Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Waiting Game

Back when I was unpublished, I spent a lot of time on eHarlequin's forums, specifically in the Submission Care thread, where a lot of aspiring (and, eventually, published) writers found kindred souls in the submission process at Harlequin/Silhouette.

One of the most frequently-asked questions was "How long do you normally have to wait after submitting your manuscript before you hear back from the editor?" And the answer, naturally, was "Who knows?"

Some of us heard fairly quickly, especially if the answer was a flat, "Thanks but no thanks." Others had submissions that took months, even years, to get an answer. The response time depended on a lot of variables, from how you queried, when you queried, whether you submitted after a contest win and editor request, etc. But I think most of us unpubs figured that once we got published, the waiting game would finally be over.

But that's not necessarily so.

My first few books, I'll admit, had pretty good turnaround. My last book, in fact, took only a week from my submission to the editor's call. However, as I learned over the past few months, that's not always the case, even when you have a few books to your name.

I sent my first two-book proposal (that turned into a three book proposal before it was over) to my editor last July. I finally heard from her this week with good news--though not yet a formal offer--for two of the books. That's a six month wait, my longest ever, even as an unpublished author.

There are plenty of reasons why it took so long for the editor to get back to me. She has a lot of other writers, for one thing, all producing and requiring her attention. For a while last year, between the senior editor's maternity leave and the assistant editor leaving for another job, the Intrigue editors were short-staffed. Plus, around the time I sent my manuscript, my editor was winging off to San Francisco for the RWA national convention. So, she got behind. It happens.

The problem was, I really didn't know what to do with myself during the wait. Since I'd had fits working up the two proposals, which didn't want to cooperate with me at all, I foolishly allowed myself to take a month's break from writing. Which turned into two months. Then three. Then, when I realized I had to get back into the writing game, I wasn't sure what to do next. Work on the proposals I'd sent, not even knowing if the editor would want to buy them? Or should I start something new? And if I started something new, should I write it as part of the series the other proposals were part of, or should I look at something new?

Eventually, I wrote something that was part of the Cooper Family series I'd already proposed, but I wrote it so that it could easily stand alone if she didn't like the other books. I managed to get that book proposal to her back in the fall while she was still considering the other two proposals, and it ended up being one of the two she chose to pitch to her senior editor.

So here's what I learned from the experience.

1 ) A short break from writing is fine, but be tough with yourself. Fix a time to get back to it and stick to the schedule, even if you don't have a book in the pipeline yet. Start working on the next one.

2 ) Be patient but also check back in with your editor. Editors are busy people, and I think a reminder now and then that you're still waiting to hear from them is appropriate, as long as you don't become a nag.

3 ) Manage your time wisely, and make reasonable judgment calls. Because my editor expressed approval on the two books she finally pitched, I decided to go ahead with working in the first book of the two in order to get ahead, even though the senior editor hadn't made the final go ahead for the buy. This way, maybe I'll be finished in time to get the book in for 2009. And even if I don't, I'll be that much ahead for the next book.

4 ) Always be thinking ahead to the next book. Even if it's nothing more than making notes or keeping a list of research links, always look ahead. For me, it includes setting aside time one day a week, at minimum, to brainstorm and work on the new ideas I have. This way, when my contract books are done, I'll have something else ready to send to my editor to keep things rolling.

I'd like to hear from other writers, published or unpublished--what are your strategies for handling the wait times? And for published writers, how do you handle keeping proposals in the pipeline with your editor, even when you're struggling to meet contract deadlines?


  1. Not a writer, Paula, and I don't know if I could go through the process you discribe. Think that I will just continue being just a reader.

  2. I'm not a writer either Paula but I do appreciate everything that a writer goes through to publish their work. I'm not familiar with the process but I know it's not just a hop, skip and a jump. So don't give up writers! There's too many of us readers who DO appreciate your work!

  3. Thanks for the pep talks! I'm actually kind of new to being a published writer--just four books in, so I'm still learning about the process. I sold my first two books as finished manuscripts, so my third book was the first time I sold a book before it was finished, which was kind of scary. Then my fourth book was the first time an editor asked me to write a specific kind of book--one with a cowboy hero--so that was also a learning experience.

    This time, it's my first time doing a multi-book proposal, so I'm learning something new from it, too. I think when we're unpublished (or even when we're not writers at all but readers), we assume that everything gets easy once you've sold your first book.

    If only!