Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Publishing Time

As you may have seen around the Book Internetosphere, there was an interesting back and forth blog discussion between Cheryl Klein, editor extraordinaire, and Michael Bourret, agent extraordinaire.

If I may butcher their (very nuanced) discussion with this rough summary: Ms. Klein suggested that agents should allow editors more time (say, two months) to put offers together as the editor who is able to assemble their offer the quickest and richest may not necessarily be the best editor for the book. Mr. Bourret then countered that the editor who gets an offer together quickly deserves credit for getting it together quickly, which bodes well for said editor's ability to make other things happen for the book. Ms. Klein then countered that assembling an offer quickly reflects the editor's and the house's speed at putting together offers, not necessarily that they're the best editor for the project, and that giving everyone time to weigh in assures that the project will find the most enthusiastic editor. Mr. Bourret then countered that the waiting two months for all offers idea really only works if every single agent adheres to it and thus is probably better in theory than in practice, although agents tend to give editors the time they need anyway.

And, in a major breath of fresh air, throughout the discussion they were very calm and respectful of each other's opinions and after it was all finished they went bowling and drank lemonade together in a meadow full of tulips. I may have made that last part up. But seriously: it was great to see such an illuminating and respectful discussion and my hat's off to them.

I'm not going to weigh in directly on their back and forth because I think they both raised interesting points and I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Instead there's something that was tangentially part of the discussion (How long, really, should it take a publisher to get an offer together?) that has been on my mind lately. And that is: publishing time.

As anyone even remotely connected with the book world knows: things take forever in publishing. The industry works according to its own speed, and it's a speed that people in other industries tend to find equal parts bewildering and maddening.

It can take ages for aspiring authors to hear back on their queries and manuscripts. It can take ages for an agent to hear back from editors about a book project, even on something like a short nonfiction proposal or a picture book manuscript. It takes forever for books to come out. It takes forever for checks to come from publishers (I shake my fist at you!!).

Now, let me first say that there is a fairly good, if incomplete, explanation for the pace of publishing. As I have said previously, a lot of people have to read a book in order to get it from an unsolicited query to a bookstore. And reading takes time. Selling into bookstores and developing and executing marketing plans takes lead time. There's more reading to be done than is humanly possible. I get that. After the latest round of layoffs there are fewer people doing more work. The industry is also populated by a lot of very creative people, and creative types aren't exactly known for their punctuality. And I will also say that there are plenty of very punctual people in publishing who work with incredible speed and dexterity.

But I kind of feel like the languid pace gets into some people in the industry and suddenly it takes two weeks or more to hear back on something that takes three key strokes and a one sentence e-mail to respond to. People don't blush at getting back to people weeks or even months later, even about very simple questions. Some agents and editors don't respond... ever. In what other industry would this be acceptable?

In case you haven't noticed: it kind of drives me crazy.

I know we agents and editors are besieged with submissions that often have to be read at nights and on weekends. Part of the job is that it's more than a 40 hour work week kind of a job. That's why we're paid the big bucks! Oh... we're not? Hmmm... But free books, right??

I also completely agree with Jessica Faust that an agent's response time on queries and manuscripts may not be indicative of how that agent works with their clients, because existing clients have to take absolute precedence. Agents who take a very long time to read manuscripts they've requested may actually be incredibly punctual with their clients and with editors. Yes, some agents are just slow at everything, but some agents have a full list and aren't jumping on every query or manuscript that comes through the Inbox for the simple reason that they aren't looking to take on many more clients.

But I disagree slightly with the idea that the reverse is also true: as in, some agents who handle their submissions quickly may actually be slow to get back to their own clients. While I'm sure there's someone out there who fits this description, I don't really think it's very possible these days.

There's a wealth of information about an agent's query/manuscript response times on message boards, blogs... heck, there's a whole website basically devoted to tracking how agents respond to queries. It's hugely public information, probably the most public information about an agent that's out there. If an agent was known for getting back to queries quickly and yet neglected their clients: whoa boy would those clients know quickly.

So, I may well be biased, but I do tend to think a fast query/manuscript response time is indicative of punctuality with clients.

But even aside from judging response times, if punctuality is important to you: talk to your agent before you sign with them. Ask about their response times with their clients, about their follow-up policy with editors, about how much they like to be in touch with their clients. Your prospective agent may try to mask their Publishing Time infection, but asking good questions may help you make a correct diagnosis.


MeganRebekah said...

When I read Jessica's post about agents response times I did immediately think of you, and wondered what your response to her assertion would be.

It's funny that I alwasy hear how slow things are with editors, but in recent months I've heard many, many cases of immediate sales (auctions within days), so I know it works both ways.

Travenvik said...

The whole publishing industry strikes me as this bizarre combination of 21st century (e-queries, agents and editors reading submissions on their Kindles) and 19th century (taking forever to get back to someone, as if relying on the mail going by covered wagon, taking forever to actually get a book in stores).

In some ways it appeals to the part of me that resists our hurried-up modern life.

But as a writer waiting, waiting to hear back from agents -- well, it drives me nuts.

Anonymous said...

The glacial pace of the publishing business IS maddening and it seems like many of the delays accepted as necessary COULD be shortened if those in power cared enough to look at new models of doing business.

