September 18th, 2009 by LViehl
Hurry Up and Wait

One thing I was accustomed to before I joined the pro writer workforce was the concept of hurry up and wait. Those of you who have also served in the military are quite familiar with this; it’s a term coined to explain how the military’s (or your superior’s) time is precious (thus you always have to hurry to carry out your duties) but that your time is not (which is why when you need something in the military, you’d better make yourself comfortable and find a couple of books to read, because it doesn’t happen quickly, promptly, or even in the realm of anytime soon.)

The philosophy we lesser mortals take toward the annoying mindset of hurry up and wait is generally one of resignation. I think most of us are told from day one that “All good things come to those who wait.” Except, apparently, those mysterious superiors; they want the good things yesterday, and we’d better deliver or else. This bipolar attitude can be especially frustrating for those who choose to work in an industry like Publishing that is already renowned for operating at a snail’s pace.

Typical hurry up and wait situations for the pro author include royalty statements versus sales numbers, deadlines versus revisions/copy-edits/galley corrections, pitches versus offers and so forth. A publisher can find out instantly how many copies a book has sold to date, but authors have to wait a year or more for their first royalty statement. An author is expected to turn in a manuscript by a preset deadline, no matter how inconvenient it may be, but once the manuscript is in the hands of the publisher they can request revisions or corrections to production copies at their convenience. We all know what it’s like to submit a proposal and wait for a response, which can take months if not years.

Working in a hurry up and wait atmosphere can be frustrating and stressful if you’re on the wait end of the equation. It certainly does nothing good for the ego to be treated as if your time has no value. Then there are those moments when patience and understanding don’t pay off – while you’re waiting for a response from an editor or agent, they may have forgotten all about you. I once got a rejection letter from a SF publisher for StarDoc three years after I submitted the proposal and 18 months after the book had been published by Roc (evidently they never bothered to read my post-submission follow-up letter, sent out two years before, withdrawing the submission due to lack of response. )

Here are some ideas on how to handle your end of the hurry up and wait atmosphere of Publishing:

The two key people you’ll be working with on time-sensitive issues are your editor and your agent. If possible, discuss and establish a reasonable follow-up system with them. For example, unless a specific deadline is involved I wait three weeks before I send an e-mail reminder to my agent about any unresolved issue. Then I redate the reminder list another three weeks, because sometimes it requires more than one e-mail nudge to get an answer.

Keep track of your submissions and issues on a calendar or spreadsheet and project response due dates based on guidelines or initial responses. Do the same for your contract dates and payment schedules. SF author Simon Haynes has a free submission tracking program, Sonar, which can be very helpful in tracking all your open or unresolved situations.

Whenever possible, do reminders in bulk. If you’re sending one e-mail per problem, you may be creating extra work for the person on the other end. Group as many reminders as you can in one shot so your editor or agent has the opportunity to resolve more than one at a time (which eliminates a lot of phone calls for them.)

Avoid playing waiting games. Occasionally an editor or agent will string you along to get more out of you while not offering anything in return. Sometimes this can be a series of requests for revisions, and I’ve known writers who have gotten up to ten consecutive revision request letters, to which they responded with rewrites. Most do sell in the end, so unless the requests are really unreasonable I think it’s worth a shot.

That said, if you’re already an established writer, and revisions aren’t being requested but your submission is still stalled, you need to analyze the situation. For example, one editor I submitted to basically sat on a proposal of mine for more than a year. Every few months my agent would inquire as to the status, and the editor would promptly request more pages in addition to the initial three chapters I’d pitched. I would then write up more of the book and send in the chapters, but we received no offer or any response in return. Not the sort of treatment you expect when you’re a national bestselling author with several successful series on your backlist — which I was at the time — but I’ve always tried to give the other party the benefit of the doubt.

