|“Vanitas” – Adriaan Coorte|
Originally published March 6, 2008. The end of this post is not what I’d say today because you do have a choice. Self-publishing is easier than ever if you don’t want to wait for the submission process.
How long does it take to sell a novel?
About that long.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve received
several distressed e-mails from authors who have reputable agents and
who have novels out on submission to editors, and really they want to
trust their agents and they’re trying to be good and non-high
maintenance, but seriously could the submission process really take this
Yes, it can.
But what if, one of these authors
asked, a publisher expressed interest several months ago and then
nothing has happened at all. Could they really still be interested?
And if they were interested a couple of months ago why in the heck
haven’t they made an offer already?
Happens all the time.
always assure these authors to just keep in touch with their agent, be
patient, take up knitting, and go easy on the bourbon. Settle in for
the long haul. A book might sell in a week or it might sell in a year.
You never know.
So why does it take so long for an editor to
make a decision anyway? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, it
takes a long time to read a book. 6 hours on average, if you are a
speed reader (and you’d better be if you’re in publishing), and editors
receive multiple submissions a day. Do the math and there just aren’t
enough hours in the day, especially when you already have a full time
job while you’re not reading. The first major delay is the editor
simply sitting down with the book in question for a six hour stretch.
But let’s say the editor does read the book, loves it, and wants to make an offer. What then?
unless they are a serious publishing mucky muck, editors have to get
approval to make an offer, a process similar to unlocking a nuclear
bomb. They have to get it past editorial board, they have to get more
reads, these reads have to be good, they have to unlock the failsafe and
contact the president to press a button on the nuclear football,
the sales team gets a look, some higher up has to sign off on it…..
and all of these people have to read the book too. Multiply those six
hours by ten, and then maybe the editor gets approval to make an offer
of a certain amount.
Now, what’s funny about all this is that
when there’s a hot project all of this goes out the window and people
quickly lose their minds and the whole above process can be condensed to
a couple of hours. Frankly it’s a good thing publishing companies
don’t actually control our nuclear stockpile — one whiff of a rock star
memoir and bye bye Uzbekistan.
So I know it’s terribly
frustrating to go months and months looking for an agent and then
FINALLY the book gets submitted……. and then wait months and months
while you’re waiting for editors to read it.
Welcome to publishing. You have no choice but to stay a while.
Image by zullie via Creative Commons
Bye bye Uzbekistan *dies laughing* 😀 This is one my favorite posts on this site…
'I always assure these authors to just keep in touch with their agent, be patient, take up knitting, and go easy on the bourbon.'
Valerie Rieker says
I love the picture you paired with this post. Chance and time. ^_^
Bryce Daniels says
"Rome wasn't built in a day." Apologies to the very wise person who penned these words.
Of course, I'd be happy with a small bedroom community of around 1000 people.
Mary Kate Leahy says
great post 🙂 I didn't realize how many hoops the editor has to jump through. Very informative.
This is good advice! With all those six hour time intervals and separate opinions, it makes you wonder how anything gets published…
D.G. Hudson says
Even though we expect instant gratification on everything internet, due to our short fiction attention span, there are some things that can't be hurried.
We do have alternatives now, but most of us want to try the trad route first. If that doesn't pan out, then I'll look at other options.
Guess we writers need reality checks every now and then.
Cathy Yardley says
Love this. I've had a novel with a big trad publisher for a while now, and it's been dragging… I've been lucky with other publishers who got to know me and had (or seemed to have — I may be remembering this too fondly) a quicker turnaround. This will remind me to chill. Needed this!
suzy vitello says
As an author in that very position (trying terribly hard to be patient), this is useful. Thanks for the post.
Ishta Mercurio says
At the same time, even though we do have the choice to self-publish, I think people who go that route because they "don't want to wait anymore" are more susceptible to to the pie-in-the-sky idea that you write a book, you publish your book, and BAM! You're a literary rock star! When actually, as Amanda Hocking has said, marketing that self-published book is basically a 40-hr-a-week job. And that's assuming your book has been edited and revised to its full potential. Which, again, people who "just don't want to wait anymore" maybe haven't done.
