Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Like the wind

As far as I know, Albert Einstein and I have three things in common.

1. We both enjoyed daydreaming at work.
2. We both worked in a Patent Office at some point
3. * We both came to believe that time is relative.

Our external experience of time seems to be influenced by our individual perspective and by our internal experience. Try waiting for a bus in the rain, or for a phone call about a loved one in hospital.

For writers, who – to really stretch the scientific metaphor – are usually the centre of their own universe, we could multiple this effect by ten.

Now, the general rule of thumb for submissions to literary agents and publishers is that a 12-week turnaround is standard. That’s with a strong prevailing wind, the reply email not falling into the black hole that is the spam folder and / or the posted reply actually making it to your letterbox.

But is that realistic in this day and age?

My own experiences tend to suggest that either:
a) I’m peculiarly unlucky where time is concerned – unlikely, but darkly amusing all the same
b) The sheer volume of people who want to be writers and the incredible competitiveness of the industry right now make a 3 month response time at best aspirational.

Readers of previous postings will recall that I waited over a year for a proof edit of one of my novels, only for the publisher to then go out of business. I’ve also emailed publishers and agents alike, only to wait up to 9 months to get a reply, which often runs to ‘Yes – please submit something’ or ‘No’.

Writers write in a vacuum and it’s easy to assume conspiracies or incompetence when the plain truth is that people are busy and / or things go missing.

Recently, after waiting 8 months for a response from one person, having sent in an email, a query letter, sample material and – that most cardinal of sins - having left a telephone message, I got to the point of no return. I sent them a registered letter and politely asked for my material back. There swiftly followed an email from an assistant, assuring me my submission was posted back to me at the end of July. I have not only never received anything, but I actually left the phone message in August (indicating that I haven’t had any response). As fellow blogger Monika (at Mother Road) might say: go figure.

At the other end of the scale, I know of a literary agent who generally answers emails within two days, personally. My beef isn’t with the time it takes, it’s about managing people’s expectations. When I worked in Corporate-ville, the email rule of thumb went along the lines of:
1. All emails will be responded to within 48 hours, even if that response only consists of a more realistic timescale for a meaningful response.
2. If you genuinely hadn’t answered an email for five months, someone would bounce you around the foyer with the flat end of a keyboard.

It never did us any harm, I assure you.

* Obviously, I’m no scientist so I may have misunderstood his premise entirely, but hey, this is a blog and generally blogs are pretty flaky.

2 comments:

  1. An agent who can't deal with queries within a reasonable time frame isn't worth having.

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  2. Brian, I couldn't agree more. But at this point it's feels a little like me standing on the pavement, with my nose pressed to the restaurant window and criticising the waiter service!

    I would love an attentive and enthusiastic agent, preferably the successful kind too. I'm still working on the 'agent' bit through!

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