First waiting room: the query letter.
So you’ve sent your query letters out to agents and/or publishers. The waiting game begins, but how long should you wait? This is where doing your research, as I suggested in my post It’s Not You, It’s Me. Okay, It’s You. Most agencies and publishers will state the usual response time in their submission guidelines. I’ve seen it range from a couple weeks to a few months, depending on how many queries they receive on a given day. They will also tell you if you should assume no response, after a set period of time, constitutes a “no, thank you.” To help me keep track of this, I created a simple excel spread sheet that lists: the agency/publisher, the specific person I queries, the email/address I sent my query to, what I included (synopsis, sample, etc.), when I sent it, how much time has passed, how long before I should hear back. The last was done using a simple formula: =today()-cell that contains date query was sent. I check the spreadsheet every so often, making note if I passed the “no thanks” threshold.
If, however, they do not tell you that no reply should be considered a rejection, is it okay to send an email checking on your status?
Yes, unless they ask that you don’t. Understand though that it might take some time to get a reply. Since mail (regular and the E variety) can get lost, if I don’t hear back within a couple weeks, I’ll send a second. If I don’t back from that one, I’ll mark that query as a rejection. I figure at that point either they’re too disorganized or don’t feel the need to reply, so it’s not worth worrying about any longer.
How long should you wait to send a message checking on your status?
If they mention how long it generally takes to respond, I use that as a basis. I’ll take the high end and add four weeks. If they don’t give a normal response time, I’ll give it two months.
This waiting is the least stressful part. I generally send out queries is bunches and, frankly, I expect a high percentage to get no reply or a rejection. The odds just say that’s the most likely outcome, but then you only need one to say yes.
Second waiting room: the sample submission.
Woo hoo! You heard back and they want a sample! After you’ve finished your brief moment of celebrating like you’re an eight-year-old who just found out you’re going to Disney World, you really should send the requested items back in short order. Don’t skimp on the celebration though, a request for a sample means your query did its job, it got you in the door, and that’s not nothing.
This waiting is the easier of the two because if they requested a sample, you can be certain you’ll hear back. Typically they’ll also let you know how long they expect to need to review your sample. If they don’t, you should ask. You should also get comfortable because it can take a while. Keep in mind these people, hopefully, have clients who are making them money, or if it’s a publisher, have books to print and sell to make money. My experience is that you should expect it to take between one and two months, depending on the size of the sample and the person’s work load.
During this time, it’s best not to think about it. That’s a sure way to drive yourself insane, and writers, as a group, already live pretty close, so it’s a short drive. Find something else to do to occupy your time. I give myself one day a week to go over things and remind myself I’ve got a sample out there being reviewed, but otherwise, forget about it. Work on another writing project, look at cat videos on YouTube, anything to get your mind off it.
As a side note, if you sent out multiple queries and you get the rare pleasure of having multiple requests for a sample at the same time, you should check with the first agent/publisher and see if they want an exclusive review (if they didn’t tell you when they requested the sample). If they don’t, and not many do, when you send the sample be sure to let the second agent/publisher know that someone else is also reviewing it. At this point you can celebrate more, then find something else to do. I hear making ships in a bottle is fun. It should also be noted that if you’re submitting short stories, this is generally the time frame you can expect, but with the request for exclusivity being more common, at least those with rapid response times or recognizable names, as I understand it.
Third waiting room: the full manuscript review.
Well done you! Go ahead, do your happy dance, I’ll wait. Okay, now you really need to get comfortable. Some places can take as much as a year to review full manuscripts. Also at this point, requesting exclusivity is more common. Yes, this sword cuts both ways.
What should you do?
Forget about it. Seriously, try your best to put it out of your mind and move on with other things. Every so often you’ll remember, and when you do, take a moment and remind yourself that no response means no rejection. Then, return to your normal life, there are dishes that need doing, garbage to take out, and have you seen how must dust there is on the coffee table?
On a personal note, I’m writing this as my own form of dealing with the wait. My manuscript The Stolen Child is under consideration by a publisher, and I had my one year anniversary of waiting just a few months ago. I did check, and I am still under consideration. The final word is supposed to come down by the end of this month. So trust me, I understand how maddening the wait can be, but that is just the cost of admission. Hang in there, and might I suggest some interesting articles to read at a rather brilliant blog, A Quiet Pint?