I think everyone knows that publishing is certainly a subjective business. There’s a reason why there’s still hope even after amassing a pile of rejections. Because all it takes is one editor’s enthusiasm (at least here at Dorcheter, where there’s no “board of approval” process to muck things up); no matter how many no’s you have, all it takes is one yes. Sure, getting to that yes can be a tough road, though. Especially when you take into account that sometimes it has nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with an editor’s personal preferences.
At just about every conference I go to, we always get asked (or try to answer before we’re asked) why it takes so long to read submissions. Our current turnaround time is about 6-8 months. Some editors have been known to have things longer. And, I know, it sucks.
No one wants to feel like they’re in limbo, and after 3-4 months, I no longer expect the author to stick to our rule about no simultaneous submissions. Just please keep me in the loop and absolutely let me know if you get an offer.
But here’s why it takes so freakin’ long most of the time.
First, even though one of my favorite things about the job is finding a new author, there aren’t really any deadlines on acquisitions. I do have deadlines on cover copy, editing manuscripts, marketing notes, and email correspondence. So that all comes first.
Then there’s the questions of: Am I reading because there’s space in the schedule and I need a book, or am I reading because there’s a pile of stuff that’s been around a while and I really need to get this author/agent an answer? In other words: Am I acquiring or rejecting?
Clearly, it’s to everyone’s advantage when it’s the former. But openings in the schedule just don’t happen every month. In the latter situation, if I get 15 pages or so into the manuscript and still want to read, I’ll set the material aside for later. That adds to the timeline, and leads to one of our favorite phrases–“No news is good news.” One of our other favorites is “The fast answer is almost always no.”
Ok, so what can you do to get around all these obstacles? Mostly it comes down to stuff you’ve likely heard before, but I think it bears repeating.
- The query letter needs to get me excited. If it mentions an element I particularly like or has an usual setting or a great description of a hot guy, I’m immediately intrigued and already have a favorable view to the ms, which will lead me to read more pages.
- A clever title gets immediate points.
- There are certain agents whose tastes dovetail really well with mine. I always read their submissions (relatively) quickly. No, I can’t tell you who they are because we’re not really supposed to give recommendations (that’s a whole post for another day). But check acknowledgment pages and it’s not too tough to figure out who reps authors I’ve bought.
- Make your opening a knockout. I wish I could say I read at least the first chapter of every submission. But the truth is I don’t. I can usually tell whether it’s a go for me within five pages. If I get through those and to the end of the first chapter and you’re teasing me info, daring me to read further, there’s a solid chance you’ll hook me for the whole thing. And once I’m hooked I don’t like to let go.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and know that you only have to convince one person in the right place to be in love with your book.