Everyone who enters the wonderful world of publishing soon learns that the journey from idea to book takes an awfully long time. You have to find an agent in the first place (with all the horrifying rejection that entails!), and work with that agent to find your book the right home. A book sold now can be set for publication several years down the line—two deals this agency has made in the last month aren’t set for publication until 2009. That means the book you sent a query letter out for yesterday may well find its way on to a bookshelf in two years, but it’s just as likely you’ll see it there three, four, or five years from now. Sure there are books that come out only weeks after a big story hits the news or a surprise bestseller sparks a new genre, but more often than not they were in the works long before you saw any sign of them on the table at your local bookstore. Either that or the publisher crashed them in order to capitalize on some outside publicity. That’s the exception, though, not the rule. One thing that can be said with certainty about the industry: publishing is slow.
It’s an important thing to consider as you think about what you’re writing and how to position your project to find an agent and editor. Is your hook based on a trend that will likely be obsolete (like poor chick lit, may she rest in peace) before your book can get in the hands of a reader? Are you aiming for a promotional opportunity, like an election cycle or marketing prospect, that’s simply not feasible given the timeline? In the days leading up to Y2K, I’m told that the agency was swamped with queries about the end of times and the destruction that was going to be wrought that coming New Year’s. Conveniently, that didn’t happen. But even if it did, there’s no way we were going to be able to help get the word out in two weeks.
We all rely to some degree or another on trend spotting and conventional wisdom, but ultimately we’re trying to predict an unpredictable future. We’re not looking for a book just like what’s on the bestseller lists right now; we’re looking for the book that’s going to be on the bestseller lists two or three years from now. We want the next big thing, not the last big thing. So unless you have a time machine, you’re going to be doing some guessing as to whether or not what you’re writing fits the bill. On the plus side, that gives you all the more incentive to write what you’re best suited to write. You can try rewriting The DaVinci Code as many times as you want, but that ship has sailed. If your book happens to be similar in some ways to a bestseller, it probably won’t hurt too much. But try not to pawn off your seven book series about a British boy in wizard school.
For writers and authors, though, switching on and off between working hard and waiting on others is a way of life. We don’t envy you—there’s more waiting on your end, since we come into the process part way through. And we certainly don’t enjoy the amount of waiting that even we have to do. Agents have their fingers crossed when they send out submissions just like authors do. All we want is a six figure offer the day after we send something out. Is that so much to ask? Well…yes, it is. So we get a little better at the waiting and try to talk authors through the neuroses-inducing time.
And this is yet another in a long list of reasons that we have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that you writers and authors do, and the craft and art to which you’re devoting your time. We all know that writing a book takes a monumental level of patience and dedication—it’s not just the writing but also the journey from the written work to the published book that’s a truly remarkable feat.