Wednesday, November 12, 2014

While you wait

I've had three writers in my social circle pull the trigger on communications with agents within the last week--two of them for the first time. Along the way there have been a ton of tiny questions, and it's not always easy to dig up the answers online. And even though these folks haven't gotten to the submission-to-publishers bit, they had a fair number of questions about that whole process too. So I thought I would cover some of the lesser-discussed finer points of these experiences--both what to expect and what to do.

While In the Query Trenches:
  • "How many agents should I query at once?" There's not really a "right" number of agents to query at once. Sometimes you've been holding a candle for one, and you want to approach that one first. Sometimes you want to send ten at a time. There's no inherently wrong number of queries to send, but from what I've heard, it's fine to send queries to a few at a time, and make sure to personalize each. Some like to keep their query rounds small because they want to learn from any rejections. Querying teaches you a lot more about querying than you might think, especially if the agents give feedback on why they're passing.

  • "How long is an average response time?" The wait time is variable. And I mean it's incredibly variable. You might have an agent answer within minutes to ask for your full manuscript (happened to me). You might have an agent answer a year later to send you a form rejection (also happened to me). Some of the bigger agents have assistants or interns who may be scanning and sending rejections to what they know the agent won't go for. Some agents take longer with the ones they want to consider but reject quickly. If you want to get some idea of their current patterns, join Query Tracker, and consider plugging in your own data to help others.

  • "How do I respond if the agent wants to see part or all of my book?" Getting a full manuscript request is a big deal! A partial request is nice too. If you attach any material to an e-mail, it's a good idea to title the file something unique. Don't call it "Full_Manuscript.doc." A good file name would include your last name, the title, and what kind of document it is (Full Manuscript, 30 Pages, etc.). This isn't a huge deal because they can just rename it, but many agents will appreciate this. The body of your e-mail can just thank them for their interest and identify what you're including "per your request." Don't make these replying-to-requests e-mails chatty at all, and don't thank them more than once--just tell them you're looking forward to hearing from them and give them what they asked for.

  • "Oh god, why am I so nervous? Why is this the hardest letter I've ever written?" You may be surprised by how much courage it takes to hit send on those queries, and then how much you want to gnaw your own head off after you've sent it. Waiting for responses will seem nearly intolerable for some people, especially at the beginning. You do begin to tolerate it better if your querying goes on a while, but you hope you won't have to get used to how it feels in there. If it's at all possible, allow yourself to be ridiculous for a week or so; it's normal, and this is a much bigger deal than the people in your life who AREN'T doing it will understand--especially if you get a rejection and you have to deal with THAT. And then, if you need a distraction, do something constructive, either writing-related or otherwise satisfying, to take your mind off it.

  • "What if all I'm getting are rejections?" Well, the obvious answer is just keep trying, but sometimes that's not enough. If your query is good and you're sending it to agents who rep what you write, you should get a partial or full manuscript request here and there. Make sure you actually are sending it to agents who are interested in what you write and that your topic or age category isn't on their "don't" lists, and make sure your query has been through revisions not just from other people who like reading, but from people who know things about queries! Try Absolute Write for query advice, or Query Shark, or hit up a writer blogger friend. But also, especially if you're writing something that's popular or has been done before, zero in on what is different about your story--different and special enough that you've made it clear why you've written one of these again. Take a good look at your bio, too--it's better to say almost nothing than to be arrogant. Remove any promises you might be making about how well it will sell. Don't kiss the agent's ass. In general stop talking so much and just focus on THIS story--not other projects or what you want in an agent or anything else. If all you're getting are rejections and no interest, it really probably is you. Pleaaaaaaase deal with it constructively instead of hitting your head against a brick wall in the name of persistence. You'll be glad you did.

  • "What if I sent a partial or full manuscript a while ago but then I edited it and it's better now? Should I send them my updated version?" No, you don't need to inform agents of small changes in your manuscript if they already have your document. The only time you'll want to tell them you changed something is if they've already offered you representation and they're going to dig into the book with editorial changes; then of course they'll need the latest. You also shouldn't update agents who requested your material on the status of other agents' requests. Contact agents who are considering your material ONLY if you have an offer (or are withdrawing the manuscript from consideration for another reason, like you decided to small-pub or self-pub).