Dave Eggers went from final manuscript to printed copies in six weeks with his new book Zeitoun:

Yes, I get it that McSweeney's is his own publishing house, but don't some of you guys want to tour his plant and take notes? If he can do it in six weeks, seems like six months should be enough for most books!!!

J. L. Bell said...

As a policy, I take whatever amount of time a publishing employee says it will take to get back to me and double it.

Because, alas, that's how I had to work when I was a publishing employee.

Robert McGuire said...

I'm glad you raised the question of whether or not the lengthy timeline in publishing is necessary. I knew it was lengthy, but when I read your summary of the publishing process the other day, it was pretty disheartening to see it spelled out. At one point you used the phrase "takes x months," and I thought "Why?" At another point you said, "requires x months," and I couldn't help noticing the difference. There may be explanations for why the process takes so long and even good reasons, but some of the reasons don't sound quite right when one thinks of all the other industries that have the same challenges yet manage to get their products to market a lot quicker. Sometimes it sounds like the publishing industry has the same mindset as Detroit when it needs a mindset more like Silicon Valley. It's not the same industry, of course, but like you point out, some people get in the habit of looking at their industry in a certain way and have trouble thinking any other way.

Kristi said...

I realize there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, punctual people are punctual people regardless of the situation. I believe this ties in heavily with organizational skills but I'll leave it at that. As a punctual person, I do get impatient at times, but I realize that the publishing industry is a whole different animal.

I just found out that I was chosen to meet individually with a real live editor at an upcoming conference based on a PB I submitted (not the same one another editor has), so I figure the response time may be quicker if I have face to face time with least I'll keep telling myself that. :)

MeganRebekah said...

Is part of the problem that the publishers knowthey have time to move at their own pace.

In my old job as a child abuse investigator, I worked 60 hours a week with a ridiculous case load. We also had crazy strict deadlines (reports due every so many days and the case had to be closed with 60 days, no exceptions). Because we were kept under such deadlines, we worked harder and quicker and tied ourselves into knots to accomplish what we had to. I can without a doubt that if firm deadlines weren't in place, everyone would have been more lax and smaller cases would have been pushed aside for months.

I'm wondering if the publishing industry is working the same way. They have deadlines, but everyone knows that they're flexible, so everyone ignores them. Everyone knows that saying something will take one month will actually take two, so they have a cushion or a safety net. Without a strict deadline breathing down their neck, they let things go and lesser books (aka new authors) get pushed aside and postponed as long as possible.

Matilda McCloud said...

When I worked in publishing, it was crazy-busy all the time, and there was never enough time to get everything done. Maybe it was all the meetings? I'm not sure. Also you have production meetings for books that are WAY in the future so maybe that makes the present issues seem less pressing? All I know is that I will never work in publishing again--way too stressful!! It was not some cushy job--incredibly low pay, heavy workload.

The Rejectionist said...

We were a little shocked, honestly, at the glacial pace of the publishing industry when we first started laboring therein. It DOES take a long time to read things, but as Mr. Bransford notes, it DOES NOT take a long time to click "send" on an email. At any rate, we have done our best not to abandon our Best--uh, West Coast work ethic despite relocating to New York.

karen wester newton said...

Sometimes it seems to me the activity most like publishing is bonsai. You put in some hard work, prune a lot, and then you wait, and wait, and wait to find out if it worked or not.

Bane of Anubis said...

I agree w/ Mr. Bourret... although, unfortunately, w/ fewer publishing houses, I imagine the agents have less power to negotiate given the scarcity (relatively) of options.

I appreciate fast response times all around -- an offer can be formulated quickly and everything else can be done afterward if the house really wants the piece, IMO -- the agent's gotta be a bit Scott Boras (not whole hog, but a bit).

Bryan brought up the book 'Blink' yesterday and I think this snap-decision mentality holds true in most facets.

And I applaud you and other agents who strive to respond quickly. Thanks

Mark Terry said...

As a professional writer, editor, novelist, publisher who has worked in the medical field and discussed this very topic with a friend who runs his own media research company that has done tons of work for major corporations in the U.S., our conclusion mostly is that people in publishing, er, dick around.

That isn't to say that others in other industries don't as well. One of my clients is one of the premier publishers of newsletters and market research reports about the clinical laboratory industry. So when I contact a bunch of media dept folks (repeatedly) and leave e-mails and phone messages telling them I want a 15-minute interview with someone--ANYONE--at their company for a report about THEIR INDUSTRY, and they know who we are, I can be rather surprise (unpleasantly) when they don't respond to the e-mail or phone message for, yes, interesting, THREE MONTHS.

Uh, baby, all that free media attention you were going to get ... that's water under the bridge, over the damn, and out into the ocean, bye-bye.

So it's possible that some of them are just incompetents, I don't know, but you've got to wonder about 12 and 18-month lead times on anything. They're launching a book, not a rocket.

hannah said...

I left my first agent because I would wait weeks for a response to a simple question, and she never, EVER followed up with editors. I can't even tell you how amazing it is when my new agent answers an email within a few minutes. It is so important to have an agent whose response times work for you!

Other Lisa said...

Boy, does this resonate with me. Not with my publishing experience thus far - the people at the press that's publishing my book have been great, responsive and fast - but in some tangentially related areas.

