Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Publishing and the art of patience.

I have 539 unread queries in my email in-box right now. Since the beginning of January, the number of emails in my in-box has not dropped below 300 for more than a day. Last night, I read and responded to 63 queries and by the time I went to bed, my in-box total had actually gone UP, not down.

So what does this tell me? That the vast majority of you out there haven't been daunted by the seemingly endless stream of bad news coming out of the publishing industry these past four months.

And that's a wonderful thing.

As I've said here repeatedly, and as my colleagues Ron Hogan and Jason Boog over at GalleyCat have been saying: publishing isn't going away anytime soon. Is it going to change? Sure. It has to. Is it going to get smaller? Possibly. Will publishers start getting pickier about what they buy? If they're smart, they will. Will acquisitions slow down throughout 2009? Absolutely. The fact of the matter is that there are currently more projects owned by publishers than there are editors to work on those projects. Manuscripts are getting shuffled around. Authors are reassigned to other editors. And books are being pushed further back in the publishing schedule in order to give those remaining editors the breathing room to take care of all the new projects that have been assigned to them.

So what does that mean for you, the aspiring author, right this very minute?

It means that - now more than ever - you'll need to learn the fine art of PATIENCE.

Everything in publishing in 2009 is going to take longer. It's going to take longer for editors to read and respond to pitches from agents. It's going to take longer for editors to find the time to read the manuscripts we're sending them and get back to us with a decision. A lot longer. It's going to take longer for a manuscript to get sent to an editorial board. It's going to take longer for your newly acquired book to get scheduled. It's probably going to take longer to get contracts and checks. Everything is going to take longer, period. Because there are a lot fewer people doing all the same amount of work right now and those people aren't superhuman.

So starting today? Cultivate the art of patience. It'll be the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer.


Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

whoa.... you have SO MANY queries to read... good luck, it sounds like you'll be busy as hell!!!!

Nathan said...

Never let it be said that I don't take good advice when it's offered. I hereby commit to developing greater patience. I sure hope that doesn't take a lot of time or effort.

That would suck.

Eva Ulian said...

Fantastic- I just love that kind of spirit- I've waited 40 years, I can wait another 20, but that's it, I'm kicking the bucket then. Take your time, no one is going anywhere fast...

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Colleen, I'd like your take on something.

As a writer, I've upped my output and am circulating more stories, books, and novellas in order to up my odds of getting a hit. (It seems to be working, btw.)

I know people in other industries who are working contracts on the side, too. They're constantly selling their skills, even if they have a full time job.

So in lean times, do agents shop more projects in order to up the odds of making a sell? Or, have you changed how you do business at all based on these new, leaner times?

thx. :)

Jill Corcoran said...

Wonderful, positive advice.
Thanks, Colleen.

And for those ringing the death knell--get off your myopic high-horse and check back into reality.

Jen said...

This is one side effect of the downturn that I'm actually pretty okay with, both as a writer and a reader.

Publishers becoming pickier about the books they purchase? WIN. I get to read more high quality stuff. As a writer, it pushes you to make certain that what you are submitting is really the best you can make it.

And wow, that's a LOT of queries. Yowza.

Dorothy said...

Knowledge is power. Thanks. When we can see reasons for delays and changes, they are more tolerable. Meanwhile, have patience with yourself too. You can only do what you can do. And ya do good! I appreciate your blog.

selestial-owg said...

Wow - that is a lot of queries!

More importantly though, I want to thank you for this post. There are times in our lives when we need to hear things - you told me something I've needed to hear for a few days. Thank you.

Ann Victor said...

Lovely positive post! Patience is a hard, hard virtue to learn, but I'm trying, I'm trying! :)

LitPark said...

Writers are still passionate about writing. Agents and editors and readers are still passionate about finding a story they love. All the details will work themselves out, this I know.

Thanks for a great post, Colleen.


Jodi Meadows said...

So what does this tell me?

Heh! I was going to say you needed a slave-- I mean an assistant to read your queries. ;)

Good post. Thanks.

acpaul said...

I only have patients when I'm at work. :)

Karen Duvall said...

Great message, Colleen. I'm all about patience, and the current state of the industry doesn't bother me a bit. I keep hearing about all these great debut sales happening, so I know for a fact publishers aren't putting on the skids. They're buying. They're working. And we all get to look forward to more terrific, well-written books to read!

Vieva said...

Can I save being patient for when I'm done procrastinating? :)

Elissa M said...

I've never understood the writers who don't already have patience. I know they're out there, and I know they are some of the ones who give you grief. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those 539 queries are repeats from writers who felt they didn't hear back from you fast enough. We won't talk about the ones who heard back and don't want to take "no" for an answer. ;)

Word verification: ritings

Alicia said...

I agree that patience is one of the best virtues for writers to cultivate. Send out your queries, relegate yourself to a lengthy wait, and start working on your next book. Nothing makes the time pass like a new project.

Colleen, good luck with all those emails! I think I'd be overwhelmed. o.O

Janet said...

Oh my.

Kenny Celican said...


I kinda know how you feel - I went to lunch the other day and came back to 40 emails in my inbox. What makes it really bad is that (I expect like you) I have 8 hours of work a day before I touch my email.

Knowing how swamped you are, I feel guilty for asking this, but how long do you recommend authors wait on follow-ups on requested partials? Almost as important, what subject line markers should an author put on follow ups?

BrigidsBlest said...

I have 539 unread queries in my email in-box right now.

*checks sent mail*

Heh. Yep, one of those is mine.

Excellent post.

freddie said...

You responded to 63 e-mails in one evening? How does one even do that? I'm amazed.

Lily Cate said...

Now, if that was 539 beautifully executed queries describing exceptional work that is perfect for the list that you represent, I'd be worried.
I have a feeling it's not.
Patience I have. That's just more time to work on the next book, after all.

KennyCelican said...

I find patience a hard thing to master, mostly because I've no gut instinct for the 'right' amount of time. I have iron self-control as long as I have a date someone has set me, whether it be a day, a month, a year, or even further in advance. My trouble is that when I don't have that date, I begin thinking of completely reasonable failure scenarios which won't produce ANY response, leaving me waiting forever:

My email went into spam. I said something which unintentionally offended horribly. I mistyped the email address by a single character, but just happened to send to a viable inbox, where it was trashed as irrelevant.

It doesn't help that far more unlikely scenarios have actually caused me grief in real life. My favorite example: I applied to med school (excellent MCATs, so-so grades, excellent references) and after receiving the form letter telling me to wait paitiently while it processed, never heard from them again. The letter didn't actually state I would receive a rejection, so I moved on, left the bio-sciences field, got into IT.

Years later I got an apologetic letter from the med school in question. The admissions office was moving to new offices, and they found my acceptance letter behind a filing cabinet where it had fallen off a stack of such letters and gotten lodged.

So yeah. Patience is hard, because Eris is my special friend. But knowing how busy Colleen is, and knowing how hard she works, and having had a taste of what it feels like to have a complete stranger say 'hey, I like what you wrote', and knowing that my only slim chance at getting a steady supply of that particular drug is partially based on Colleen or one of her peers thinking I'm not too much of a pain in the posterior to work with, I'm more than willing to sit on my hands and count the clock ticks as long as I need to.

Sorry for the run on, sorry for the ill-damped impatience. Forgive a poor wannabe his enthusiasm?

Rick Chesler said...

Hey there, Swivet! I like your blog.

Rebbie Macintyre said...

This is so great and something I've been thinking about for the last few months: the market matters about publishing, but it doesn't matter to my work as a writer. Like Twyla Tharp says: Dancers dance, painters paint, writers write--regardless of what's happening in the market.