  • "How do I handle approaching remaining agents if one offers representation?" If you get an offer, contact anyone else who's considering your book and put something about the offer in the SUBJECT LINE so they will know it's time sensitive! Tell them you've been offered representation (you don't have to tell them which agent), and tell them you'd like to make your decision on who to sign with by X date (usually at least a week, sometimes longer if the agent indicates they'd need more time); they will respond by either stepping aside or rush-reading your manuscript to make a competing offer. This is a nice place to be in, especially if the first offer is one you'd very much like to take. The agent who offered you representation is unlikely to put a decision deadline on you; you can set that. Just tell the offering agent that you'll consider the offer and then do your other business. And don't feel that the agent who offered first "deserves" your book if you like a subsequent one better. They understand that it's business, and they sure send enough rejections that they know how to take them!

  • "What if an agent wants me to make changes to my book and try again?" You might get an R&R. That's a "revise and resubmit." Agents sometimes like your story but want it to be shorter or longer or have a different focus or change perspective, etc. An R&R is usually not a minor thing. If it was minor, they'd offer representation and mention the small suggestion. An R&R is normally a make-or-break comment (or more than one comment). They see potential in your book, but they don't think it will sell or don't think it's at its best the way you've written it, and they think if you took it in the direction they're suggesting, it would possibly be worth taking on. You need to decide, personally, if you share the agent's vision. If you don't want to write the book that way, you do not have to agree to the R&R--especially since the agent may still reject it if you perform it, resubmit, and they don't like it or changed their mind. Sometimes calls that you think are going to be offer calls are actually R&R calls. It's a bit frustrating, but normally an agent will tell you in the e-mail, not spring it on you in a phone call.

  •  "If I get a rejection from an agent, should I reply?" Most agents don't really want you to reply to rejections off a query. Even though most communication etiquette would say that you should acknowledge even negative replies, it really isn't necessary, especially if the rejection is a form letter. "Thank you anyway" e-mails are just extra things the agent has to open and delete, though if it really bothers you not to thank them, it will not hurt anyone. If an agent offers any kind of specific feedback on a partial or full rejection--and I mean comments that are clearly reactions to your material, not "slow pace" or "too much telling, not enough showing" or "not for me"--then it's best to acknowledge with a short thank-you for their time and attention. (But please don't argue with them.) If they offer more robust discussion along the lines of offering a revision request, it's appropriate to turn it into a conversation about where you go from here--just follow their lead!

  • "What if I get an offer from an agent I don't want to represent me?" Don't query agents you don't want to represent you. Do your homework. If they request your material and you haven't done much homework on them, do more homework at that point. (Look them up on the Bewares Forum at Absolute Write forums and at Preditors & Editors, and see how they behave on social media, and look for clients and recent sales.) Don't send your material to someone you wouldn't sign with--especially if you're under the impression that any agent's offer will be a good bargaining chip to make other agents read faster or offer. Sometimes you query one agent and someone else at the agency replies, so if that's the agent you don't want, ask whether their request means the other is passing, or (if it's unclear) whether they're a junior agent or assistant for the person you did query. In some cases, new agents try out their wings by signing clients with the senior agents until they're ready to have their own sales. Read this on taking a chance on a new agent to weigh the pros and cons. 

  • "When can I list them as my agent on my blog and in my Twitter profile and stuff? I'm dying to tell everyone!" You're free to do that after you've signed the contract and returned it. I don't recommend publicly claiming them as your agent until you have a signed document. It's fine to announce it afterwards, even if it will be a while before you can go on submission.

  • "What if they seem interested but they refer me to an editor I have to pay for or promise representation for a 'reading fee'?" RUN. Not kidding. That's a scam. It's okay if you got tricked up to this point, but don't fall for it. Agents don't charge money to sign with them, and they don't suggest representation is contingent upon you paying for editing from this particular editor (with whom they are surely in cahoots). Watch my video about how to spot publishing scams if you need more info on this.