What bugs me the most is not how long something takes, it's lack of communication or poor communication. I even understand when things take longer than originally stated. What I don't understand is why so many people don't take responsibility to let you know what's going on, that there will be a delay, what the revised delivery date is likely to be, etc. From what Nathan's describing, this seems to be particularly rife in the publishing industry.

You would think that an industry based on the communication of ideas would be better at communicating!

Anonymous said...

For most right now, the publishing industry still does work slowly. But in recent years so many things have changed, and are changing, in many cases it's taken a new direction and it's going too fast. I can't elaborate right now, but after years of having months to work on a project, I was given a three week deadline for a project that was too good to pass...and this came from my agent and publisher.

And, maybe I'm wrong, but I have a feeling things are going to continue to speed up and those who snooze are going to lose.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, the publishing world parallels the legal world to a great extent. It can take years for a case to go to trial.

There's no point to this post really; just something I'm thinking about as I'm working on discovery requests today.

~Aimee States said...

Hold answer an email every ten seconds AND you have time to read blogs?

Borgs are REAL.


I just had to share despite not being directly on topic for today. Follow the provided link to see a comic strip very much appropriate to what goes on here in Nathan's sandbox. If you follow this link today, you'll be looking at the Frank and Ernest comic strip for Thursday, August 27. If you follow the link after today, you'll have to select Thursday, August 27 in the date box.

Laurel said...

Just my speculation, here, but all of publishing is basically sales. The projects that move fast are topical and very nearly guaranteed to make a lot of money, like tell-all scandal books while the scandal is still fresh or political pundits writing on a topic that is current.

When you sell something it is always a gamble. If you work on commission, you concentrate on where you know you will make money first. When something like 70% of novels don't even earn out I expect it is difficult to stay fired up about each and every one you are handling.(I pulled that stat from memory so I'm not sure...)

It doesn't make it okay to dawdle or be unprofessional, but I kind of get it.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Said it before, say it again...

publishing moves at the speed of herding worms!

Haste yee back ;-)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

"They're launching a book, not a rocket."

What Mark said. :)

Laura Martone said...

I'm with you, Haste yee Back... publishing does seem to move at the pace of worms. Even in travel publishing, the same can be said. While, as a guidebook author, I must adhere to tight deadlines, my editors don't always answer questions (or emails) with the speediness I'd prefer.

Mira said...

Right on, Nathan! I think your point here is excellent.

In terms of the Klein/Bourret discussion, from this author's perspecive: I would hope my agent and I would discuss dream editors and wait alittle longer for the right offers. It would matter to me as an author to have the right editor. Don't care if I have to wait an extra month.

In terms of the industry, and the glacial pace, my question is: what on earth are they thinking??!!

Time is money!!

If you're complaining about sales, or overhead, or the economy then you might not want to take years to bring out the very product that will make you money!!! That's just madness!

Madness, I tell you!!

And yes, letting go of my angst over industry madness, I will acknowledge that disagreements are best done from a place of exchange of thought and opinion. Something I know perfectly well. Sorry.

And, yes, I wondered about Jessica's post, too. I like Jessica, but I'm glad you responded.

Anonymous said...

With any business relationship I think all parties should be accessible. Even if the agent can't answer my question right away, acknowledgment and follow-up are expected. Its a respect thing.

Mira said...

Oh, my points about waiting for the right editor might seem to contradict the idea of time is money.

I'd like to assure you it doesn't.

There's a difference between one month and setting good groundwork, and taking years to publish a book.

J.J. Bennett said...

This reminds me of the construction men working on the road. (It takes four of them to watch the one doing all the work.) It drives me crazy.

If they were paid by how many emails the sent, how many fires they put out, and the service they provided it would be a different animal.

I'm guessing my impatient soul will have to take prozac during this process. Hmm... So much fun to look forward to Nathan. Thanks...

Thermocline said...

A slight variation on this theme has been on my mind during my search for an agent. I've hesitated each time I've run across an agent's site that refuses to accept e-queries. I understand reading from a hardcopy is easier on the eyes but this stance does make me wonder about the responsiveness of this particular agent.

I realize there may be no direct correlation between query format preference and the agent's punctuality but...

Mike said...

This sounds like it could be a real problem if the agent wants an exclusive.

terryd said...

Is Publishing Time a cunning plan?

Perhaps a book generally sells more copies if the author has recently expired?

Just kidding. My agent and editor get RIGHT back to me, and I suspect that if there were more like them, the 18-month doldrums would be a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

Two things that drive me mad in the UK
Poor communication, when it is always I who have to ask when the edit or copy-edit is coming and poor ability to estimate how long these things are going to take.

Yet as writer I still get the standard 2 weeks to turn anything round even when they've had the book 6 months!

My editor once said to me, "You're amazing. Whenever you say you'll do something, you always do it." That told me a lot!

Alyssa Smith said...

A lot of misinformation going around in the comments.

The main reason book publishing moves so slowly is the sales process.

For example, our sales team is selling Spring 2010 books into stores right now, and they need those books 75% to 90% complete (layouts, catalog copy, covers) in order to do that successfully. And that's just six months away for the earlier February titles and ten months ahead for June titles.

