Monday, May 10, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait . . . or Not

One of the largest complaints amongst writers is the waiting game. We submit and wait. We resubmit and wait. We drive ourselves nuts second guessing why we are waiting. If we happen to have a rough idea how long to wait, we mark the date with a big red circle, poised to call or email the editor/judge/agent and ask, "Hey, what's the verdict? You said you'd have a decision by now."

FundsforWriters runs an annual essay contest. It's hard work on this end, but it's satisfying. But a year never passes that someone doesn't email me asking when I'll announce the winners. Never mind the date is on the website on the contest page.

Put yourself in an editor's/agent's/judge's shoes. You are reading fast and furious, trying to get through the stack/slush pile of manuscripts on your desk. When it's contest time around here, my recliner is surrounded by stacks of entries - the ones with finalist potential, the ones without, and the ones I need to read again to be sure. Then once the top dozen in each category is chosen, they are read several times more by several eyes, to make sure the cream rises to the top.

But on the other end, someone thinks we're dragging our feet.

Rather than hurry and wait, which has to result in stress, crankiness and depression, why not be proactive and propel your career forward? Instead of watching your mailbox, study markets, contests, publishers and agents guidelines and submit more . . . and more . . . and more. Make a goal to keep a dozen submissions outstanding - maybe even two dozen.

Sounds overwhelming? It's actually easier than waiting and wringing your hands. Constantly strive to write something new, edit something another time, submit a piece when its done. A focus on putting out work keeps you from watching your inbox. Suddenly, you receive a contract, winner notification, or acceptance, and you didn't see it coming. Talk about fun!

Hello, Jane Doe. We received your submission and are happy to inform you that you've won second place.
Hello, John Smith. We enjoyed your query about bumblebees and would like to discuss terms with you.
Hello, Martha Jones. Your mystery intrigued me. When can we talk?

You go back to your list of submissions, searching for when you made that particular query. Your hand smacks your forehead. Wow. You forgot about that one. How cool!

Sure beats sitting around twiddling thumbs, tapping toes and snapping at friends and relations, doesn't it?


Mridu Khullar said...

Waiting is completely counterproductive, so it's always best to just get on with work and keep yourself busy with other things. That said, some publishers take months and years to respond, so at least in my business, I always make sure to have a cut off date. If the publisher hasn't responded within five days to a timely idea (I work with news magazines and newspapers, sometimes on breaking news stories) or within two weeks to a feature idea, I send it elsewhere.

Anthony J. Langford said...

I agree. I stopped waiting too. Between January and April this year, I sent off 88 Agent Query's. I've heard back from a third. Most of those I never expect to hear back from. I think that's pretty rude.
You put your heart and work out there and they can't even given you a form email?

Now I send them and forget them.

Skyraven said...

Hi Hope. I agree with Mridu. Waiting is hard for me. You'd think with a full-time job, a part-time job and a son, I wouldn't have time to hurry up and wait. lol But, I have a blackberry connected to all of my inboxes so there you go. I've learned to keep myself busy. I look through notes on my blackberry (where I write in a pinch) and see what I need to catch up with. Sometimes, I just keep on writing or get an idea for something new. That's the beauty of writing; you really don't have time to sit and wait because you always have something to write. Even if it's to say "I don't know what to write." Great post! Take care, Hope.


Mary Potter Kenyon said...

I must be a little obsessive-compulsive because I find myself checking my e-mail too often throughout the day. Will I hear from my agent today? Will I find out who won the essay contest I entered? Will I hear from the magazine I submitted to? Then I do the same thing as I keep checking to see if the mailman has arrived. Will there be a check today? A contract? The only thing that helps is keeping busy writing and submitting more and trying, desperately, to put everything that is already "out there" out of my mind. I have to, or I could go crazy! I have heard back on a submission as much as 14 months after I sent it! Who can sit and wait for 14 months? Thanks for this posting. It helped me look at it from the editor's perspective.

Louise said...

So here's a companion issue - what's the protocol on simultaneous submissions then? I'm talking about for magazine queries here. Since most queries sit forever before they respond to you, *if* they respond to you, am I justified to send the same idea to several different magazines? Of course I might tweak the query slightly to tailor it to the different markets, but essentially it would be the same idea. I have never heard a definitive answer on what the protocol is for this.

Hope Clark said...

Louise- You have too many stories in you to simultaneously submit to magazines. It's okay to publishers and agents, but not to mags and online publications. A lot of writers think that they have to place THAT story, and how dare a magazine not reply when it could be sold somewhere else. Submit, pick a follow-up time frame, then repitch it to another publication. Keep a spreadsheet or table to use to follow-up - note your calendar when it's time to pitch it elsewhere. But with all the stories out there, you can afford to let one sit idle for 8 weeks while you are working on other pieces. I've been burnt writing on one topic - two entirely different stories, but the topic matter was the same - grants. Both pieces were accepted and published within 30 days of each other. Needless to say, the editors were NOT happy that I hadn't told them. And face it. If you are tweaking the same topic for two publications, chances are the publications have cross-over readerships. You don't want to get labeled unprofessional. Query your piece and take it out of circulation. If they don't respond in 8 weeks, move on.