  • "Wait, I don't pay them? This is free?" You probably know this if you're here, but that's right--representation from a legitimate agent does not cost money, and the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) specifies as much in the ethics code. And that may sound like the most peculiar thing in the universe--until you understand that agents are paid 15% of what you earn if they sell your book. Now you may have some understanding of why they can be so picky! They're doing all this legwork of looking for markets and pitching your book and negotiating the contract because if they're successful, they will make 15% of everything you earn for the rest of the book's published life. And if they don't sell it . . . they did that whole thing for free. So the agent/client relationship is odd, because even though they work for you as an employee of sorts, they get to choose who they offer their services to, and only offer said services to those whose books will probably sell (in their estimation).

  • "What's it mean if the agent wants to call me??" You may have heard this thing about an agent call. Yes, they call you--they usually e-mail and ask when's a good time. They don't actually always ask first, though I think they usually do. My second call with an agent--my fiction agent, Michelle--was not scheduled; she called to offer representation and left a message on my voice mail. Then the e-mail came after she hadn't reached me. You'll want a list of questions to ask them, and I do recommend actually having the list in front of you when you talk so you don't forget any. Here are some questions to consider.

  • "Can I talk about my agent search online?" Social media: During your agent search, be subtle about what you discuss on blogs, on Twitter, or anywhere on the Internet. Even if you think it can't be traced back to you. If you say anything specific, sometimes they can tell who's talking about them. There's nothing wrong with identifying yourself as a querying author or identifying your project on your site/blog as pursuing representation. There's nothing wrong with announcing that you have begun your agent search, nor is there anything wrong with discussing how you feel about it to some degree. What you don't want to do is announce who you're querying simultaneously, post your rejections as they happen, or announce on Twitter that @agent requested your chapters/full. It's also a bad idea to post your rejection letters or your request letters; these are things that are shareable after the fact sometimes (as long as it's in good taste), but unless an agent turns out to be a schmagent and you think they're actually doing something underhanded, you shouldn't disclose their private communications with you. There are exceptions, like if you'd like to post results in the comments of Query Tracker, but I recommend not using a handle that's attached to your writing name and not putting your book title in the comments. The reason for this is that you don't want agents to Google you and find out you've been querying with no success for this book for three years, or that you currently have queries out with fifteen other agents, or any evidence of you blowing off steam on your blog about how much of a jerk some agent is. Agents do Google you. They seriously do.

  • "What's your one piece of advice to an author newly querying agents?" Breathe, mostly. Don't obsess over what every long wait or "not for me" rejection means. You do need to be able to change what you're doing if it's not succeeding, but you'll be fine if you don't get signed immediately. Now that you're doing this, you're going to see success stories everywhere that are going to make you feel like the runt of the litter; you're going to see the offers that happened in a weekend followed by multiple agents jockeying to get this client, and you're going to feel like you'd be grateful to even get a partial request. The silence can be petrifying. So breathe. Keep sending out queries if you get rejections so you continue to have hope, keep good records, and keep your heart in your chest. You're allowed to flip out, but don't forget to breathe. Escape into writing or distractions or something else productive if you need to.
While On Submission: 

So you get an agent, firm up your submission materials, get your list of editors, and give your agent the go-ahead to pitch. It's an incredible feeling--to know that your book's query, much like the one you sent to your agent, is landing in the hands of someone who might decide to publish you! But what you might not know is that this can often be one of the most heartbreaking parts of the journey, because it's rare that a book sells quickly and painlessly or gets scooped up by one of the first editors who sees it. Here are some things people might not be telling you.

  • "What if it doesn't sell?" It might not sell. Terrifying, but true. Many authors' first books don't sell even if the agent thought it was good enough. Getting an agent is no guarantee, and furthermore, some agents aren't interested in selling the book if it's to a smallish publisher, so if you strike out with the big ones, they might not keep trying. You should know going into submission whether your vision of the submission process matches the agent's. You don't want to find out after one round of rejections from New York that your agent wants to leave you on your own to pursue smaller publishers if you were hoping to go that route.