Some self-published books are great! Some of them are truly awesome books. But I think the argument that self-publishing is a good option because it's faster is a poor one.
Anita Saxena says
Like you said, some get it easy, and some must learn the virtue of patience.
This is a funny and well written post.
It still strikes me how old school the publishing industry, though. Seems like this system could be streamlined.
You know, this is more in response to something Ishta said, but I think it's important to mention that not all people who plan to self-publish do so because they don't want to wait or they are tired of having their queries rejected.
For example, although I certainly recognize the talent of the people working in publishing, I don't like how the system works or the low royalty rates. I won't go that route at all when I'm ready to publish. I am positive of that, not a hesitant bone in my body. I will never submit a query letter – self-publishing is a better road for me.
That's not to say that I have a problem with those who prefer traditional publishing. Rather, I 'm mentioning that there are many reasons why people might choose a different route.
OK, this might seem like a silly question when compared to this post. What if your book contains current trendy type things, like mentioning Twitter? When I started my book, G+ wasn't even thought of yet. Should you avoid references to those kinds of trendy things or just add them anyway and potentially be forced to re-write those portions?
Publishing has a monopoly on distribution to bricks and mortar bookshops, and until recently, this was the only game in town.
Monopolies engender bad habits. I remember back in the 80s when British Telecom was the only place to get your phone, it took up to two years to get a phoneline installed in central London.
With no competition, publishers could afford to be as leisurely as they liked. Thank goodness times are changing.
I always figured an author would be looking at about two years from the point they sign with an agent to when they could expect to see their book on a shelf, assuming it's ultimately picked up by a publisher.
I can see, after reading this post, how that estimate is about right. Unless you've written something which touches on a current trend then the publisher might want to push it through while the subject is still buzzing.
But that doesn't mean I want to see another book about the stalled economy though.
I think I will be patient and go easy on the bourbon. The scotch and the vodka may not be as lucky.
Carrie Filetti says
I so needed to read this. Thanks, Nathan. You have given me the answer I needed. 🙂
This outlines one of the true advantages (sometimes) of a small press. They can make a decision faster.
That said, you've got one or two editors digging through 100 submissions a week, so getting that 6 hours may be a bigger issue.
Lost in London says
Perfect timing – amazing. It's exactly where I am and the wait is driving me slowly insane! Your post may not have cured my impatience but it's definitely helped. Thank you!
Roger Floyd says
Instead of sitting around knitting or drinking or whatever while waiting for a publisher to make an offer, use the time productively. Start another novel, or write short stories or poetry. Send out another manuscript. Start the research for the sequel. It doesn't have to be a down time, it can be as productive as when you were writing the original book. Once you've sent the book off, you know it's going to take some time, i.e., months, so don't sweat it. Do something else.
Elizabeth O. Dulemba says
Perfect timing on this post, Nathan – thank you! I have a novel out via my agent right now, and I can just feel the marbles slowly rolling out of my ears. I'm going crazy with the wait! Oh why couldn't I have been named Madonna or P-Ditty or… whoever is hot right now?
Cat Wisdom 101 says
I'm in that slow boat. Thanks lending me your ear, or oar.
My boss, my friends, my family…they all ask that question.
My standard answer tends to be:
"How long is a piece of string?"
Angela Brown says
Self-publishing and going the tradional route both have their pros and cons. I appreciate this post because no matter which route you choose, things will feel smoother when patience is used, especially given the enlightening information shared regarding the 'why' behind the time taken to get that 'big deal'.
Thanks for the post.
Laura Pauling says
It definitely takes time, for sure. I've gotten extremely good at waiting! 🙂
Simon Haynes says
Just try writing science fiction humour and see where that takes you …
Ishta Mercurio says
In response to Mira, I hope I didn't come across as saying that people who self-publish do it because they're too impatient for the trad route. I didn't mean that at all – I know of many people who are self-pubbing for other reasons, such as wanting more control over their work, or wanting a bigger cut of the sale price.