Now, please understand that if we wanted to do anything special, (like have the book completed early enough to have galleys/ARCs in the hopes of gaining reviews/early praise) we'd need the manuscript complete an extra 6-8 months earlier.

It is NOT advisable to release a book any earlier in this process because it will hurt their sales. (The caveat: if it's a very high-profile book that will definitely, 100% get a lot of press, you can do it earlier. But not too much earlier.)

Katert0t said...

I understand the frustration. I've heard some horror stories about how long it takes to get back to people. As an editor of YA, I always try to get right back to people even if it's just to say "hmm, I don't know, let me check." But that's with present clients.

I'm worst on submission communication, frankly. That's the one time when I WILL NOT send out an email quickly and without thought. It isn't my style to write a pass letter that says, "not for me, good luck." If an agent sends me something, I'm going to write a long, thoughtful letter of feedback. So even when I've read something already, it might take a week or longer for me to get back to them so that I give constructive and helpful feedback. But I'm probably in the minority there.

As for the glacial pace of edits, etc, I would like to point out that editing is something that requires quiet time away from email and phones. It takes me 4-5 days to finish an edit, and I can't be doing other things at the time. Considering how many other things I'm required to do at my office, I can't just take a week to work from home and ignore emails to turn around an edit in a week. I try to get them done in two weeks, but it can take longer-- and considering that it takes 2-5 rounds of edits... that all adds up.

Side note: publishing people are word people, and some of us have trouble banging out quick emails. I've watched my boss write a three sentence email and squint at it for 15 minutes changing back and forth between "expediently" and "speedily" on word choice. Torture.

K.T. Koulos said...

I've known that it's slow, and I try to see both ways, but i always love quickness. One of the reasons I wouldn't be an editor is because I like the creative side, and I would want to bed their books to make it my kinda book...that and because I'm the not-deadline-agreeable, creative, type. another reason why my best try at a job is probably being an author.

F. P. said...

...For once, down-on-the-publishing-industry little-old me will somewhat defend it because I once worked inside it.

Try reading AND editing 9-5 every weekday, and then complain that many people don't move fast in publishing. In my opinion and experience, working in publishing ruins many sets of eyes. Reading does take time, but, more importantly, understanding what you're reading takes time. When most people in publishing really must move, they do...right before a deadline they often start getting their butts in gear.

I've complained about many things-publishing, but response times were rarely one of those things. Now, NOT RESPONDING AT ALL, especially to requested materials--that I personally can't stand. Or losing a requested manuscript, never responding and then when contacted months later, claiming you never responded because the office burned down in a fire...can you say, "My dog ate my homework?"

I can't stand the way the standard querying system is; however, when you, a writer, query on speculation, you're basically spamming. No one's obligated to get back to you right away on your spam. Really, people aren't obligated to get back to you at all. (Not that I mean I approve of the you-must-get-a-referral way of breaking in--I generally don't approve.) I'm against the whole current system, but I still see what I think is how it really "works." I don't use it anymore because I don't like it. But if you're going to use it, know how it functions.

For me personally, I'd rather people take as much time as they need (within reason--years is too long) to carefully read my work. Or years ago when I sent in, I would rather wait longer for a rejection on a careful manuscript read than wait shorter for a didn't-even-glance-at-my-actual-manuscript rejection. And by "careful manuscript read" I know that may mean only one paragraph or page. That's okay. Because I've worked as an editor and proofreader, I know experienced readers can often get a sense of a written work's general qualities by reading the beginning, though they can't know the whole work's specifics. I just wanted that careful-but-probably-brief read of my actual manuscript to happen, however long it took the person.

Having said all that, I do strongly agree that 18 months to publish books is too long, assuming they're not very long, highly technical and a royal pain in the bum to edit. Don't forget: most editors aren't working on one project at a time; they're working on multiple projects at a time. And they may be multiple royal pains in the bum.

Chazz said...

Everything in publishing does take forever. The delay cycle pubishers can't seem to change is one of the main reasons Dave Eggers said, "I can do it faster than that myself!" And he did. I haven't noticed that his work suffers from a lot of typos typical of vanity printers' rush jobs (or any Writer's Digest book pub ironically. They are replete with typographical errors!)

However, something stood out for me in the agent v. editor throwdown hoedown. There's a premise creeping in here that I wonder about: the Case of the Enthusiastic Editor. As an editor, I've worked on tons of books and articles I didn't have any particular enthusiasm for. I could still do my job and I'd expect nothing less of any other professional. Do you think every country radio DJ actually loves country music? You think every surgeon finds a Monday morning appendectomy scintillating when in the next O.R. the idiot drone he trained with is subbing in a monkey heart on Siamese Twins?

Sure, it's art. It's also business. Editors are often assigned work. Not all editors get to work on the awesome sexy books they have fallen in love with. If they are really that delicate a genius, they won't get the necessary experience to work on near so many books--especially when that to-die-for tome comes along.

We talk hyperbolically about getting rapturous over the king query or the treasure in the slush pile, but rapture is a ridiculously high standard and if it applied, there would be far fewer books on the shelves.

There's a lot of books I like. There's a smaller bunch of books I love. There's a few I'm rapturous over. I bring my best to all projects, just like everyone is supposed to do no matter what their thing is.