  • "Should I research my editors? Should I chat them up on Twitter?" You may wish to research your editors. Read their interviews and all that; check out what they've bought in Publishers Marketplace; read books by their clients. But it's best not to engage those editors directly if they're considering your book. And I mean don't tweet at them or comment on their blogs asking for attention. If your paths cross, or you were already following them, etc., don't worry about it. You just don't want to make yourself too visible to them or make it seem like you're breathing down their neck. And if you don't really want to research them until or unless they're offering to buy your book, that's fine too--because knowing more about them or less about them isn't going to affect your book's reception at this stage. If you're a curious kitty, look them up. If it's better for your mental health that you don't see them as real people right now, ignore their existence.

  • "How should I behave online while on submission?" Sometimes editors might Google you, so make sure they are not going to find anything you wouldn't want them to find. This does NOT mean you can't be vulgar, controversial, outspoken, or silly. This DOES mean that if being vulgar, controversial, outspoken, or silly would contradict with the message or content of the book you're trying to sell, you may make the editor think you'd become a PR nightmare. Most of the time this is simply applicable with the sensitive issue of children's books. If you have NSFW content regularly on your blog under the name you're using to publish a MG adventure novel, that could be a problem--so separate that sort of content if you want to post it and divorce it from your writer name. The same rules for discussing agent representation apply to submissions when it comes to details; don't say who's considering the book or anything about being pissed about a rejection. Err on the side of caution if you're wondering whether something is the wrong kind of detail to post.

  • "I'm about to go on sub! How is it different from submitting to agents?" Except for the fact that you don't actually hit send or necessarily choose the recipients yourself, it's pretty similar. For me, submission hasn't been really any scarier or any easier than querying agents, but one way I like to describe it is that you still get pins and needles, but with publishers, the pins and needles are sharper.

  • "What if it does sell?" Best case scenario: It sells--you get an offer, and then other publishers your agent offered it to get to step up with competing offers. They do that and fight over you. This can happen. Sometimes when it's with the largest publishers, their "fight" over you is an auction. Sometimes a publisher steps in with a good deal that you want to take that will prevent it from going to auction (a pre-empt), and sometimes there's no official communication between the publishers but they argue terms through your agent. That last is what happened to me, and I got to decide (with my agent's help of course) which publisher would be best for my book. I was lucky in that I didn't have to do more than one round of submissions and I got a deal I am still happy with post-publication. However, I also have a book series that's on submission that wasn't quite as fortunate, and I have indeed had more than one round of submissions. The most I can tell you is that it's being considered by multiple publishers, and I am hoping for a best case scenario, but I'd be happy with what happens much more often: One publisher offers a deal and you take it.

  • "What information should my agent be sharing with me while on submission?" Usually they will simply give you a list of the editors they're querying and what imprints they're with, and will let you know the status--who's been queried and when, and if they answer, what they said. They may notify you if they're "nudging" an editor who's been silent too long. Some agents schedule check-ins and mail you regular status updates. Some just tell you when there's news. Most won't mind if you check in with THEM if you feel it's been too long without news, though pestering them daily is a bad idea. The agent generally will not be CCing you when they pitch to publishers, but they will usually share the editor's reactions, including rejections with feedback. You should keep track of these activities in your own document; if you ever have to leave your agent for some reason, you'll need a list of what editors have been approached going forward. (More on leaving later.)

  • "What do I do to stay calm while I'm on submission?" While you're on submission, find something to do or you WILL eat your own head. It is almost always long and arduous, especially if you start at the top (with the biggest publishers). Think about it. They're the biggest publishers in the world. They've been asked to look at your book. It may take them quite a while to even read your agent's letter, and even though I'd say about half the time publishers responded very quickly (within a few days) to my agent's letters (whether it was to reject or request), they always sat on the full manuscript for at least a month. There have been some that did not ever write back and did not respond to agent nudges. But here's the thing: long response times are what you should expect--and really, what you should want--from these editors. Their primary work is for the people whose books they've already bought. You want that attention for yours if you get a deal, too.

