Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
Q. I’m not even sure how to ask this question. I’m on hold. Apparently, terminal hold. I’ve been waiting over a year to hear on one manuscript that’s submitted and six months on another and I’m having a problem making myself write anymore when I can’t hear back anything on what I’ve done. Am I the only writer this happens to?
A. First, no, no, no. This waiting is part and parcel of the business. It happens to every writer who doesn’t have a parent or some other major connection wired in for them. It’s not just you, it’s unfortunately normal.
A year, however, is a long time. Not unheard of. I know of one writer who waited two years to hear back from a house that would not consider multiple submissions and then was rejected. I know of a writer who wrote to me asking if she could send her manuscript an anniversary card–it’d been on an editor’s desk for over a year. (I said, no. :))
Many authors wait. But a year is way too long to do so without requesting a status check.
If a publisher’s guidelines say that they’ll respond within 2 months, then write a suspense on your calendar for two months and two weeks. (Editor time is a wee bit different from writer time, due to the number of submissions they receive and the number of irons they have in the fire.) If in 2 months and 2 weeks you have not heard back on that submission, then write a letter requesting a status check on your manuscript.
Some will say that this invites an immediate rejection. I say, that happens only if they intend to reject the manuscript anyway, and it’s good business. If you were stocking shelves with books, you wouldn’t wait a year to check the status of the stock, right? So there’s no reason to treat this any differently. The moment you submit a work for publication, you’re selling a product. A beloved creative product, but a product nonetheless. That’s the blessing and curse of writing to sell. It is at that point that your creative side must bow to your business side, and your business side doesn’t sit passively for a year. It follows up.
If the guidelines say three months, four months, whatever months, give the editor that long and a few weeks’ grace. Then follow up.
Also, consider your submissions. If a house requires that it be the only house to which you submit, then agree to give them a shorter response time: a two-week exclusive. (Give them a month if it’s in August or during the holidays. It’s needed!) After that time, then you’re free to submit elsewhere. This is reasonable and respectful to both the publisher and the author.
Now, with multiple submissions comes added responsibility. And that is, you owe it to each of editors or agents to whom you submit to let them know if you receive an offer or “strong interest” from one of the other editors or agents. The key in this process is to strive for fair business practices. That is, fair to all parties. It would not be fair for you to multiple submit, sell or sign with one and not notify the others first.
So let’s say you submit to three houses. One expresses strong interest. You notify the other two of that strong interest. (Give them a heads’ up, so to speak.) If one then comes through with an offer, then BEFORE you accept it, you notify the other two that you have received an offer and if they’re interested, you need to know now. Most will ask for twenty-four hours, and that’s reasonable. Talk to all of them before you choose.
And if you’re unagented and in this situation, as soon as you receive interest or multiple interest, get an agent involved. It’ll be easier for you and the editors will adore you for it. You’ll get a better contract, your interests will be protected, and the editor negotiates much quicker with someone who knows their process. Also, you might consider negotiating a flat-rate fee with the agent for negotiating this specific contract, or negotiating a reduced percentage of commission. Personally, I don’t do this because things come up post contract that the agent must handle, and I feel it’s reasonable for her/him to expect payment for dealing with those things.
So it’s not you and you’re not alone and terminal wait is more ordinary, but I hope I’ve given you some tools to lessen the time to a more reasonable one. If you have further questions, yell.*