Agents want to love everything they get, too. Despite objections to the contrary, c'mon! I'm positive they rep for books they don't love ove love but know they can sell, just as editors don't love love love every book.

Suck it up and acknowledge it's a commercial enterprise, too. If you don't buy (and edit!) that Estonian Thanksgiving Cookbook you don't really give a shit about, you won't be able to finance that gem of literary fiction you think deserves a chance though you strongly suspect said jewel of letters will be coming back on skids. I worked for a publisher who proudly contended he would only bring "important" books into being. He turned up his nose at American Psycho. He was too good for the cookbooks that flew off the shelves. That's why the enterprise flew out of business and put a lot of people out of work. He could have published more of those books he was enthusiastic about had his sensibilities been less delicate.

Pardon my long rant, but the pretension made things stuffy. I hope I opened a window.

Chazz said...

Funny. I thought of Dave Eggers right away when I read the post and then I read the comments and someone else had, too.

I wasn't being pedantic, merely clueless and redundant.

Mira said...

Nathan, could you add several 'verys' in front of that sorry above? It won't happen again.

Can I also just add that what really blows my mind about publishing is that these are coporations. I could understand if they were non-profits, but most for-profit corporations understand that productivity equals income. That doesn't mean just making people work hard but actually producing a product.

If I made widgets, I would not take years to make a widget. The concept is mind-blowing.

Nathan Bransford said...

Both Alyssa and F.P. bring up good points, and I hope my post got through that there really are some sound structural reasons why things take a while. I'm also not trying to suggest that anyone isn't working hard. These days especially editors are doing more with less.

That said, as Megan said, sometimes I do think people begin to absorb the pace of the business and let things pile up. There are disorganized people in every industry, but the acceptable rate of correspondence in the publishing industry is still worlds behind any other I've heard about.

F. P. said...

"There's a premise creeping in here that I wonder about: the Case of the Enthusiastic Editor. As an editor, I've worked on tons of books and articles I didn't have any particular enthusiasm for. I could still do my job and I'd expect nothing less of any other professional. Do you think every country radio DJ actually loves country music?"

--I've pointed this out before, as, in my experience (mostly in nonfiction publishing), a significant number of publishing people aren't book lovers. They just needed jobs. I got mine because I really needed a job (new graduate during a recession, I saw a NYT ad), not because I was interested in publishing or loved books.

When I've pointed that out, people didn't like my having done so. And I think the reason for that is: the publishing industry itself perpetuates that everyone-in-publishing-loves-books myth, perpetuates that it's full of knowledgeable literary folk who just love working in publishing, when that isn't always the case in reality.

Donna Hole said...

This is a great post Nathan, and thanks for the link to Jessica's. She gave a very clear and understandable reasoning behind some of the slow response time for agents/editors.

I'm not in the publishing business, but I do carry a caseload, which is why this post resonates so well with me. My clients demand their needs, and questions, be met NOW, and that is not always possible. Doesn't mean I don't take the time to research and/or take action on their behalf, but sometimes an early answer is not the best answer.

Soemthing I think aspiring writers forget (and I definitely include myself in this) is that the person we are attempting to land as a representative also has several other clients, either on-going or prospective. Sometimes I feel all my clients think they are the ONLY client I have.

Your post a few days ago regarding the sheer numbers of e-mails you answer in a single week proves to me You are moving at the fastest possible speed. If I had that many e-mails to send I'd probably shut down my computer and hope they all miraculously answer themselves!

As a prospective client, let me say thanks for all you do. And when I'm actually in your "caseload" let me apologize now for my lapses into the "me first" attitude I am bound to occassionally sink to.

word verif: hicimoo. That cinches it, it's officially wine time!

J.J. Bennett said...

Nathan you're right every industry has a bit of everything. So smile and be happy you get to choose who you work with in many respects. A positive way to look at it I'm an agent.

Stephen Parrish said...

Some agents and editors don't respond... ever. In what other industry would this be acceptable?

If everyone in the sequence responded as quickly as you, books would be published three hours after they were submitted. Four hours if the manuscript arrives during lunch.

F. P. said...

Nathan, w.r.t. your second paragraph at 1:59, I think you're correct. I guess I've just always found the slowness one of the better things about publishing. Like, if I had to choose, I'd rather the publishing world were too slow than too fast--as far as the reading/editing/responding aspect is concerned. More deliberate careful work will likely yield better published works. I think a person could probably argue that for some aspects, things-publishing happen too fast, are glossed over too quickly, and inferior "products" are too often produced. Someone could also argue that if publishing were sped up, maybe even worse results would occur.

Now, I do wish that the publishing world would speed up and evolve in OTHER areas, as in a greater acceptance of different ideas, different voices, and the different ways and mediums for publishing. I see some movement on this now: an increasing acceptance of econtent is encouraging. But I still want more evolution!

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Jenny Brown said...

My brilliant agent got back to me about a week after I sent her the full. Three other agents were also reading it, one of whom had many more impressive sales than this agent. But that agent is slow to respond and the younger agent's enthusiasm convinced me to go with her. I am very glad I did.

When she submitted, I sat back figuring it would be another three months until I heard a word. She put together an auction that led to a very satisfying offer for a three book series ten days later.