  • "Why does it take so long?" Besides the fact that you've just joined the end of a line that's probably pretty long, and besides the fact that they have loyalty to their existing authors more than to their potential authors, it can take a long time because editors rarely decide alone. If they read the book and they personally think it's a possibility for their imprint, they will usually have to get other readers at their imprint to agree, and they will usually have to take it to acquisitions--a meeting where they start to get serious about the business end of your book deal. You may get to acquisitions and still not get a deal. That happened to me too with the book that sold--one of the publishers that seemed very interested and reported taking my book to a meeting ultimately decided against offering me a book deal. It can be crushing, because "an editor liked it and they're asking their company if they can make it official" sounds pretty damn close, but it isn't as close as you think. It's also a lot nicer to hear than a rejection, though. Ha.

  • "What the heck's this 'Big Five' and why do I care? What's an imprint?" Sometimes I forget that I'm speaking in publishing jargon when I talk about these things, but I've been asked this recently and I'll just lay it out. The "Big Five" are the five publishing conglomerates that control most of publishing. The parent companies are Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House. (They used to be the Big Six until Penguin and Random House merged.) Some well-known companies, like Scholastic, Hyperion, and McGraw-Hill are not "Big Five," but are quite large too. Imprints are the divisions within each publisher, and they are often divided by specialty--each house may have its imprint that publishes for children versus adults, or by genre, or distinguishes between fiction or nonfiction. Many of the publishers you have heard of by their imprint name belong to one of these companies--Del Rey is Random House; Pocket is Simon & Schuster; St. Martin's is Macmillan; Little, Brown is Hachette. And why do you care? Because your agent generally isn't going to want your manuscript out to imprints that belong to the same parent company, since it's counterproductive for them to fight over you. You can, however, pitch one imprint of a Big Five publisher after another one has stopped responding or said no.

  • "What should I do next if my book doesn't sell?" Got me. Cry, probably. And write another one. In fact, write another one while you wait, regardless of whether it sells. It's not uncommon for your agent to sell your second book even if they can't sell your first, and then--because many publishers do offer multiple-book deals even if your sold book isn't a series--the first book might get picked up by them anyway. If you're satisfied with how your agent has handled your submissions even if it didn't sell, consider offering them the next one. And yes, sometimes they won't like it (oh horrors), and then it IS allowed and possible for you to pursue separate representation. I did that, but not because of anyone not liking a book--my nonfiction book was a genre my first agent didn't represent, so I got another agent who did. If you decide to STOP submitting--the options get too small for your liking, or you decide to wait for another market climate, or you decide to self-publish--those are options too. But consider just writing a different title and trying that. Chances are you'll improve with every book. Your next one might be ready and you may realize your first one was not.

  • "What if they praise my book and then tell me they can't take it for their list?" Chances are they probably actually really liked it, and still think it won't sell well enough to justify taking you on. I don't really know why in all cases, of course, but the hard truth is this: You're the artist, and the publisher is the business. Yes, they love good books too. Just about everyone in publishing is a dippy book nerd who got into this because they love reading. But when you're turning to an actual organization that's designed to make a buyable product out of your stuff, they do have to think in realistic terms, like WILL IT SELL. If they think it won't, that's their answer. There's probably not a secret code embedded in there when they say "I like your book but I'm not going to buy it." Every new author's a risk. When you ask them to take on your product, they stand a chance of losing money, and it's not wrong of them to take the surer thing (based on some factors that rely on experience you do not have). They are probably not a bunch of philistines who don't know real art when they see it. They're just worried about if they can sell it. You're pursuing a mainstream deal so you can get them to do the selling part. If you don't want saleability to figure into your journey, you may be better off on your own.

  • "What if a publisher wants to change my title?" Then they'll tell you. And if they say they want to change it, they probably will. Titles are notoriously variable; many books that sell as one title are published as another, and I recommend not getting too attached to your title, because it's a key marketing device and those types of things--along with the cover--are in the hands of the marketers, whose job it is to sell your book. They have more experience than you do. And they probably won't bring up a desired title change until the editing process has begun, after you sign a publishing contract. This shouldn't be a deal-breaker for you. And for full disclosure purposes, yes, my title was changed. I sold my book as So You Think You're Asexual: An Introduction to the Invisible Orientation. The publisher changed it to The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality. Their title is way better. I thought I was being funny and cute, but had overlooked how the title would suggest it was only for asexual people or people who were questioning whether they were.

