Given how very many PNWA members are or soon will be nibbling their fingernails down to the quick, waiting for replies from those nice agents and editors met at the conference, I want to reiterate something I mentioned last week: A HUGE PERCENTAGE OF THE PEOPLE WHO WORK IN THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY TAKE SOME OR ALL OF AUGUST 1 – LABOR DAY OFF. With most of the editors off on holiday, many agents either take vacations, too, or work shortened summer hours.
Don’t ask me why they do this; it has something to do with the humidity, slow-dying Victorian vacation habits, or other mysteries that we in our fresher Pacific climate cannot even begin to fathom. I suspect the custom dates back to the days when NYC offices did not have air conditioning, and gentleman editors would lounge the late summer away with Edith Wharton characters on breezy verandahs in Newport.
Lemonade, I have no doubt, was sipped. Whatever the reason, a substantial proportion of the folks you want to be reading your stuff are simply not available at the moment.
Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and consider what lengthy hiatus might mean for work you submitted during this vacation-heavy time. It argues against your hearing back before Labor Day, absolutely regardless of the actual quality of your work. You will be happier, and probably saner, if you make a conscious effort NOT to take the time lapse as a reflection on your worth as a writer, a human being, or anything else.
Think about it. Even if your dream agent’s typical turn-around time is unusually short (and most published agent guides include some estimate in the listing, if only so you can laugh at it with incredulity later), August is going to make the pile she needs to go through substantially thicker than at other points in the year. Even if she herself is not on vacation, she may well be covering for someone in her office who is. For similar reasons, your stop-your-heart-with-rapture editor’s turn-around clock may well not start ticking until 9 a.m. on September 6.
Come Labor Day, there will doubtless be an immense, slippery pile of manuscripts on the agent/editor’s desk. In all probability, your precious packet in the middle of it. Realistically, even with the best will in the world, it is going to take weeks to get through that pile of backlog – and new manuscripts, solicited and unsolicited, will keep coming in with each passing day. It is enough to make even the stoutest-hearted agent quail before the task before her.
Please try to bear this in mind if you have not heard back for a month longer than you anticipated. And please, please do not torture yourself with delay scenarios where your work is being passed from hand to hand, garnering feedback from everybody in the building from the janitor to the head of the agency. (Yes, that happened to Jacqueline Susann, but that was decades ago. Try to live in the now.) 99% of the time, if you have not heard back about your submission, it is because no one at the other end has yet read it.
If you are planning to submit to an agent or editor within the next couple of months, I cannot over-stress the importance of making sure that your good work does not get lost in that awe-inspiring pile of post-holiday hopeful solicitation. At the risk of repeating myself: if an agent or editor asked to see your work, write REQUESTED MATERIALS – PNWA on the outside of the envelope, so that your work will end up in a different, more privileged pile. You probably still will not hear back until Halloween, but at least you will have done all you can to move yourself up in the queue.
Please write on the outside of the envelope, even if the agent or editor in question fell down upon her knees, declared your premise the most exciting thing she’s heard since she first learned to comprehend spoken language, and begged you to overnight your manuscript to her. The average agent or editor meets literally hundreds of aspiring writers during conference season: it is in fact possible that for reasons that have NOTHING to do with your work, your name will slip her mind, or not be passed along to the junior agency folks who actually open the mail and, in most cases, are actually the first readers for submissions.
(Yes, I know what I just said: the agent with whom you had that oh-so-promising meeting at the conference may not actually be the person who reads your submission. Take a deep breath, calm down, and realize that good work gets passed up the reading chain quickly. The assistants are there so that the agent you want is freed of the necessity of reading 600 submissions per week – and thus has time to represent his clients’ work. When you are the client, you will be very, very glad about this arrangement.)
While I already have you in shock, perhaps this would be a good time to mention other points in the year when submissions tend to pile up, so you can avoid sending unsolicited queries then. You already know about the quaint summer custom; December, too, tends to see most of the industry off work, leading to a huge back-up to deal with in January. Two additional factors slow agencies just after the new year: they must produce tax documents for all of their sales, royalties, etc., for the previous year by the end of January — and half the writers in the known universe make New Year’s resolutions to send out queries immediately. Oh, and many agents and editors spend October preparing for, going to, or recovering from the Frankfort Book Fair. And conference season starts in the late spring.
Those of you with fast-calculating fingers may have noticed that these out-of-the-office moments could conceivably cover a full quarter of the calendar year. This, added to hundreds of unsolicited submissions per week AND the necessity of serving the clients already signed, means that from the agent’s point of view, the envelope that means the world to you is yet another demand upon already-stretched time.
And there is absolutely nothing you can do about that, other than understand these factors, try to be patient, and give exclusive peeks of your work only when directly asked for them.
So in the next couple of months, I beg you to try not to read a critique of your work into sometimes agonizingly slow turn-around times. None of these purely structural arrangements have ANYTHING to do with the content or quality of your submission; they are merely conditions of the industry, to which the working writer must adapt – or gnaw her fingers to the bone, wondering what she did in her manuscript to bring this on herself.
Try to be patient. And in the meantime, keep up the good work!
2 Replies to “At the risk of repeating myself…”
So . . . since I’ll be heading back to the states after the second week of August, I was planning on sending in my queries then. Obviously, not a great idea considering this vacation thing . . . about how long should I wait before the pile on the agent’s desk returns to normal?
I would wait a week or so after Labor Day. The first week back tends to be a bit harried.