Friday, February 2, 2007

Stop Waiting by the Phone

I got an anxious phone call from a writer who had already spoken to me twice in the past month. (He had been referred by an editor I like and respect with a literary novel - he called to make sure I received the ms. Don't do this. We get thousands.)

This call was to ask what I thought he should do about the editor at a major New York house who has had his mansucript since December 7th and hadn't made a decision yet, even though the editor had requested the manuscript.

I wanted to ask him if he was taking medication that made him think he was the center of the universe, but then I remembered that this is what happens whenever you write something.

I told him to write a polite email saying he was anxious to hear what he thought of the manuscipt when he was finished. I explained to him that senior editors (which this guy was) have many many authors under contrat who are delivering on time, and that they take priority. I explained to him that none of us in this business read during office hours. I reminded him that the publisher was closed between Christmas and New Year's. And that if he pushed him to make a decision, the editor would most likely decide that he didn't want to deal with an author who couldn't wait.

You just can't imagine the workload we are under. I have 77 clients, most of whom write at least one book, if not two, a year. I read 200 manuscripts a year. I allow myself to read 12 published books a year (I'll explain that in another post - I'm reading Blood Sucking Fiends by Christopher Moore now, and loving it, even though I'm about a decade late). I have no super-powers when it comes to reading (but I can type 110 wpm), so it takes me six hours to read a 300 page manuscript. I read for about 10 hours a week. It's the same for editors. That's why it takes us so long to get back to you.


Anonymous said...

When I signed with my agent, she told me, "There are no emergencies in publishing."

The thing is, a lot of industries are all about speed. I work in advertising, where everything is due yesterday. We (writers) don't know what an agent or editor's day is like unless someone tells us. Understanding that I must be patient has helped me be patient.

Ravenous Romance said...

That's brilliant. I think I'll borrow that phrase when I take on a new client.

I used to say "I'm not a doctor," meaning don't even try to call me on nights and weekends, but this is better.

writtenwyrdd said...

We are all anxious to be validated, lol.

Ravenous Romance said...

Yes, but you can't force someone to validate you on your schedule either.

Nicole Kelly said...

I think the problem is when most people (writers) come into the publishing world they have no concept of the timeframe of a book cycle. I didn’t. At this point, I had to explain to numerous amounts of people that a writer doesn’t merely send a manuscript in, get an agent, get a book deal, and get the book on the shelf in less than a year (with preferred placement, of course). Or at least it’s rare, but almost never with first-time authors. Since I started this foray into this world, I’ve had to learn to take a breath, relax, and release my expectations and preconceived notions.

The book that needs to be written is Zen and the Art of the Publishing Industry. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! I tend to think the worst ... guess it's sort of like when your husband or kid is late coming home and doesn't call ... your imagination can get the best of you.

I just recently signed with an agent. Three weeks ago, I sent her my full package, i.e., my ms revised per her suggestions, a brief bio, promo blurbs on the next two books planned for my series. In my email, I wrote, "Let me know if you need anything further. When you are ready to send it out, I would love a heads up on who you are sending it to."

I haven't heard anything, but I guess three weeks isn't that long. Asking to know who she sends it to isn't unusual, is it?

Babe King said...

You're NOT superwoman? Sorry we writers give you such a hard time. We're an evil bunch. ;-)

Lisa McMann said...

Hi lori, nice blog, very informative. I especially liked your posts about promotions and publicists.

Regarding this post, I think that for new authors, it's not always that we can't wait. It's that we don't understand how things work, and we don't know that we need to wait. My agent was terrific when we first signed up to work together -- he told me from the beginning that the publishing industry works on a different clock from many other professions. He gave me information up front -- that it could be days, or it could be months before we got feedback from our submissions. And he assured me that I was free to email or call at any time.

Knowing that I was free to contact him at any time did not make me want to contact him all the time. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

It's the 'not knowing' or 'not understanding' the process that I think causes the anxiety for many writers.

If agents don't tell us what is going on, how are we to know that you didn't put us on a shelf for six months, or that you lost your enthusiasm for our work? There are plenty of horror stories out there in writers' circles about that situation. And how are we to know that you have 77 clients and read for 10 hours a week unless you explain that (as you did here)?

I'm afraid my questions above could be interpreted as defensive or accusing. I don't mean them that way. I hope you (lori) don't see this comment as harsh criticism on you -- it's not. In many professions, it becomes easy to assume that new clients understand things that seem logical or obvious to us.

My background is in real estate, and as an agent for anxious home sellers and buyers, I understand your side of things very much.

I also understand what it's like to be new and clueless in the writing industry -- and it doesn't feel very good sometimes. It's a vulnerable place to be. There is also a lot of misinformation floating around the Internet, which doesn't help. What does help tremendously are agent blogs and websites like yours.

Many writers want to do things right. We don't want to bug you. If agents make it clear up front what the expectations are and what the procedure is, as well as what the agent's idea of reasonable communication is, I think that would relieve much of the anxiety that causes writers to feel compelled to contact their agents more often than is welcomed or necessary.

*looks up* Wow, that was way more than my two cents. :)

Anonymous said...

After reading a few posts just wanted to say I think this is going to be a great blog with a smart voice.

Tyhitia Green said...

Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea. I work for the state, and everything is due last year! So thanks for clearing this up. No one has ever explained it this way! :*)

Cathy in AK said...

Thanks for the shot of perspective. I've been wondering how long I should wait before contacting an agency who had been considering my full ms for the last couple of months. Now I know the best thing I can do is take a deep breath and give it a little more time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the post. I've struggled with response times from my agent, and it helps to be reminded of the realities of the profession.

Anonymous said...

I concur with much of the above. My agent has had my ms for 2 months and I've been getting progressively more anxious about whether he's interested. Thanks for this blog, which has made me chill out (for a few weeks at least...)