  • "How do agents pitch the book to publishers?" This varies. I think MOST agents simply send a proposal package of sorts--sometimes just a query letter, and maybe a synopsis or marketing stuff. Then the publisher replies to your agent saying "oh that sounds boss," and your agent sends the incredibly boss book, and then the agent tells you you got a request, and you go eat a sandwich or crawl under your desk and die. But some agents prefer to call the editors, especially if they've worked with them before and/or already know them, and some agents might even take networking opportunities in person at conferences or events. They may occasionally be present at meetings WITH the publishers, though this is changing as the necessity of being in New York has lessened for American publishing. You don't actually talk directly to the editor during the pitch phase. I didn't get introduced to my editor until I signed a contract, and I've actually never spoken to her on the phone or met her.

  • "But everyone I know has gotten a book deal in way less time and UGH!" I'm sorry. This is the worst thing about being on submission--feeling like it's your turn and then finding out it isn't. It happens with every rejection. You wonder why yours isn't for them but someone you know is blissfully signing their contract and is soon to be good-naturedly complaining about edits and deadlines and LOL what pen should I use to sign my books, it's so hard! Well, first, take a step back and remember that you're happy for your friends and acquaintances, and the only reason it's hard to watch is that you want it too. Concentrate on that. Think about how you would feel if your friends were focusing more on their own sadness than on congratulating you. But don't be ashamed of being jealous and frustrated. Just separate it from your feelings for them, and focus more on how much you want it rather than resenting them for having it. It can be really hard if, say--an example from my life--an editor who requested your book ignored yours and then you read a story of another author getting snatched up by the same editor after her manuscript had been there seven days. What, you waited months with no reply and this author got a six-figure book deal? And you can't even get a letter that says no thanks? Yeah, it's hard to take. But there is always a chance that you've written a good book that nobody wants to try to sell at this moment, and you can't fall apart now. Remember why you love writing, and write the next one. You really could be almost there, and you'll never know if you don't keep putting yourself in a position to receive that yes. Also, keep in mind you see these amazing stories and they catch headlines BECAUSE they are unusual. A long submission time with a modest offer is much more common.

  • "Can my agent dump me??" Actually, yeah. And you can dump your agent. Usually "dump" isn't what happens; you'll have a professional disagreement (like, they want to put your book on hold until the market improves and you want to keep going, or they run out of options and think the only possibility is a digital deal while you don't want to go that route), or the agent will switch agencies and you don't want to go with them, or the agent leaves the business entirely, or they like one of your books but don't seem to like any of your subsequent ones. So you split up. It happens. And it's happened to a ton of people I personally know--sometimes because they wanted it to, and sometimes because of unavoidable circumstances. But now that you know how to get an agent since you've done it once, you're probably going to have an easy time getting another. Just keep in mind that you shouldn't be in a rush to leave your agent if the sale didn't happen fast enough, because once a book has been rejected by enough top editors, a new agent may not want to bother with you if they can't hit those editors. (You can't re-query an editor for the same project unless they've explicitly requested an R&R.)

  • "How important is luck?" You don't want to hear this, but VERY. I'm not kidding. You've read some bad books, right? Published ones? Published-by-big-houses ones, right? Somebody thought they were great. And that somebody may have made it possible for a mediocre writer to become a bestseller, too--possibly knowing it wasn't a great book so much as a book with the potential to be popular. In general, yes, you usually have to be pretty dang good to get published, but that is not ALL that needs to work for you. If you ever want to hear about the serendipitous things that happened to certain VERY popular authors, look up the publication journeys of J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini. The former's publisher literally threw her book in a trash can before being influenced into publishing it by an eight-year-old. The latter's publisher offered after the author self-published his book and got "discovered" by a popular author who bought the self-pubbed version for his son on a road trip and then recommended it to his editor after his son liked it without reading it himself. We don't know if they'd have been completely obscure had these events not happened, because they happened. We can laugh about them now--I'm sure the authors do--but if that hadn't happened, their roads to publication would have been very different, if they even existed. Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. It isn't fair. Neither is this business. So the more times you write a book, the more chances you'll have to hit someone's sweet spot. If the first one doesn't hit.