I have since met my new editor and I'm delighted with her. She shares my agent's enthusiasm. I am hoping that enthusiasm will give my book a fighting chance at getting a decent cover and some marketing support, two factors that are essential when the writer is completely unknown to the public.

So for me, the agent's speed and enthusiasm, coupled with her already having sold a couple books in my genre, did translate into great results.

--The blogger formerly posting as Jenny

Etiquette Bitch said...

To answer your question:

In what other industry would this be acceptable?

A: The advertising (commercials) and entertainment industry in general. It doesn't have a languid pace overall, but there is a lot of "hurry up and wait," and the people who suffer are the "artists" at the bottom.

Ex: I used to act in commercials. Even though the ad agency knew for months it was making a commercial, what usually happens is that all possible candidates get a call around 4:30 pm the day before the audition to show up at said audition. Then, if you can't make it (due to work, kids, whatever) you're seen as "unreliable." Do this one too many times, and your commercial acting career is over.

maybe not a fair comparison, but it's also annoying.

Linda Godfrey said...

It is true that the time advantage seems to cant toward the publisher who seems to read your submission at leisure, sets your deadlines, and chooses how long the public must wait for your opus. (I'm talking mostly NF since that has been my main experience)

In the meantime you the author are doing the deadline two-step, stopping everything but basic life functions when the proofs arrive for editing, and providing daily burnt offerings to your desk calendar in hopes that it may favor you. It's just how it works.

What I have found is that this process is hardest when you are breaking in. After the first book or two, you get into a certain rhythm and it's like folding yourself into a complex relay race and the time between things loses that vast, chasm-y feel and becomes downright where-did-that-year-go?

I do expect e-books to change this
dependable if sometimes frustrating rhythm. The relay race may give way to a sprint.

Me, I'm looking at buying some new running shoes.

ryan field said...

As a very impuslive, impatient person. I've learned how to become patient, especially when it comes to the 90 day waiting period after release day :)

Sissy said...

It's funny to think that this industry employs slow readers, and I guess it isn't that they're much as just sitting on a ten foot tall pile of things to read. I would love that job.

Leigh KC said...

Exellent point - in other industries, the gestation period required for books would kill a business, and perhaps this is why some books don't sell as well as expected - they're hot when sold, and cold by the time they hit the bookshelf.

Re Agents: on request, I sent my ms to a high-profile UK agent who took 9 MONTHS to respond, during which time something called the Global Financial Crisis hit, so her response was, "Not now, maybe later." Needless to say I'm a little scarred.

D. G. Hudson said...

Thanks, Nathan, for sharing your thoughts on the discussion of 'wait' times between the editor and the agent. We need patience - or a Zen garden to rake.

It's always good to know what we're up against,so we can endure the waiting period. No matter how much research is done, there's no way of knowing if a particular agent is bombarded with queries or manuscripts when we seek representation.

You are one of the exceptions, as you have stated that you are still open to being queried, but do all agents provide that information?

Jen C said...

I made a comment on a popular writing forum about what I think is excessive amount of time to get books onto the shelves and I got flammmmmmed.

So it is with trepidation that I say I think 18 months - 2 years to publish a book is crazy. Crazeeee. (I have a thing for extending letters in words today. I expect it to pass sooooon.)

Jen C said...

Ummm, not saying it ALWAYS takes over 18 months to publish, but I think even a year is a bit too long.

Anonymous said...

It's taking me more than a few weeks to complete my first novel. I should have patience for the rest of the process. After all, it's not fast food we're making here! Then again, I'm so wet behind the ears I could drown, so what do I know?

Nathan, as to your point about those who take days, weeks or months to reply to a simple question, I think that’s indicative of a pervasive lack of manners that has somehow crept into the social norms of today. It's sad when we fall over ourselves in appreciation for the one or two people who actually reply promptly!

wendy said...

While in the library yesterday, I picked up a bookmark for the fantasy genre which lists the currently most popular authors for that genre. I noticed most of those names, like David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, T.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, etc, are authors who've been around for twenty plus years. Only a couple of names I wasn't familiar with so I hoped they might be new authors.

I Googled one, Traci Harding, (an Aussie) and her first novel was published in 1996. The other author, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, is a fellow Aussie, too, whose work was ‘discovered’ on the Internet and published by Time Warner in 2000. Wow - how lucky for her. No waiting time for editor/publisher responses there.

terri said...

In my never-ending and eternal intellectual property lawsuit, I've had to deal with the copyright office several times.

They may have finally gone to an online application system, but the website masks one of the most provincial organizations in government. I swear, they don't print documents, they have monks render them in calligraphy. Must be former publishing professionals!

BTW, average wait time in federal court for a request for a 7-day continuance is 90 days. Then, they will give you a written opinion granting you the seven days you asked for three months earlier. Response time on a real motion? Somewhere between 60 days and never . . .

liznwyrk said...

I will comment on this post in two months.

Laura Martone said...

I agree with you, Jen C. I often don't understand why it takes so long to produce a book. I really don't. (*head shaking*)

I know I'm a "newbie" in the fiction world, but for my travel guides... it usually takes a year, too. For my last one, I wrote the outline in May 2008, worked on the text/photos/maps through the summer and fall, proofed it in January 2009, and saw the finished book in April.

