The Art of Waiting . . .

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 … 

The Dos and Don’ts of One-to-Ones

 Joanna engaged in a one-to-one feedback session at this year's Winchester Writers' Festival

Joanna engaged in a one-to-one feedback session at this year's Winchester Writers' Festival

We’ve just come back from another delightful Winchester Writers’ Festival. It was a joy to meet so many enthusiastic and talented writers, as well as a great excuse to talk about books which, let’s be honest, is always our favourite subject!

While we were there we offered one-to-one feedback sessions which were, as always, fun and interesting. We know it can sometimes be scary meeting literary agents for the first time but please, please do not get worried about it. Agents should not seem scary – we always try to be supportive, positive and helpful. Agents would be nothing without the talent of you writers, so always remember that we need you!

Here are some hints to help you get the most out of a one-to-one feedback session:

Do

  • Follow the instructions for submission. If it says submit 4,000 words please don’t submit 8,000 words. We are pushed for time in preparation and limited to fifteen minutes (usually) for the one-to-one itself, and we so appreciate it when we feel that writers are mindful of that.
  • Bring a notepad. It’s so nice for us to feel that you are really engaged with our thoughts and you want to make notes. It shows a lovely openness to making changes.
  • Be open to ideas about your manuscript. We may come up with a different way of structuring it or may suggest a character is not quite working.  It may be a bit overwhelming when we suggest major changes but, you never know, it might just give you the lift and the impetus to tackle the tricky bits in a whole new way! The best one-to-ones are the ones where the discussion sparks exciting new opportunities for plot and characters!
  • Trust our expertise. It may not be what you’re hoping to hear but we do know the market and if you want to be published it is worth listening to us when we give you tips about what the market is doing right now.

Don’t

  • Polish to perfection before you submit. This can be a tricky one to judge, but it is great if you are at a stage where you are still innovating with your manuscript. If you have been over and over it several times, tweaking and polishing it may be just too heart-breaking to hear us suggest that perhaps the perspective should be from another character, or something equally lengthy and complicated to fix. If you’re still in the process of writing your manuscript – even better! We love being part of that creative process and helping you get the most out of the possibilities that your story offers.
  • Expect an offer of representation as you sit down. If you have polished and you’re not interested in changing your manuscript in any way then perhaps a one-to-one feedback session is no longer right for you. Amber and I have never offered representation from a one-to-one session as we would always want to read the full manuscript. If you are only seeking representation then it’s best to submit in the usual way to agents. Sitting in front of them and asking them to sign you just makes everyone uncomfortable!
  • Argue with us. You may feel that we haven’t understood the thrust of your story or that we weren’t paying enough attention. However, please don’t forget that while it is only our opinion, we do have a right to that opinion as well as a finger on the pulse of the market. It may not be what you were hoping to hear but that’s why you wanted feedback, right? If it doesn’t feel right then you don’t have to act on it. See our other blog post on feedback.
  • Be offended if we don’t want to see the full manuscript. It’s so hard when we’re face to face with someone to say that we don’t think this would be right for us, but it probably saves a lot of waiting around for a response by email. And, of course, as we always say – it may not be for us but it could be perfect for another children’s literary agent! 

Ultimately, we want you to get as much from the one-to-one as you can, and the best sessions are those when the writer comes along with an open mind and a positive outlook. Give it a go! You've got nothing to lose . . .