I was unpublished, I spent a lot of time on eHarlequin's forums,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 fourth book, in fact, took only a week from
my submission to the editor's call. However, as I learned in 2008,
that's not always the case, even when you have a few books to your
name. I sent my first two-book proposal to my editor in July of 2008.
It took several months to hear back from her, and the wait ended up
meaning that I went all of 2009 without a book on the shelves. Talk
about a career setback!
There are plenty of reasons why it took so long for the editor to get
back to me--staff changes and shortages, her large list of authors, the
RWA convention--so I can't say I was surprised. She got behind. It
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 else?
Eventually, I wrote something that was part of the Cooper Family series
I'd already proposed, but I wrote it so it could easily stand alone if
she didn't like the other books. I managed to get that book proposal to
her while she was still considering the other two proposals, and it
ended up being one of the two she finally bought.
So here's what I learned from the experience:
A short break 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.
Check in with your editor after a long wait
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. If you've had a full with your editor for three or
four months, I don't think it's bad to ask for a status check.
Manage time wisely/make reasonable judgment calls.
Because my editor expressed approval on the books she finally pitched
to the senior editor, I decided to go ahead with working on the first
book of the multi-book proposal in order to get ahead, even though the
senior editor hadn't made the final go ahead for the buy. That way, I
was finished with the book by the time the editor made the official
buy, putting me that much farther ahead for the next book.
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.
Waiting is hard. We all hate it. But we all have to do it. The secret
to surviving the long waits to hear from editors is moving forward to
the next project. Even if you sell the book under consideration, you
need something else to pitch for the next contract.
Having something new in the pipeline at all times makes the most of the
downtime spent waiting, and it moves your career forward faster and
more effectively than any other strategy.
Copyright © 2010 by Paula Graves