At least with the travel guides, the lag time makes a little more sense. After all, the Avalon editors has to layout more than just text - there are maps, callout boxes, photos and captions, an index, etc. Sometimes, the lag time for a novel makes less sense to me. But, remember, I am a "newbie". :-)

Laura Martone said...

Haha, Liz. Oh, wait, that was a joke, right?

P.S. I meant to say "the Avalon editors HAVE to" - oops.

Marilyn Peake said...

Interesting blog post and discussion. Coincidentally, I saw the movie JULIE AND JULIA tonight. I knew part of it was about a blog, but I didn’t realize beforehand how much of the movie was about books, including Julia Child’s first book, and the long and painful road to publication. I'm so glad I went to see it. It’s an awesome movie, especially for writers!

N.Hasnat (sometimes Senzai) said...

I was torn during this amazing back and forth volley of ideas, all rooted in solid logic. Michael in my agent and of course I want him to get the best deal for me as possible, but I also want all the editors he subs to have ample time to consider my work. Aaahhh, so hard!

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Joseph L. Selby said...

Aside from all the jobs I had in my teenage and college, I've only ever worked in publishing, so perhaps this is the same all over. There are two types of "takes three months to respond" people. There are the people who are required to perform far more than their job is supposed to do. This happens more and more often. They keep up with things for awhile until a mistake is made. A mistake isn't just an inconvenient error that may upset a few people. Mistakes back everything up. There are meetings and phone calls and more meetings and more meetings. Once these people fall behind, there's little they can do to catch up and the rest of their career seems to be in a perpetual state of trying to catch up. The other people are in positions they shouldn't be in. They're disorganized and don't understand their jobs. I have encounter more people in publishing that I honestly can't fathom how they were hired to do their job. They have no understanding of what they do or how to do it. It takes them forever to answer email because they have to ask a hundred other people what the answer is before they can reply. Not only are they slow, but they slow other people down who have to hold their hands (yet we don't get a percentage of their salary and they usually make more then us, what the hell is that about?). These people will never improve and will always be slow. You can only hope a new position is created they can be promoted into so someone more capable may move into their spot.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Time of year also makes a huge difference. If you're emailing a low priority or unsolicited email in certain months, don't expect the person to spend time on an immediate answer. Sending a survey to a media department in educational publishing in June-August or December is a waste of your time and theirs. Send it in February or March when things are slow and they have more time then they have projects.

kdrausin said...

Very interesting read- Nathan, I remember long ago you had suggested that authors not send queries around the holidays. What is the best time to send queries? I'm reading that books are being sold to bookstores for spring 2010-is there a time when agents and editors are voraciously looking for that new best seller?

Example: If an author has two picture book manuscripts sitting in a drawer waiting for yet another rewrite, should said author plan ahead and get those books out at a specific time?

Christine H said...

Side note: publishing people are word people, and some of us have trouble banging out quick emails. I've watched my boss write a three sentence email and squint at it for 15 minutes changing back and forth between "expediently" and "speedily" on word choice. Torture.

ROFLMAO!!!!! I can totally picture that.

Christine H said...

By the way, all of this has just reduced the pressure I've been feeling to hurry up and finish my manuscript. What's a year or two more in the whole process?

Cody Bye said...

I currently work as an online website editor, and the pace comparison between print publishing and 'net publishing is incredible. If I don't respond to a client in 5-15 minutes, I may lose the story/advertising forever.

I'd love to see the publishing world speed the pace up a bit, even it it's only a week or two.

Christine H said...

F. P. said:

"When you, a writer, query on speculation, you're basically spamming. No one's obligated to get back to you right away on your spam. Really, people aren't obligated to get back to you at all."

By definition, spam is "Spam is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately." (a la Wikipedia.)

If an agent requests that queries be submitted to him or her via email, then those queries are not unsolicited, nor are they abusive of the email system, nor are they sent in bulk.

Agents who request email submissions therefore *do* have a professional obligation to respond in a timely manner. Even an auto-reply is preferable, IMO, to no response at all. For me, timely would be within a week, knowing the massive amount of material they receive.

Christine H said...

P.S. By "reply" I meant an acknowledgment that the query had been received, not a decision about representation.

Reesha said...

Wow. I know I would hate it if someone judged me entirely based on how long of a response time I gave them. My abilities are so much more than time-based.

Mira said...

Good point, Christine.

Way long ago, 9 months to be exact, before I even came to this blog, I wrote a pretty bad query letter and sent off my sweet but unexciting PB to some random agency. I liked their website; it was pretty.

The agency said on their website that they would respond within 3 months no matter what.

Nothing. At 6 months I sent a follow-up (they said I could.) Nothing.

I just got my form rejection a couple of days ago. It was an exceedingly nice form rejection, really nice. They even apologized for being late with their response.

So adding this up: bad query, PB that's probably not publishable unless I was a known name and a very nice rejection letter, it all still doesn't matter.

I would have a terrible time getting myself to ever query them again. 9 months to send a form rejection on a 500 word PB. They may not care that they lost a potential client, after all I may never write something they want to publish, but they did.

I just couldn't bring myself to ever query them again.

Rose said...

Thank you for the agenttracker link, Nathan. That's a great resource. Only there's no "memoir" on the agent genre list.

I feel rejected already.

Diana said...