But I also know a few who are doing it, or are considering doing it, because they want their book out sooner rather than later. And I just don't think that's a good reason.
Ishta – thanks! I'm sorry – I hope you didn't think I was critisizing you or anything. It's just that I've heard many people say something like: people are only self-publishing because they can't hack/weren't accepted by traditional publishing, and I felt I wanted to put forth another viewpoint. But I see that you already know that, so never mind. 🙂
Great article that reaffirmed my decision to go with self publishing. After several agent responses that indicated they liked the writing and the premise, and a few more that said they loved it but simply couldn't take on another new author or the book didn't fit into their current interests; I literally said to myself, "Screw this crap!" No, actually I used the "F" and the "S" word and pretty much screamed aloud.
There are a lot of drawbacks to be sure. A lot. Marketing / promotion is HARD work; but the really, really hard part is getting past the snobbery of booksellers and book reviewers towards POD books.
I had no idea! Well…live and learn, right? Where there's a will, there's a way, right? Yes, sir and madam, there is.
I recently purchased a MAC Pro. It's taking some getting used to, especially the touch pad. Previous post went off before I wanted it to…:o(.
The link in this post works (I hope).
Anna Banks says
Ha ha, Lex, we forgive you! 🙂 I really needed this Nathan. No one throw tomatoes at me, but my debut sold within two weeks of submission. But NOW we're in the foreign rights world and…I know I was spoiled with the absence of a wait from US publishers but…well…it's driving me nuts!
Now I can just tell myself to "Simmer down, skillet!"
Tegan Allen says
Excellent post, Nathan! Publishing Gods have mercy on me when I hit your desks, because I lack that little talent called patience.
Carol Riggs says
Thanks for the informative post! Gah, good to know as I approach going on sub. Sigh. I think the BEST thing to do rather than taking up knitting, however, is to start another novel! ;o)
Kelle Z Riley says
I agree that this is a timely post for me. I've been in the cycle of writing, submitting, waiting; writing while waiting; submitting another novel while waiting; waiting some more . . .repeat as necessary. You get the picture. At least when an offer finally does come, I'll have lots of other manuscripts to show that very savvy editor who fell in love with my work!
Seriously, it is an eye-opener to learn all of the stages most submissions go through.
Thanks, Nathan for a helpful post.
was referred here by a bloggie buddy. Thanks, Nathan. Needed this right about now. Although, I confess, I'd sacrifice Uzbekistan to hear something right about now. Sorry, Ubes. ;p
Oh, no. That sounds scary.
I can't think about this. La, la, la. I have to keep my eye on the prize, my eye on the ****, ******* prize, and I can't get sidetracked with how hard it could possibly be until I get there.
First I finish the novel. Then I worry about who will publish it.
Oh, if I do all this, I better get published.
Good reason not to put anything in your book that will be obsolete in say more than a year…unless you're into historical fiction. Someone recently pointed out this no-no to me.
It takes 6 hours to read a book IF you are a speed reader?? It took me only 8 hours to read Stephen King's 11/22/63.
Last July 8, my agent, a senior VP at one of the biggest agencies, submitted my book to eleven editors.
So far, one has passed (St. Martin's), and one loves it (at RH), while all the rest are silent. No offers, natch.
I am losing my mind.
I cold-emailed 78 agents, and got offered representation by 6, including senior agents at two BIG agencies, before signing with the one I'm with.
I'm worried that I might have picked the wrong agent. I was open to changing the title, but she insisted we change it to something truly dreadful. At one point, I got the distinct impression that she was going to slough me off to a junior agent who works with her. I called the agent, spoke with her assistant, and made it clear I'd signed with the VP, not with the junior agent.
The VP later passed along the info that the foreign rights dept. at her agency and the head of the agency had both read and loved my book, and were "invested" in it. Sounds great.
But it's been two weeks, and apart from the one pass and the one "I love it", nothing.
I'm posting anonymously, because I don't want this to come back to haunt me. But I need to get this off my chest, and get people's opinion. I'll keep you posted with anything that happens.
Waiting & Wretched