It is surely no coincidence that the words ‘writing’ and ‘waiting’ are merely one letter apart, for, as every author can attest, writing involves an inordinate amount of waiting around! Waiting for agents to get back to you after you’ve sent your creation out into the big, wide world. Waiting for publishers to respond after your agent has sent your creation out into the big, wide world. Waiting for your editor to send you feedback on your novel. Waiting for your novel to be published so that you can finally see it (hopefully) in bookshops! Honestly, being a writer requires a ridiculous amount of patience and this blog post aims to give budding authors some insight into what’s going on behind the scenes…
As children's literary agents we receive a huge number of submissions – literally thousands over the course of a year. Some of them, we can instantly see are not right for us, but submissions that are good require proper time, attention and consideration. This is not a speedy process! It’s not just a matter of reading, but of reading thoughtfully, and that takes a certain amount of time.
And, of course, reading submissions is just one part of an agent’s job. We also need to edit and polish our authors’ manuscripts prior to submission, liaise with publishers, negotiate deals, check contracts, provide solace, celebrate and generally go through all the ups and downs of life in publishing with our existing clients – not to mention getting involved in events, conferences, festivals AND having a family life, although most agents will tell you we’re pretty much married (happily) to the job!
Before I was an agent, I was an editor for a major publishing house and, I can tell you, the life of an editor is not dissimilar. There’s the same plethora of demands on his or her time, so that much as they may well love reading submissions, they almost certainly don’t get much time to do so. Once again, they need to read thoughtfully – especially if they are considering making an offer – and then they have to run it past the rest of their team and ensure that the whole company is on board! If it’s a draft of a manuscript that they are already committed to publishing (the second book of an author’s contract, for example) then they will need to give editorial feedback on that manuscript and the reading/editing process is likely to take even longer. Now bear in mind that they have to do that for not just one book but for many every single month, while simultaneously drafting cover copy, liaising with other departments in-house, processing payments, checking contracts, collating page proofs, the list goes on . . .
You’re probably beginning to see where all the time goes! As a writer, you are focused (probably) on one novel. As an agent or editor, we have to focus on a very great many. So please understand that we love to see your manuscripts – our jobs simply would not exist without them! – and know that a slow response does NOT mean that we are not interested. It just means that we’re swamped!
Don’t be afraid to chase nicely if it really has been a long time – by which I mean more than about 8 weeks – as it’s always possible your submission somehow went astray (from Skylark you should receive an acknowledgement of receipt, so if you haven’t had that within a week then something’s gone wrong) but do try to be understanding. We love reading, but we have a lot of it to fit in and most of it is happening after hours. At Skylark we aim to respond with a decision on every submission within a month, and most of the time we succeed in that, but when we’re particularly busy we do get behind, so please forgive us!
And since there will be a lot more waiting around in your life as an author, start developing some coping tactics now! That might mean making a start on your next novel, or it might mean stocking up on TV box sets and cake and settling in for the duration! :-) Do whatever works for you, but find yourself a system because, unfortunately, writing inevitably involves a lot of … well, you know …