Repeat after me: I do not fear the calendar; I do not fear the calendar…

I shall return to querying tips later today, but as a freelance editor, I get to have a LOT of conversations with writers in the throes of trying to send out post-conference submission packets. Since I just finished hearing for the fifth time this week that old saw that writers only have 1 – 3 weeks in which to mail off requested materials, and as we are drawing near to the end of Week 3 after the PNWA conference, I wanted to address this as soon as humanly possible.

For the record, it’s not true. Yes, it’s nice if you can send the submission off sooner rather than later, but trust me, no one is sitting around at your dream agency, holding a stopwatch, all ready to shout triumphantly, “There! It’s been 1,814,400 seconds since the last pitch of the conference! Ha! Now we don’t have to accept any more submissions!”

Unless you were unlucky enough to pitch to the mythical troll who lives under the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s just not going to happen.

Honestly, they don’t have the time to worry about this kind of deadline — and you would be surprised at how many writers ultimately do not send requested materials at all. Partially, I think, this silly conference truism about the short time window is to blame. People panic, and then they think, mistakenly, that they’ve missed their big chance. Some of you may even be fretting that you have already waited too long, but you haven’t.

Yes, I know: you’re worried that they won’t remember you if you wait too long. At the risk of bruising a few egos out there, though, as someone with a lot of experience both pitching and hearing pitches, I can tell you that realistically, the agent is far more likely to remember your project than your name, anyway. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most agents and editors forget pitching authors’ names before they get on the airplane home; most of them take some notes on the pitches they hear, to remind them down the line.

So an extra few days will not make them forget you more. Besides, you will be writing CONFERENCE NAME — REQUESTED MATERIALS on the outside of your submission, right? That’s an awfully darned fine spur to memory, as is beginning your cover letter, “Thank you for asking to see the first chapter of my novel…” These are smart people; they will figure out where they met you, given such subtle clues.

In my experience, it’s FAR better to take an extra week or two — or even a month or two — to send out perfectly polished pages than to rush them out the door quickly in order to meet some arbitrary deadline. So yes, the prevailing wisdom dictates that writers should send in requested materials within 1 — 3 weeks, but that is the expectation among writers, not agents and editors, for the most part.

Why? Well, summer is conference season; very few agents and editors go to only one literary conference, if they attend any, so they will be receiving packets all summer long. I have literally never heard of an instance where a writer’s submission got rejected because it turned up after 6 weeks, instead of after 3.

In practical terms, too, sending your work off toute de suite will not necessarily mean getting it back sooner. Many Manhattan-based agencies work short weeks in summer — and this summer, with an unprecedented heat wave flattening even the hardiest, is unlikely to be an exception. Also, the norm in the industry is to take vacation from mid-August until after Labor Day, so you may not hear back from some of the agents (and most of the editors) until September.

So try to relax, and concentrate on sending out pages you love. If you notice the kids going back to school, and you still haven’t followed up on those pages you promised back in July, you will want to bestir yourself, stop revising, and get to the post office. I promise, no one will yell at you.

If you are sure that your revisions are going to take longer than that, send a polite note or e-mail now, informing the requester of the delay and giving an estimated delivery date. No need for a long apology; it’s just a courtesy message. When you start noticing the leaves changing color, or find yourself decorating a Christmas tree or spinning a dreidel, then you can legitimately start worrying if you have waited too long.

But whatever you do, do NOT let fears or conference rumors prevent you from following up on a requested materials request. The only book that can NEVER get published is the one that never sees the light of day, because it is decaying in the bottom of a file drawer or lurking in a seldom-opened file on a computer. Such a request is a great opportunity: please take advantage of it.

Yes, it’s scary, but there’s a community here to support you, come what may. That’s the nice thing about hanging out with writers: we’ve all either been there, will be there, or are there now.

2 Replies to “Repeat after me: I do not fear the calendar; I do not fear the calendar…”

  1. I held off sending my pages to the agent and editor I spoke with at the conference until I got my critiques back from the judges. Figured I could fix anything they found wanting. However, it is very hard to tell if they read the same pages. One totally got the story was about people and their culture. The other was knit picking about why people are afraid of bears and who’s job was it to see the camp fire did not go out and what kind of wood were they using anyway. (All the answers were there in the first few pages except on which continent was the story located ) I want to get the most out of these critiques. I don’t know who to believe. Any advice? Anyone?

    1. Cathryn, you raise such a good issue — and one that I have been hearing from a LOT of conference entrants over the last week — that I am going to post it as a Let’s Talk About This issue. I have some thoughts, but I would very much like to hear if your feedback experience was typical.

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