I know I’ve addressed this before, though maybe not quite so directly, but writers spend a lot of time playing the “hurry up and wait” game. We hurry to finish a manuscript, then wait for someone to comment on it. We hurry and submit to a publisher, then wait for the response from an editor. We hurry and sign the contract, then wait for the revision requests to arrive. We hurry and finish the revisions, then wait for the book to come out. Sheesh – it’s a wonder we aren’t all insane from this!
Somewhere in our core, I guess, we are patient people. Writers learn to be patient as ideas take shape. We are patient as we wait for the right words to find their way from the recesses of our brains to the tips of our fingers, to the computer screen or sheet of paper. We are patient as characters only we can hear squabble over who gets to say what and at which time.
But patience is difficult once we’ve finished with our process and we are waiting on someone else to finish theirs. And in the world of publishing, someone else’s process can take much longer than we want it to, or even than we think it needs to. Just why does a major publishing house employing hundreds of editors, junior editors, and readers require three months to send a writer a form letter saying thanks but no thanks?
When I wrote the proposal for the Hey, Ranger books, I sent it off to a number of publishers. Some of them rejected it within days (and I wonder if they even bothered to actually read the proposal), while others held on to it for months before saying no. The publisher who ultimately said yes actually held the proposal for almost a year! I’d truthfully forgotten I had sent it to them, and I was somewhat stunned to get a personal phone call asking if I’d sold the book yet.
A lot of new writers think that the hard part is writing the book, and they are skeptical when authors (myself and others) tell them that the writing is the easy part – it’s everything that comes after which is difficult, especially the “hurry up and wait” part over which we have absolutely no control. But it, along with query letters, sample chapters, researching publishers and agents, and continuing to work on that next manuscript, is all part of finding that dream of publishing.
I heard Jane Yolen speak in a workshop once, and a participant said to her “I’ve sent off my manuscript to an editor and I haven’t heard anything back yet.”
Ms. Yolen asked how long the participant had been waiting to hear back.
“Two weeks,” said the participant, an obvious whine in her voice.
Ms. Yolen looked at her squarely and asked, “What are you doing in the mean time?”
“Nothing, I’m waiting to hear about my book.”
“And what if it’s not going to be a book for a while?” Ms. Yolen continued. “What else do you have?”
“Nothing,” said the participant, “I’m waiting on my book.”
The rest of the audience understood, though I don’t know if this woman ever did. The best way to fill up that waiting time is to work on something else. Not only does it help to pass the time, but it means you are continuing to work on your craft, to demonstrate your commitment to writing, even if you’re only demonstrating it to yourself.
I have two books that I’m waiting on at the moment: one is waiting on revisions from the editor, one is waiting on the response from two agents. And I’m working on a third book while I wait. As the saying goes, patience is a virtue.
It’s just that sometimes, it’s hard to be a virtuous writer.
Go write something good!