  • "Hey wait, what about those of us who are submitting to publishers without an agent?" I don't know much about that, but I do know there are plenty of publishers that accept manuscripts directly from authors. What about y'all? Well, all I can say is you're more likely to wait a little longer than agented authors for a response, and you're more likely to get a smaller advance and to be offered less favorable terms. That's not to say they're ripping you off; it's just that they can offer you whatever they want, and if you don't have an agent to argue with them about negotiable contract items, you'll probably just end up not knowing any better and signing a contract that's not as good for you as a similar one offered to your agented counterpart. You may wish to have a professional who specializes in pub law read your contract, and yes, that consulting will cost you money. It's worth it.

  • "What can I expect in terms of an advance?" Not much, haha. Nah, but really, some people get a very nice advance. Some people don't get one at all, even from decent-sized publishers. Don't worry too much about your advance. It's one check. Your percentages for how much you earn on each copy are much more important than your advance. You also have to earn out that advance before those percentages start counting toward what you made. Remember, you may also make some cash from other rights selling--my audio rights sold well after my book itself sold to the publisher.

  • "What's the one piece of advice you'd give to someone newly on submission?" Don't compare yourself to others. You're going to panic if you do. Oh god, my book's not going to sell at auction--it would have by now! Oh god, my book is getting passed over by the editors--what if it's not good enough! Oh god, my book's been on submission too long--people who are GOING to get book deals would have gotten one by now! Well, here's something you need to hear. Most people will never write a novel. Then most of the people who write a novel are never going to find representation for it. You've already done something really unusual, and nearly everyone who's been through it will tell you there is no actual "usual." Now that you've bucked the system as long as you have and figured you're going to be an exception, why would you stop now? And if you got this far but this is where it stops for you, you can still use lessons you were uniquely privileged to learn so you can move forward to possibly succeed next time. Tell stories. Keep telling them. That's why you're really here, and if marketing trends and bad luck and specialized opinions get in the way of your story selling, you still need to keep telling stories. So be a writer. Enjoy being a writer. Let yourself be a little anxious and weird about this, but don't forget to be a writer. Take care of your mental health, clue your friends and family in on what you're going through to the best of your ability, don't isolate yourself if you usually need people around you, and keep writing.
So? What do you still want to ask me about submitting your work to agents or publishers? Comment if you like, and if I think it's a common question I can answer, I'll work it into the post. Please refrain from asking me to disclose specific information about the submission process I'm currently engaged in, though!

And good luck to all of you who are putting your hearts and souls out there in an electronic envelope and waiting for someone to share the love. I've been there and am there, and love you all.


  1. I've noticed that more and more agents are doing the no response means no. I get why they have those policies, the amount of queries they receive, but as a querying writer, it's frustrating. I'd rather have a form rejection than no response at all.

    1. Yep! And the time constraints are certainly understandable, but some of them are doing it for safety reasons, too--disgruntled authors can be scary. (If you haven't heard about the literary agent who got attacked by an author because she said no, look it up--it's vile!)

  2. This is the best post about querying, submission, and waiting that I've ever read.


  3. I'm getting preemptive nerves >_> But in a way, it's nice to be aware of just how difficult it all is. It'd be worse if I went in thinking it's all going to be smooth sailing after sending a query to an agent.

    Welp. Good luck to us all D;

    1. Yep. Nobody likes hearing it doesn't get easy at some magical point. Some things turn out to be easier than you thought, but most things do turn out to at least be more complicated, if not harder.

  4. I've read with interest and read again. I've just been asked for a full manuscript. It's poems and short stories and now I'm panicking as to how much to send?

  5. Hi, I sent the first three chapters to a publisher and the editors really liked them; I got a letter in the mail. They requested the full thing and I did so, saying they'd take a few weeks to get back to me. But I'm so nervous! I just have a gut feeling they'll reject it, which is a high outcome as you know. I just don't know how to calm down.

