Hello, readers –
Happy Walt Whitman’s birthday, everybody!
I’ve just been out having a lovely confab with my friend Suzanne Brahm, a wonderful YA writer who signed recently with a great agent and is just on the point of having her work sent out to editors. Well done, Suzanne!
Our talk got me thinking about all of the delays inherent in the publishing game, and how little control the writer has over the timing of her own work being seen. As is the case for most newly-agented writers in the current market, Suzanne spent months revising her (already very good) book to her agent’s specifications before the agent was ready to send it out. I went through the same type of delay with the book proposal for my memoir, A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK (and no, it has not been released yet; here again, the timing is beyond the author’s control). When you’re in the midst of it, those periods of pre-submission preparation seem endless.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you will be a substantially happier human being in the long run if you just accept that this process is going to take one heck of a long time, even after you find the perfect agent.
I’m speaking from experience here – yes, even me, whose memoir was snapped up by a publisher after only a month on the market. Not to frighten those of you who have been paying attention, but does anyone happen to remember my Novel Project, first mentioned in the blog of February 23rd? In case you don’t recall, that was the day I spent frantically scrabbling together the requisite perfect copies of my novel, THE BUDDHA IN THE HOT TUB, to send in a box the size of a Labrador retriever to my agent. The Lab has been sitting in a corner of my agent’s office ever since, occasionally thumping its tail impatiently, waiting to be taken out for a walk. My agent is sending the individual copies to editors this week.
Brace yourself: this is not an usually long lag time between a manuscript’s leaving the author’s printer and the agent’s passing it along to editors.
Okay, take a deep breath and let that sink in, because most aspiring writers assume, wrongly, that the only lengthy part of the road to publication is the seemingly interminable search for the right agent. If you’re in it for the long haul, though, it’s important to be prepared for the waits AFTER signing: the revisions, the time to convince editors to read the book, the time for editors to get around to reading it.
And then, once it is finally sold, there is typically at least a year between contract signing and release, often more. Knowing that is important, not merely for the sake of pacing yourself (hey, worrying takes energy), but so you do not make immediate plans for spending the advance: under most publishing contracts, the author does NOT get the entire advance all at once. Usually, the payments are broken into thirds: one-third upon signing, one-third upon manuscript delivery, and one-third upon publication.
Why, you may be wondering, am I making such a point of telling you all this just as we are heading into writers’ conference season, when you will be talking to agents and editors? To try to scare away the fainthearted? To diss agents? To convince you to start buying five-year calendars to track your writing career?
Not at all. I want you to be aware of all this before you sit down and have a conversation with an agent about your work, so your expectations about what that agent can and cannot do for you are realistic. Too many writers look at agents and editors with dollar signs in their eyes, which can blind them to the fact that there is a great deal more than money at stake here. You will be committing irreplaceable time to these people if they pick up your book, years of it, and they to you.
Being aware that you will be committing time, as well as talent and pages of text, to any agent or editor with whom you sign is useful, as will prompt you to listen differently to what they have to say. If the agent you ranked as your first choice for an appointment strikes you, when he speaks at the agents’ forum at the conference, as someone with whom you could not happily have conversations several times per month over the next few years, run, don’t walk, to try to switch your appointment to someone you like.
I’m serious about this.
The best way to avoid having to switch at the last minute, of course, is to find out as much as possible about the scheduled attendees BEFORE you make your appointments. If you want to know more about the agents coming to the conference, check out my archived blogs for April 26 – May 12; for the editors, May 18 – 26.
Keep up the good work!
– Anne Mini