Real Talk: Patience in Publishing

Time for some real, possibly difficult to hear, talk:

Publishing, my friends, is a long, long game. Having been on both sides of it – as a writer, going through submission, and as an agent, taking my own clients through submission – I can say with certainty that if this industry is making you absolutely crazy with its snail’s pace, you are not alone.

Publishing is an industry that, especially in recent years, is always in a slight state of flux. With eBooks came a lot of changes, and with the rise in audio books, those changes are coming around again. There are fewer editors and fewer publishers these days than there were decades ago, but the number of writers has only increased. These leads to fewer people doing the same amount of or more work than their publishing predecessors and that, my friends, leads to a slowed down industry.

I’m not here to prescribe a solution, only to let you know that you’re not alone. The pace can make us all feel alone and uncertain.

If you’re a querying writer, it might be months before you hear from an agent. That might seem like an unfairly long time, but see above re: more writers than ever before. I get at least 10-20 queries in my inbox every day. This adds up to, on the high end of that amount, 140 queries every week. Some agents get this many queries every day. Add to this the fact that many agents only make money through commission, meaning they only get paid when a writer does, and you’ll understand one of the reasons that (besides the obvious) they prioritize client work over reading and answering queries and requested manuscripts.

If you’re a writer on submission with publishers for the first time, you’ve likely heard the stories about books that sold after only being on submission for a week, or a month, or even a day. You might start to worry if you haven’t heard from editors after a month, and then two, and then three, and so on. It’s easy to compare yourself to other writers, and to get discouraged when your book does not sell in that same magical way, or at all. It might be hard to see that the books that sell after a week are the extreme exception to the rule, and that generally you will not hear from editors for at least a month, if not many, many more.

I have seen wonderful books sell after a year or even years on submission. I have seen wonderful books NOT sell at all, even after a year or years on submission – simply because it took that long to get a response from every editor.  If you want to be part of this industry, you must come to terms with the fact that these are both possible outcomes of going on submission, and you will have to wait for both.

What you may not know, as writers, is that agents and editors must practice just as much patience. The agent who fell in love with your book is in just as much agony as you are, waiting for a response from editors. And the editors who received your book from your agent six months ago KNOW that they need to read your book, but likely they have been swamped with editing current acquisitions, and going to meetings with their editorial and marketing and sales teams to launch and promote the books they already have. There is simply not enough time in the day for them to prioritize submissions over books they already have on their roster. Many, just like agents, read when they can spare the time: at home after work, on the weekends, during their morning commute – those times of day many people get to spend eating dinner with families, watching TV, or relaxing after a hard day.

So here is my advice: if the waiting is driving you absolutely mad, the best thing you can do is start a new project. Write a new book, write short stories, write fan fiction, write a screenplay, write whatever you must – get your mind in a new world, with new characters, and immerse yourself. Attempting to publish a book in the traditional way is not for the faint of heart, and so many of us already suffer from depression and anxiety, so find methods of coping that work for you and use them. And remind yourself that the industry, as a whole, is just plain slow. Your journey through it is yours and yours alone.

I hope this has been helpful for some of you – I know I need a reminder every once in a while!


2 Responses to Real Talk: Patience in Publishing

  1. Suresh Jul 19 2017 at 10:54 am #

    Great post Hannah! If this is the truth, then we have no choice but to accept it and move on… for our own good. (Else, you might have to do a sequel to this post titled Patients in Publishing 😊)

    Declining readership, dwindling numbers in the editor/publisher fraternity, but a rapidly increasing brood of writers… The scenario sounds pretty complex. Publishing seems to be the only field where the ‘producers’ are on the rise while demand is on the wane… How did we get here? Would you care to do a piece on that?


  2. Ken Devey Jul 19 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    Hello Hannah
    Enjoyed reading your post. I have written my first book. I have a very good editor, she does more for me than expected. Re-write parts and deletes a lot were i have a tendency to write parts when i have written it earlier. She gives me very good advice. It has taken me over one year and i am still rewriting the book. My book initially was 540 pages with 120,000 words now down to 425 pages.
    My plan was for a trology but on her advice i am now changing the book into much shorter smaller books and refering them as adventure short books around 80-100 pages.
    It has been very frestrating for me but am begining to understand a lot.
    Ken Devey

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