Ah, the waiting game. Truly publishing’s favorite pasttime. For authors, agents, and editors alike, it’s a huge part of the process and unfortunately unavoidable.
Authors just starting to query their work are most likely in for a long wait before things start to move along. (So sorry about this, guys.) Agents run behind on their queries all the time, and it unfortunately in some cases can take months to get a response, depending on a variety of things. Even then, it’s not guaranteed, but that uncertainty is part of the territory of being a writer, I’m afraid.
That said, for those of you really going after landing an agent, there is good news – while the waiting game can be frustrating for new authors, there are a lot of ways to be productive during the time between when you’ve sent out your queries and when you might hear back from an agent or editor about your submission. In fact, this time can be very useful and just as productive as writing. Here are some things you can/should do during this time, both to put your best foot forward and to keep yourself from going crazy!
- Set up a system to keep track of your submissions and manage it. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, list, whatever, make sure you know just who/where has your query and what the details of their submission policy are (i.e.: how much time before this should be considered a pass?) Most agents update where they are with queries via Twitter or a blog, so keep tabs on who is where in their reading pile, if that info is available. For example, I periodically tweet something like “All unsolicited queries through 7/10/16 have been reviwed”, meaning if you haven’t heard from me by then on an unrequested query, it’s a pass. Otherwise, most agency websites will have a general timeframe for you to go by, as most agents are unable to respond to things that aren’t right for them. If agents request your manuscript, you’ll want to keep track of that, too, of course.
- Resist the urge to check in. I know this is really hard. But unless otherwise stated in submission guidelines, the only reason you need to follow up on an unsolicited query is if you’ve received an offer of representation. In that case, notify the agent as soon as possible. Otherwise, let it be, and the agent will reach out if they’re interested. Exceptions here might be requested material (such as a full or partial) that the agent has had for a while.
- Find your next WIP. Your old WIP is done and out in the world, so what’s your new one? Channel the energy you’re tempted to spend obsessing over the project on sub into a new project. Aside from the time when you’re keeping tabs on that submission (see #1), pretend it doesn’t exist and work on your other ideas. In the event an agent is interested in you, they’ll want to hear about your other projects. In the event you wind up tabling what you’ve submitted, you’ll have your next project lined up. Remember few authors make it on their very first book, even if it feels like your baby. Instead of dwelling, give yourself options and get better as you go.
- Write a piece for a blog, website, or news outlet. There are a lot of writers out there trying to get published online. Getting published online is also a completely different animal than querying a book, so be prepared to research. But, if you have the chops or a particular area of expertise, it’s is a great way to spend your “off-time” while your book is on sub. See if your favorite blogs are looking for contributors. If there’s something you’re good at or savvy about, find a site about that and ask if you can do a guest post, even if something as simple as your recipe for lemon bars on a baking blog. It will take a little time to figure out what’s out there, but it could be the start of a great opportunity or connection for you.
- Read some current books in your genre/market. If you’re not ready to write something new, try reading. Secret: many authors don’t read enough. It’s great when an author knows their market like the back of their hand, and it shows in the writing. If your primary WIP is out, you probably have some more free time. Use this to catch up on reading, which is a great way to arm yourself with amazing and relevant comp titles for your future use. Pro tip: buy these books from a local bookseller if you’re able, or get them at the library. Make friends as you go and you’ll have some word-of-mouth champions for your book if it gets published, and maybe an in for an author event. But don’t be sleezy about this – you should get to know your booksellers and librarians just because they’re awesome people, tbh.
- Work on your platform. Now is a great time to beef up your social media presence. Instead of stressing about submissions, spend a little time each day interacting with fellow authors online, or working on a website or blog. Social media is a huge component of authorship these days, and it can only work to your advantage to join the literary community online, or whatever community might be relevant to your book (ex: historians if you’re writing history, etc). Keep tabs on what relevant agencies and publishers are up to as well. Being savvy is a huge advantage in finding opportunities, and you may come across another agent/editor who could be a match for your WIP (make sure they get put on the spreadsheet if you submit!). Another thing, if you do get published, your online friends can be your greatest cheerleaders. Be sure to return the favor – it’s what makes Twitter, etc, for authors so great.
- Attend an event/conference. Obviously, interacting in the real world is great as well. Or so I hear Anyway, whatever you’re writing, there’s a group out there for it. If you’re writing kids’ stuff, your local SCBWI chapter is a good place to start (many have yearly conferences). Romance writers should check out RWA. Agents are familiar with these organizations and while being involved with them doesn’t guarantee representation, they are an incredible resource and can make you seem just a little more legit. If these aren’t the right option for you, consider finding a writer’s group in your area, or starting your own. If you live somewhere where these groups don’t meet in person, look into an online chapter. Remember that the point of these groups is to engage with others and learn, not just to promote yourself. So give back by offering to be a beta reader for others while you’re between projects, or even volunteer at an event yourself. Basically, get involved.
- Launch a new non-writing related hobby. Interesting people tell interesting stories, and interesting people usually have a wide range of interests. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity (and sanity, tbh) is step away from the computer screen and do something else, as hard as it may be to do that. I know authors who teach yoga, draw, hike, train show dogs, teach community classes, play music, run, swim, knit, dance – the list goes on. They often turn to these things when the waiting game strikes, and often get great ideas from them for when they’re ready to start writing again. There are a ton of advantages as a writer to broadening your horizons this way (getting fresh air, meeting new people, seeing new places, etc) so don’t guilt yourself into feeling you’re not working hard if you decide to start playing pickup soccer or take a pottery class instead of refreshing your email. It’s all about balance!
There you have it folks! Some tips on keeping your sanity while waiting to hear back. Patience is a virtue