We spent almost a year doing this, until I’d written nearly half the book for this editor. When my agent finally pressed for a committment, the editor stopped returning her calls. My agent, who isn’t accustomed to being treated like that, was shocked. After she vented to me, I told her to pull the submission and we moved on. It was a very unprofessional situation, especially as I spent a considerable amount of my time giving the editor what they wanted with no return on the investment. Having the submission out of circulation for more than a year also cost me, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen my agent that angry. But sometimes things like this happen, and in retrospect I probably should have pulled the submission after the second request for new pages. At least now I know not to pitch that editor — not that my agent would let me. Live and learn.

Whatever delay you’re experiencing, don’t take it personally — always be polite and professional, and keep your personal feelings to yourself. Courtesy is always more welcome than venting, and while it’s satisfying to contemplate telling off an editor or agent who have dropped the ball, you have to work with these people, and they handle your money. Never deliberately antagonize people who sign your paychecks.

Likewsie if your editor or agent takes an issue inquiry as an opportunity for them to vent at you, forgive them, or at least take it with a professional attitude and don’t respond in kind. I know, it’s hard to deal with a snotty e-mail or phone call, but odds are that they’re probably having a bad day.

If an editor or agent consistently ignores or forgets to respond to your inquiries, you could be dealing with someone who is indifferent to you. I think this is the most difficult situation for a writer to deal with, and it may be an indicator that you need to make some changes. However, don’t automatically assume that they don’t care about you or your books. Some editors and agents simply aren’t good about following up, or have an ongoing personal situation that is interfering with their workload, or are so perpetually overloaded that they can’t get to you on a timely basis. So before you make any changes, consider talking to the editor or agent in question and see if you can find out (tactfully) what their deal is.

Finally, look at ways you can improve your own response time. I am forever horribly behind on e-mail, which used to flood one single account. To deal with business e-mail in a more timely manner I created two accounts — one for business and one for readers and friends. The business e-mail takes priority, as it has to, but it also helped not to have editor and agent e-mails mixed in with reader and friend stuff (if you’re ever groused about your editor to a writer pal, and clicked on the wrong e-mail addy, you’ll understand why.)

You may never come to love the hurry up and wait of Publishing, but you do get used to it. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s been three weeks since I last revised a synopsis for an editor (I condensed 28 pages down to three in a single afternoon), and two weeks since I was supposed to hear if there was an offer forthcoming. Maybe they all went out for a really long lunch . . . .

Related links:

Freeware Calendars (caution, always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive): 1 year * Calendar.exe * Calendar Magic * Calendars & Planners * Chandler * Easy HR Popup Calendar * MiniMinder * Multi-Reminders * pAgenda * Remind Me Please * Sunbird * TaskPrompt * TimeLeft * Time Sentry * TimeTool * TKexe Kalendar * ToDo

Image credit: © Devonyu |

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14 comments to “Hurry Up and Wait”

  1. Raine
     · September 18th, 2009 at 8:29 am · Link

    Thanks, Lynn. You put a very reasonable slant on what can be an emotionally frustrating subject.
    And honestly, sometimes I just…I mean…it’s just so…really, can’t…arrgh! 😕

  2. Maria Zannini
     · September 18th, 2009 at 8:44 am · Link

    Ref: Never deliberately antagonize people who sign your paychecks.

    No truer words.

  3. Rose Gott
     · September 18th, 2009 at 8:49 am · Link

    Lynn, thank you for writing this! Waiting is so hard but knowing that even the Big Dogs have to do it makes it seems less horrifying. (I have nightmares of people passing around my synopsis and laughing, followed by daydreams of someone working hard to push it for publication.)

    I do have a specific question for you. In June I pitched to a major pub house editor and was asked for a synopsis and partial. Also, I ran into another big editor, *cough* dropped the name of a huge author I had talked with saying she was super nice *cough* and she agreed to have me send the same. A month after sending them I emailed politely (I checked the sub guidelines and their timetables first.) and never heard back. My major issue with this is that I want to revise the book really bad! I have another character that I want to add! Can I email and ask to revise and resubmit? Does that make me look unprofessional? What’s your opinion?

    Rose (AKA LittleBits)

  4. Paige Bruce
     · September 18th, 2009 at 10:09 am · Link

    Working as a radio copywriter means I know *exactly* what you’re talking about here – we go through it too, which may help later on when I’m ready to start submitting fiction.

