Greyhound Literary

Charlotte Atyeo writes: The Waiting Game

It’s no secret that writing a book can be a long, lonely process. Finding that gem of an idea, fleshing out the concept, doing the initial research, then crafting your non-fiction proposal or drafting your novel, and researching who might be best placed to help your book find its way into the world – there’s an awful lot of work that takes place before you’ve even approached an agent for representation. But once you’ve got an offer of representation from an agent, surely things should move at lightning speed, no? Well, unfortunately that’s not always the case. The publishing industry is rarely known for its ability to move at warp speed. And that means authors often need to steel themselves for long periods of waiting.

The key thing to remember, though, is that these long periods of waiting do not mean that your book has been overlooked or shoved down the back of an editor’s sofa. They don’t mean that editors have read and dismissed your book idea but don’t know how to tell you. They don’t mean that your publisher is trying to find ways to bump your book off their publishing schedule or that they’re no longer excited about launching your book with all the fanfare they originally promised you when they signed you up. Far from it. The reality is that editors – and their sales, marketing, publicity, and other colleagues – give serious thought to whether or not they can publish your book successfully. Those conversations take time. And editors will be considering your book as well as numerous other ideas: like agents, they are inundated with submissions and they won’t be able to read and consider every idea in a flash.

Once a book has been commissioned, publishers take a deliberately long-term approach to putting it out into the world. They do a huge amount of work behind the scenes to ensure that everything is in place to give your book the best possible chance of making a splash on publication. This could include choosing the optimum launch date (as opposed to simply the soonest date possible), getting key retailers’ advance feedback on the cover design to make sure that your book is going to appeal to as wide a readership as possible in the bookshops, or maybe producing early bound proofs to help generate endorsements and early buzz. There might also be time required for getting professional illustrations done, or for legal checks, or for producing sample layouts to help secure translation deals. And that’s not even taking into account the time needed once you’ve delivered your complete manuscript for you and your editor to work on structural edits, then have the book copyedited, then typeset, then proofread, then corrections taken in and checked, and then indexed. And then of course there’s the printing and shipping and distribution, all of which takes more time. (Remember too that, although your agent and editor are both excited about your book – this is, after all, why they want to work with you on it – your book is one of several that they will be putting their time and energy into this year. That means that they will be working on multiple books by multiple authors simultaneously and so there may be moments when another project on their list requires their more pressing attention. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care about your book; it’s that they need to manage the requirements of those different books competing for their time. Hopefully your editor will communicate this clearly to you so that you know what to expect, but your agent will also be able to offer some guidance and reassurance if you’re finding this difficult to navigate.)

The difficulty for authors is that many of these things have long lead times and they may take place behind the scenes, meaning it can sometimes feel like there’s nothing happening except… waiting.

So what can authors do to cope with the endless periods of waiting? Well, it always helps to know what to expect, so it’s a good idea to make sure you understand in advance what the timeframes are likely to be and how the different stages will unfold. You can ask your editor or your agent about this early in the project. You might also find it helpful to talk to other authors (maybe friends or colleagues who have been published, or maybe in writing groups) and to hear about their experiences so that you get a sense of the general pace of the publishing industry.

As with so many things in life, the main thing is to be prepared. Be prepared that there will be periods of waiting, and then hopefully the waiting won’t feel quite so agonising. And if it does, well, there’s nothing quite like writing a new project to take your mind off things…