Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.
Let’s look at circumstances outside our control, and ways to cope professionally. During many stages of the publishing process, we are at the mercy of someone else’s perception of time passage. Patience is a must; however, at some point a nudge asking “Did it get lost?” is appropriate. Where is that point?
For simplicity I will go with the generality that our author is female (because most of our submitters are) and the editor is also female (since at TWRP at this time, we all are).
Author sends her query to the publisher; she has followed all submission guidelines and expectations. Normal here at TWRP: author will immediately receive an automated response that her submission email was received and she will be contacted by the appropriate line shortly. If a week has gone past and you have zero response to your query—by all means, re-send your query. You’re going to get tired of hearing this, but emails can get lost in cyberspace. Our entire company is online, and our staff communicates mainly by email. We are not in a central location all in one building together. We’re scattered across the U.S. and Canada. For five years this has worked very well for TWRP, but occasionally emails disappear and must be tracked down.
Our editor in chief looks over every query and forwards them to the appropriate line’s senior editor. The senior editor alerts her staff of editors a new query is available, and we all glance over the blurb and synopsis. One of us responds with interest in the project, and is given the go-ahead to contact the author. We are required to respond to queries within 30 days of their arrival at the company. Sometimes this takes mere hours, other times a few weeks could pass before the query is in the correct hands. We like to choose projects that interest us, which is in the author’s best interest as well. Who wants her story evaluated by an editor who dislikes that particular setting or type of character, who finds the plot clichéd or boring? Or an editor who has too many other manuscripts on her desk to evaluate and so does not give proper attention to the new one? We try to be careful not to dismiss any query—to that author, her story is the most important one on our desk.
If the editor contacts the author to request the partial manuscript, or the whole manuscript in the case of shorter works, the author gives her manuscript to the editor, likely a person she has never met. Again, this is a file sent by email. Files can become lost. If you don’t hear back from the editor within a few days that this manuscript was received, send a quick note asking if it was received. I look at multiple emails a day from many authors, other editors, other departments—I don’t always remember to hit “reply” after going out to Word to verify the new file opens and going to the company database to log receipt of the file. I am human—I get distracted.
Now the waiting begins. The editor is reading the author’s baby. Or is she? 30 days go by…60 days…90 days. The date the editor said she would respond (she did give you a date, didn’t she?) is past and no word? The author needs to send an inquiry about the status of the project. In the light of “no news is good news,” the manuscript may be still in the evaluation process. When I receive a partial manuscript, I put it in line behind other projects that came in ahead of it. They’re all date-stamped and evaluated in order. Many times this means I edit a contracted work for two weeks then spend a Sunday reading four new manuscripts in a row. I don’t like having a to-be-read pile hanging over my head longer than 30 days but I often do. When those partials turn into full manuscripts of 80-100K, they loom in a much more scary format. How long does it take you to read a 400-page book? How about six books that size?
We editors have a helper system here at TWRP. Editors need to be the decision-maker on a manuscript, so we do read them ourselves, but our opinion does not need to stand alone. We have an in-house focus group of volunteer readers who help us scour manuscripts. They give us an honest opinion of strengths and weaknesses in a manuscript, which helps us decide if revisions need to be made, whether before or after offering a contract—or whether to reject. BUT this reading group is contacted by email, files sent back and forth to them, time for them to read—more waiting. Author is waiting for the editor, who is waiting for her readers. An organized editor will remember to alert her author that a delay can be expected if the deadline she set is approaching. But even that email can go astray.
After contract, the author has more waiting. Edits. Second edits. Possibly third edits. Committee decision on the best version of the blurb to sell the book with. Cover art. Copy edits. Galleys. All of these stages involve emailing a new version of a file back and forth. How much time does the editor or author allow to pass when the file is out of her hands before she should become worried it is lost?
I am beginning to learn that 10 business days is when questions of “where is the file?” become relevant. Five weeks is the outside time limit of any waiting I have done as an editor, with the exception of waiting to hear when a finished book is scheduled for release, and then waiting for that glorious release date to arrive.
If too much time has passed, you can always send a note to your editor asking for an update. Be polite and non-pushy, but you have a right to know where your story file is in the process, and whether it has become lost. It’s been known to happen.
Kelly Schaub has been an editor on the Faery Rose line since September 2007. She has ushered 25 published titles through the garden gates of TWRP and hopes for the privilege of many more.