    I’m always expected to be quick to get back with them with a script, a produced commercial, etc. – and I don’t mind, because it becomes a pride thing that I can get it to them so fast – but often, we’re caught waiting for a busy client to listen and approve the commercial before we can put it on air. It’s taught me to pick up a different project and work on that instead while I’m waiting, instead of twiddling my thumbs.

  5. Jess
     · September 18th, 2009 at 10:27 am · Link

    I can’t wait until this is applicable to me! :)

  6. Lynn
     · September 18th, 2009 at 11:25 am · Link

    Know that arrgh feeling only too well, Raine. We’re on the same team playing the waiting game. :)

  7. Lynn
     · September 18th, 2009 at 11:26 am · Link

    That goes for copy-editors, too. Never deliberately antagonize anyone who can insert ten thousand ellipses into your manuscript — and will, ha.

  8. Lynn
     · September 18th, 2009 at 11:38 am · Link

    Rose, I’ve been in exactly the same boat. Here are my thoughts:

    First, see if you can find out the status on both submissions by sending either a follow-up e-mail or postcard via snail mail (some writers send a SAS postcard in an envelope that the editor can return with a reply simply by dropping in the mail.)

    I would not mention that you’re thinking of revising the manuscript to either editor for a couple of reasons: you will have ample time to revise the story once you secure an offer (the ms. is never set in stone until you correct your galleys), and to tell an editor that you’d like to revise a submission that is already in their possession is about the same as saying “I sent you a manuscript that needed more work.”

  9. Lynn
     · September 18th, 2009 at 11:40 am · Link

    Agreed — I think focusing on other projects while you’re waiting for a response helps eliminate a lot of brooding and worrying. If you’re working on the next thing(s), you’re moving forward.

  10. Lynn
     · September 18th, 2009 at 11:41 am · Link

    You can’t wait to wait? Lol.

  11. Bill Peschel
     · September 18th, 2009 at 1:37 pm · Link

    Likewsie if your editor or agent takes an issue inquiry as an opportunity for them to vent at you, forgive them, or at least take it with a professional attitude and don’t respond in kind.

    I just finished watching a clip from “Roadhouse” in which Patrick Swayze (bows head for a moment) delivered this same kind of advice to his crew of bouncers, which boiled down to:

    “Be nice … until it’s time not to be nice.”

    (Besides, look at it this way: You don’t know what’s going on at their end. Could be a crisis. Could be a bad day. Could be they’re embarassed at being found out. Before going off the handle, give them a moment to explain. Doesn’t cost anything.)

  12. Lynn
     · September 18th, 2009 at 10:54 pm · Link

    I was just checking my e-mail to see if my agent had gotten a response from another editor who hasn’t exactly rushed to give me an answer on a proposal. I think it’s the second or third time I’ve (politely) checked.

    Turns out the editor was busy, had to run things past the powers that be and now is . . . putting together an offer. So by not blowing up or blowing off the editor, I’ve waited a couple of months — and probably sold three more books.

  13. Charlene Teglia
     · September 19th, 2009 at 5:30 am · Link

    I don’t have a formal follow up system, and I probably should. I keep track of dates, and I do follow up when I don’t get something within the time frame I expect (sometimes it takes multiple follow ups, all of which must be patient and polite). But since my system consists of an electronic post-it note with dates as a reminder on my desktop, um, maybe I should check out Sonar. 😆

    And this reminds me, a proposal I deliberately left cooling after the usual response time went past because I had other issues to resolve first really needs follow up. At the very least I should tell the editor who has it I’ve changed agents and moved. :mrgreen:

  14. Lynn
     · September 19th, 2009 at 6:07 am · Link

    I use the virtual calendar that comes with Vista, which is pretty simple but does everything I need: allows me to make notes, schedule reminders, and print out a hard copy to put on the fridge. I also use virtual stickies when I have something I need to do that isn’t on the regular work schedule.


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