The Confusing Publishing Timetable

Occasionally I get questions from other writers like: How long should I expect to wait before I hear back from an agent who has a query or requested material? How long does it take an agent to get a book deal? Or how long does it take for a publication committee to come to a decision about a proposal?

These are all great questions. The publishing timetable is often very confusing. And as usual, I can only answer these questions out of my own experience and what I’ve learned by observing the journeys of other writers.

How long does it take to hear back from an agent who has a query or a requested partial or full manuscript?

I always encourage other writers to think in terms of weeks, even months, especially before following up. Keep your expectations low, and then consider yourself lucky if you hear back sooner.

Most of my rejections came fairly quickly, within a month or two. When Rachelle requested a full, my manuscript sat in her slush pile for nine months before my contest final brought it to her attention. I followed up a couple of times during those months, but also realized that I just needed to move on to my next project while I waited and not put all my hope in the one book.

How long does it typically take an agent to get a book deal?

Once a writer acquires an agent, the agent may request that the writer make edits or sometimes even major rewrites before beginning the process of submitting to publishing houses.

If a book is polished and ready to go, the agent and/or writer will then put together a proposal to help “sell” the book to publishing houses.

After the proposal is completed, the agent can actively begin sending it out to the various publishing houses she believes are appropriate for the book.

My agent sent out my proposal in June of 2009. She decided specifically on Bethany House because she had previously spoken to the senior acquisitions editor at a writer’s conference about my book. She sent my proposal to him for a thirty day exclusive—meaning she was holding off on sending it to anyone else until Bethany House made a decision. They liked it, and after negotiating back and forth, I finally signed a three book deal in early September of 2009.

From the day I got my agent call to the day I signed my book deal, approximately four months elapsed. Four months is much quicker than average. But it’s just like querying, plan on the process taking months, maybe even a year or more. If it happens sooner than that, then consider yourself fortunate.

How long does it take for a publication committee to come to a decision about a proposal?

Once our books garner the interest of an editor or publishing house, we’re in for another long stretch of waiting. Publication committees meet once or twice a month. Sometimes committee meetings get pushed back or rescheduled especially around holidays.

The committee, made up of editors, sales, marketing, and other VIPs, will analyze every facet of the book. The bottom line is that taking on a new author is a huge risk and investment. As I mentioned in a previous post, traditional publishing houses spend an incredible amount of money in edits, cover, promotion, etc. all before the debut author has brought in a dime.

Because of all those initial start up costs, the committee must choose their projects ever so carefully, and that translates into a slow, meticulous process of weighing the pros and cons of each proposal.

I liked what agent, Chip MacGregor said about publication committees in a recent post: A publishing house has all those filters in place so that they can do the easy thing and say "no" to you. (Really.) The purpose of the process is to say "no" to most everything. Therefore create proposals they can't say "no" to.

For the author waiting on a decision, the process may seem tortuously unbearable, but ultimately when we finally get the affirmative, we’ll know we’ve gotten a huge compliment and the affirmation that all our hard work is finally beginning to pay off.

What do you think about the publishing timetable? What experiences have you had with waiting? Does anything confuse or discourage you about the inevitable waiting? I’d love to hear your experiences or questions!

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