(Note: I had to remove and repost this as problems with comments)
It’s almost a year since The Breathing Sea went on submission to publishers. I want to write about what it was like to sell the book, starting with THE WAIT. And yes, it does deserve capitals.
The Wait haunts all stages of writing for publication. There are different levels of waiting, a bit like Dante’s circles of hell. Waiting for critique, waiting to hear from agents, waiting to receive edits, waiting for feedback on edits, waiting waiting waiting W A I T I N G. And my character flaw is lack of patience.
Submission waiting is the WORST. It goes like this: you polish your manuscript with your agent (possibly over the course of many months) who also prepares a list of fabulous editors, a strategy, and a pitch. Then you leave your agent to do his or her part and sell that shiny story which has your tender heart and soul nestled within its pages.
And you Wait.
An agent can’t tell you how long it’s going to take, even if you beg them to ‘please, just tell me when this agony will end and then I’ll be able to cope’. They can’t. They shouldn’t. They don’t know. And the uncertainty is the killer.
My agent is very sensible and honest and told me it could sell in days, or take months, and that there was really no way of knowing as every book is different. She was totally right. Some agents impose deadlines on publishers. My experience of watching friends on submission is that these deadlines usually fly by unheeded, sometimes numerous times causing more agony due to falsely raised expectations. The process really does take as long as it takes. But I ran a twitter poll which could at least give you an idea of what to expect.
I think knowing this might have helped me a little. Maybe.
So what is actually happening whilst you are waiting, refreshing your inbox? Does it matter? I don’t work in publishing but from what I can glean, editors are genuinely busy with their current authors who often have tight deadlines, they also need to get multiple reads of new books, and then the process of acquisition meeting, marketing, costing all requires meetings, that need to be organised when Clare or Sarah are back from holiday (there seem to be a lot of Clares and Sarahs in publishing). Plus everything either slows or speeds up around book fairs in February, March and October. Oh and Christmas and Summer are silent wastelands of misery, you need gin to get through those.
The length of time you wait is not a sign of quality. I repeat: How long it takes to sell your book does not indicate how successful it will be. I needed someone to shout this at me when I was waiting for The Breathing Sea to sell, because it felt like this:
1 week: It would have been so cool to sell quickly. Oh well, still so much time! They are probably reading and discussing it right now *dreamy sigh* I’d better add some actors to play my MC’s on my pinterest boards, I’ll need those very soon.
2 weeks: Hurumph. I haven’t been ‘snapped up’. I’m probably not going to see the words ‘hotly contested auction’ and my name in the same sentence. But I can cope.
3 weeks: Where is everyone? My refresh button finger has arthritis. I know, I’ll twitter stalk some editors I know it’s on submission to, that will help at lot.
4 weeks: I wish I’d never written the thing. I hate it anyway. I’m going to write something else right now, it will probably be finished by the time this one sells which will SHOW THEM ALL.
5 weeks onwards: BURN EVERYTHING/ rock in front of screen staring at other people’s successes/ BURN/ rock and repeat.
(There were a few rejections and false starts peppered throughout to give the waiting a little seasoning. I’ll chat about those another time.)
Since this poll I’ve spoken to more authors in person. Some were on an open submission and took more than a year to sell. And those books were brilliant, often ground breaking books.
Some books will sell within a day, at auction or big pre-empt, because they are genuinely works of genius. Others sell big because there’s buzz surrounding their premise or they are similar to other books that have done well, or they have something which taps into current zeitgeist. But prize-winners waited too. Bestsellers are often not the books that sold a auction within days of submission.
It’s a strange and unpredictable business, but here’s something wonderful and also terrifying: when the average reader picks up a book they don’t know how long it took to sell or how much money it sold for. Readers judge books by their cover and then by what’s inside.
But the best thing about waiting? There’s always more just around the corner.