  6. I was super naive. As soon as I began getting requests for fulls, I sent them off, fully expecting they would read them pronto because they were so excited! I've discovered what a full request really means is "Send this to me and I might get around to it sometime." In that first blush of attraction, where an agent is actually wooing you, at least for the moment, and requests for your full, I'm thinking now is the time to say you would love to send it and could you please give me an estimated time frame on your reading?

  7. I've had four agents request a full from a partial. One of them read my last manuscript two years ago and eventually passed with personalized feedback. It's hard for me to imagine that these agents won't at least send a form letter acknowledging a pass. It's been around two months for all. Is it normal for a literary agent to still be reading a full after two months? Do they ever share fulls with potential editors before committing to an offer with the writer?

    1. Two months isn't incredibly abnormal, but what you should do is check their stats on their websites. They will usually say how long they hold fulls for, and if they don't, maybe check and see if it's in line with their usual on Query Tracker. If they requested the full and gave you NO window of how long it would take to get back to you, it isn't out of place for you to send a polite nudge letter if it's been a couple months. Just asking them if they're still considering the manuscript is plenty--you don't really even have to give a reason. As for sharing fulls with potential editors, I can't say I've heard of that being typical. They usually don't WANT to do the work of contacting editors if they aren't even sure you'd choose them to sign with. (There are exceptions, but that's generally atypical.)

  8. Thanks for the notes. It's amazing how much in common many of us have. The waiting is sure hard.

  9. Is there a website that tells you how long each publisher takes to respond to a full manuscript request?

  10. Julie - This post was amazing. I appreciate the details you described related to process. I've re-read three times now. Thanks for the education, and most importantly, sharing.

  11. Thanks for this post. I signed with an agent for my first book, which got turned down by the main publishers. So I wrote a second novel. After reading a few chapters my agent was very keen and asked me to finish it asap.

    It's been just over six weeks since I sent in my second book and my agent says they haven't had a chance to read it yet. Is this normal? I know that submitting to agents can take a while, but as a client how long should I wait for my agent to get back to me?

  12. Love this article! I recently had a request for a full manuscript, and I'm tearing my hair out waiting on the agent's response (and it's only been a month!). I feel like I can breathe a little easier after reading this. Thanks!

  13. This is so informative. An agent raved about my m.s. wanted a few extra scenes and these were sent in July. I nudged, she said she'd read the m.s. on holiday but hasn't. Another 2 months has passed, a brief email nudge went unanswered. I was thinking of emailing tomorrow, but maybe I shouldn't. This is made worse by having 3 agents in the past call in the full m.s. ask me to revise as per their advice and then later rejecting, one took a year! So I am v antsy. But maybe I should just wait it out. What do you think, to nudge again or not to nudge that is the question? And what should that nudge email say?

  14. One agent asked for my full manuscript. She also asked me whether I had a W8 on file or not. I sent an email asking whether I should attach the full manuscript to the email or not? In the same email I asked her what a W8 was and the fact that I did not have it on file. I told her I wanted to discuss about the formatting. I received no reply to that email. Then after 4.5 hrs I sent her the full manuscript attached to an email. There was no confirmation of receipt. I have sent a gentle follow up email two days ago after completion of 1 month from that day of full MS submission. No replies yet. What to do? Please help.

  15. This is an excellent piece.

    I didn't quite see a response to a question I have, which is: is it okay to query agents and publishers after you sent an agent the full manuscript upon request? Thank you in advance.

    Joe Callahan

  16. What is the standard response time for full manuscript requests?

    1. I don't think there's a standard. It's highly individual and dependent on an agent's work load. Many agents will say what their response time is on their websites, but mostly that will be for responding to new queries. If they have not given any window of time for you to expect a response, make sure you've given at least a month before you nudge. You can also nudge anytime if you've got an offer from another agent, and then any other agents who have your manuscript might choose to either rush-read or step aside. Other than that, you're kind of on their schedule and I don't want to suggest there's a standard on this.