The end of the annual publishing vacation — and a minor milestone

Well, congratulations, all of you hardy souls who sent out queries and submissions within the last couple of months and have been waiting with various degrees of patience for that agent or editor to return from summer vacation. (If you have read this blog with any regularity, you are probably already aware that almost everyone in the publishing industry goes on vacation from mid-August until after Labor Day. If you’ve received a reply during that time, you have most likely been dealing with the low person on the totem pole at the agency – or the assistant of a higher-up — the one who is left behind to deal with emergent crises and to turn the lights on and off each day.)

Before you celebrate the end of your long, hot wait too heartily, though, do recall that the vast majority of writers in the United States are not in fact aware of this vacation period, any more than they take note of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October (1-2 weeks of non-mail reading), the winter catch-up period (Thanksgiving to Christmas), or the January overload (presses and agencies only have a month to get out last year’s tax info to their writers; also, half the population of North America’s New Year’s resolutions apparently revolve around sending out queries and submissions right after the first).

The industry-savvy just know not to expect much to get done during these times.

However, since submissions go on unabated, or even increased, in the post-conference period just before Labor Day, your average agent walked into her office this morning to find it buried under at least three weeks’ worth of queries and submissions. (I say “at least” because understandably, not everyone works as hard the day before vacation as the Protestant work ethic might dictate.) And all of those interns who were working as unpaid screeners for the summer have now gone back to school.

Intimidating picture, isn’t it? Just THINK of all the trees lying dead on agents’ desks at the moment.

Sad for the trees, yes, but not tremendous news for you, either: you should probably not expect to hear back this week. Or next.

Yes, even if you sent out your requested materials in mid-July. In fact, you might be better off if the agent of your dreams does NOT read your submission this week: during high-volume periods, the likelihood that the query screener or submission reader is going to be feeling put-upon and annoyed is substantially higher. That almost invariably equals a less sympathetic read. On the whole, you’re be happier with the outcome if your reader is feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Yes, I know: it’s horribly frustrating to have to wait so long. Blame it on the rather short-sighted mentality of the industry: as most agents will tell you if pressed (as in under rocks; I’m a very persistent question-asker), it actually isn’t their job to read queries and submissions; technically, that’s prep work for future tasks that might never materialize.

Think about it: realistically, even if the Great American Novel is sitting on their respective desks at this very moment, it’s not going to make money for them for months, or even years. Which lends a certain lack of urgency to plowing through that pile of papers, doesn’t it?

In other words: 99% of the time, the delays have NOTHING to do with you or the quality of your book. Try not to take them personally. Just accept that you have no control over where your query or submission is sitting in that pile.

And do be aware that time when your manuscript is sitting on someone’s desk, awaiting a decision, passes substantially more slowly than time spent in any other way that doesn’t involve incarceration. The Count of Monte Cristo has nothing on us. Before you pick up the phone or log onto your e-mail server to issue a peppery WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG? statement, please, please, please bring this blog to mind and consider the possibility that your sensibilities may be a bit more, well, sensitive than usual. Is this REALLY the best mental state for asking someone to do a favor for you by moving you up in the queue?

Which, in case you didn’t know, what a writer’s question about what’s taking so long sounds like to an agent at any reasonably successful agency: not worry that the submission has been lost, but an unfair request to queue-jump. True, the rule of thumb is that if an agency has had your manuscript for more than 8 weeks, you can legitimately make inquires, but just after the summer holiday, even such a well-justified question can come across as badgering. For prudence’s sake, just subtract that 3-week summer vacation from your 8-week countdown.

Trust me: just as agents’ sense of time is off right now, so is yours. Take a deep breath, then turn away from the phone or e-mail for another week. And if you want to pummel a lavender-scented pillow for a while in the meantime, that might be a good idea, too.

And while we’re at it: this is the 50th blog of my new website! Wahoo!

Yes, I know, it doesn’t look that way, since I’ve been slowly adding the archives from my old blog on the PNWA site. But this is indeed the 50th under the new régime.

To celebrate, why not mention the blog to a couple of your writing friends? I know quite a few my old readers have been having trouble figuring out how to find me — one kind of has to know how to spell my name in order to find the site, and most of my former readers knew me merely as the PNWA’s Guest Writer. So if you would be so kind as to pass the word along (assuming that you’ve been getting something out of the site, of course), that would be a lovely 50th birthday present for this space.

Oh, and in response to a couple of e-mails I’ve gotten recently: if you want to post a question on the site (usually the quickest way to get me to answer them, especially if I’m on the road, as I am frequently), all you have to do is go down to the COMMENTS link at the bottom of each post. Click on that, then scroll down through the already-posted comments there. At the bottom, there will be an ADD COMMENT box. Post your question there, and I’ll get to it as soon as I can!

Happy 50th post, everybody! Please, try not to worry about your submission or query. And keep up the good work!

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