I've noticed that writers are tending to pick up the same bad habit of not responding to emails and private messages. It's rude. In the real world, it is not acceptable.

I reply to every submission that I get and I tell people if they don't hear back from me within a certain amount of time or by a certain date to ask me about it. I have inadvertently deleted a submission before. There really is no reason not to let writers know what is going on with their submission and when they can expect to hear from the agent or editor. Even if it is going to be three months to a year before the person can give a yay or nay, at least the writer knows when to expect an answer.

F. P. said...


That's one definition of spam; others don't require bulk mailing. They only require an unsolicited communication. Even directly putting out an ad in a newspaper advertising something and then everyone responding expecting a response back--that seems ridiculous to me. The newspaper ad didn't solicit each and every person individually. Also, spam doesn't require emailing; that word's used for snail-mail junk mail too, at least I've always used it for that.

Any not-specifically-requested "selling"-like communication received by an individual or place--that's basically spam to me. Some kinds of spam are worse than others, the bulk kind being the absolute worst, which sending in to publishing insiders could fit, because few writers send manuscripts only to one or two places and that's it. And too many writers DO bulk send in the worst way, not even targeting insiders. These writers make their way down a list, sending to one after another.

In my opinion and experience, many publishing insiders don't really want writers sending in or don't want, period, any unsolicited materials. Sometimes without their consent these insiders are listed at aggregate-listing places; they may also post contact info on their own sites as a courtesy, and even directions for how to send in, but they don't necessarily want to take on new clients, new projects. They don't say this outright, maybe because they're afraid they may put off someone who winds up being "somebody" someday, but that's how they really operate.

Too much of publishing (and business in general) operates fakely. Unfortunately, this is reality. And reality can be more subtle than most people would like. And you won't necessarily find this reality in a Wikipedia entry. Reality's something people must learn by for-a-long-time actually experiencing what's going on from the inside of whatever's in question.

This is the way I think things work in this "submission" system. If writers don't like that system, they should try to change it and/or stop using it. I have, because I don't like it, not that I'm against the minor spamming of sending in manuscripts; I'm primarily against insiders not reading manuscript pages first. I'm against requirements that writers provide about-the-writer info (credentials, who they know or don't know) when only the actual works should count when judging the actual works. And those works should be seen FIRST. Writing's primarily about wriTING to me, not wriTERS.

When I did solicit insiders for my works--see, IIII solicited them, not the other way around--I'd always include some manuscript pages (and SASEs of course). As I've said, I worked in publishing; I know publishing people turn into obsessive readers and will glance at stuff they don't want to read, as long as that stuff's in front of their faces. I later got confirmation of this at a writer's conference when someone asked about this and the agent there admitted--reluctantly--that, yeah, if you include actual pages, most agents will look at them even when they've said they wouldn't.

One last thing: in my opinion, editors and agents have a professional obligation to respond TO THEIR CLIENTS, TO THE WRITERS THEY'RE LEGALLY INVOLVED WITH, and to no one else (not counting when they specifically request something, as I said in my first post here). At places like this too many writers spend lots of time wasting insider time, asking questions that have already been answered, asking questions that maybe should have never been asked, just basically wasting time NOT WORKING ON THEIR MANUSCRIPTS. These writers are often short-term thinking: let's say they someday land an agent or publisher; would they honestly want those insiders wasting half their days responding to non-clients? Always put yourself in someone else's place because you may actually be there someday.

Whenever I sent in unsolicited material, I knew I came LAST. That's the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

Cheryl Klein's comments - in her own name (which give her more credibility, to my thinking) - and then Bouret's response create an interesting dialogue. I"m not familiar with her imprint but I couldn't help wonder, are there auctions happening in the YA / middle grade / picture book world? Her points - and Bouret's counterpoints - seemed more keyed towards a Curtis Settenfield or Dave Eggers than even the most well regarded children/teen author.

F. P. said...

Christine, more simply:

You said, "If an agent requests that queries be submitted to him or her via email, then those queries are not unsolicited..."

--I think there's a difference between statements like

"Any queries should be sent to this address..."

and, point blank,

"Send me queries at this address. I'm actively looking for new material."

--The former statement isn't an advertisement to me; the latter statement is somewhat (though this does depend on the context of where they're made).

I think if writers are going to query, that they distinguish between the two types is important. Expect nothing from the author of the first statement.

However, I still think responding to either without a personalized invitation would be an unsolicited response, would basically be spamming (by my definition above). But if an insider doesn't respond after making the second type of statement, that does look bad.

Anonymous said...

Nathan - I saw on here before that you said it may take you 3-6 hours to read a client's manuscript. But how long does it to take to actually make the time to sit down and read it?

I wonder if taking a few weeks to get back to a client on their latest draft is normal.

Nathan Bransford said...


I personally think writers should allow their agents a month or more before getting back to clients on manuscripts. I try my very best to get back to clients within a week or two, but sometimes there's a reading queue and that's not always possible.

BeJewels said...

LOL you are soo funny! I busted a gut! "Borgs are real"! Soooo funny!
But yes he answered my pitiful query (It was pretty bad as it was months ago and I didn't know how to really 'sell' my piece) in no less than eleven minutes after I sent it. Rejected of course, but Borg is sooo funny! Had too laugh. Startled my husband!

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