take the editor or agent at his or her word. Wait the four months. Don’t pester prior.
- It’s okay in this day of email to simultaneously submit your query. (Simply write that this is a simultaneous submission somewhere on the query).
- Once a deadline has passed, send a professional email. “Dear Editor, when we met at ____ conference, you mentioned you’d get back to me in four months. Since the deadline has passed, I wanted to inquire about the status of my manuscript.”
- If an agent or editor does not respond to that quick email in a timely manner, consider the project an unwanted one. Look at rejection as a badge of writer honor. Move beyond it by submitting again.
- Courtesy stays in people’s minds. If you’ve met with a professional at a conference, send a handwritten thank you note.
- Remember that an industry professional doesn’t hold your future. They won’t validate your life. This is your journey, and you have the choice to let discouragement bury you or ignite you to keep trying.
This comes back to the story you tell yourself, which is powerful and important. Don’t let your frustrations about the publishing process embitter you into stagnation. The reality is that sometimes emails get lost. Or a query isn’t answered. What story you tell yourself in the aftermath of inevitable disappointment shows how plucky you are as an author. Remember that nearly every published author has a story of hardened perseverance. Dare to tell that story. And if you step over to the other side of the desk, remember what it’s like to wait-wait-wait. And answer those queries.