It doesn’t matter whether you’re already published or just starting out – sending your precious book to a literary agent or publisher is always nail-biting, and the wait can be a killer.
What Sort of Wait Are We Talking About Here?
First off, it’s important to remember that literary agents are busy people. Their focus is predominantly on their existing clients and that’s how it should be. From what I’ve heard, literary agents do a lot of their slush-pile reading during the evening or weekends.
Bear in mind that most agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions every week. Even skim-reading a single page of each of them would take quite a lot of time. That’s why you’d better buckle up and prepare yourself for a long wait – these things don’t happen quickly.
What’s an Average Response Time From an Agent?
How long is that proverbial piece of string? I’ve had one agent get back to me in a matter of hours. Another took 18 months (I kid you not). It really depends on a) their method of working and b) how busy they are at the time.
It’s a bit of a myth that all agents get back to you within a few days if they love your manuscript. I know one author whose agent took months to respond, but still wanted to sign her. Sometimes they like to take time to mull it over – which is good. You don’t really want someone to make an impulse decision on your book; you want someone who is 100% invested in it after careful consideration.
But the Wait is KILLING Me…
Oh, you have my sympathies! It is an agonising process but take comfort in the fact that all writers have to go through it. See it as a rite of passage!
While you’re waiting, try doing the following to take your mind off it:
- Start a new project. As soon as that manuscript is sent off, I make a start on the next. I like to vary things up a bit too; working on projects that pull me out of my comfort zone and keep me alert and focused.
- Get out and about. If you start obsessively checking your inbox every five minutes, you know it’s time to walk away from the computer. A stroll to the local shops will do the trick, or a quick coffee with a friend. Anything that stops you from staring at that screen, basically.
- Develop an attitude of acceptance. The best thing to do is just accept that you’ll be waiting for a long time. Take it as read that you won’t receive many replies until a few months have passed – that way, if you do get a few early responses, it’ll be a nice surprise.
It was a No – What Now?
Don’t worry if you get a rejection – that’s okay! Don’t worry if you get a few rejections – again, perfectly normal. (Though if you’re getting lots and lots it might be time to review the manuscript again).
I personally like to send out to a few agents at a time, then wait to hear back from all of them. If it’s been over three months, I tend to presume they’re not interested. Some people recommend blanket-submitting to loads of different agents but I’m not a great fan of this approach – I think it’s much better to target someone you’d really love to work with!
If you get a form rejection from all the agents, I’d recommend going back over your novel and seeing what you can sharpen up. It’s amazing what you notice retrospectively (I’ve got a manuscript at the moment that I edited 14 times, and I re-read it the other day and noticed two minor errors in it – after all that work editing! Which just goes to show…).
Is This a Good Sign?
Generally speaking, it’s a good sign if you receive any of the following:
- A personalised response. That means the agent thought your manuscript was worthwhile enough to offer you some feedback. Take this for what it is – a real gift, and a chance to improve your book further.
- A request for a full. Ah, the hallowed full MS request! If you get one of these, you’re definitely on the right tracks. It does mean another long wait, but who knows, this might be the chance you’ve been waiting for…
- An invitation to send more work in. This is just the best thing to read – it means they like your style and want to see more. You should feel great, this is means your writing is of a good standard and piqued their interest.
On a Completely Different Note...
I hope the above comments were helpful. Changing the subject entirely for a moment, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who sponsored me for the Macmillan Mighty Hike. My husband and I were staggered to see that we'd raised over £620 - which is incredible. Macmillan Cancer Support work tirelessly to help those with cancer (and their loved ones), and it was a total pleasure to achieve this.
As for the course itself? 22 miles in the 31 degree heat, with hills that were so steep we had to scramble up them, then slide down on our bottoms the other side? It was fine. Totally fine (she says, with muscles still aching...).