This Blog was written before the Corona virus arrived in the U.S. In fact, I had several blogs already prepared when our world fell apart. I have considered whether to set these next few blogs aside and write solely about what we are all thinking and talking about, but I’ve decided that it might be a relief to think about, talk about something else.
My solution for enduring the wait for an editor’s or agent’s response is to go on working.
On a different manuscript, of course.
It’s the best way I know to survive.
It’s also the only way to be productive. Not to mention the fact that, if I don’t have the solid grip of work holding me into the world, I’m apt to step out of my morning bed into freefall. Moving on to another project gives my day substance.
I’m fortunate to do incredibly little waiting for responses from my agent. He is breathtakingly fast. Thinking of the many friends I’ve heard complain about agents who disappear for months at a time, I told him when I signed with him that I get pissy when I don’t get responses to emails.
His speed suggests he has taken my potential pissyness too much to heart.
But I’m not complaining, you understand.
Editors are another matter entirely.
We all know ours is never the only manuscript on an editor’s desk. And after many years of living through this process I’m beginning to get glimpses of the kinds of waiting games editors themselves must play.
Waiting for the next sales meeting where they can present the manuscripts they want to take on. Waiting for permission from their publisher to move forward. Waiting for a response from their design team. Waiting to see how this project will align with the rest of their list.
Weighing how much risk they dare take on if this manuscript doesn’t fit some clearly definable category. (Remember. We writers aren’t the only one impacted by a book that fails to fly.)
Still . . . can an editor’s waiting ever be quite as excruciating as ours? They may be overworked and underpaid, but at least they are salaried. With benefits! We work without health insurance or a pension plan or even any hope for recompense until a manuscript is sold.
(In response to the inevitable question I often got in schools, “How much money do you make?” I used to explain the royalty system. The reality, ten percent—or five for picture books—and less for paperbacks, book clubs, etc. used to shock even the adults in the room.
But I would also tell the kids that if their parents worked as I do, they would go to their jobs every day for weeks or months or even years before finally being able to ask their employer, “Would you like to pay me for what I’ve done?”
Knowing the answer might be no.)
All of which is a long lead-in to say that I’m doing a lot of waiting these days.
I can’t fault my editor. She read the picture book manuscript I’ve been working on intensively for the last six months within thirty minutes of my sending it and said, “Amazing!”
You can’t get better than that.
But then she said she would be back to me, probably within the week with a solid offer, after the book designers had had a chance at it.
The week stretched into a month.
To remind myself how much she loved my manuscript I went back from time to time to reread her email, landing on that word every time. “Amazing!” But I couldn’t keep a niggle out of my brain. “What if the book designers can’t find a form for this strange beast?”
It wasn’t a spurious question. My latest picture-book manuscript, believe it or not, is drawn from my own fascination and struggle with quantum physics. Not exactly your usual topic for the very young. Not exactly my usual topic either.
And beyond the strangeness of topic, there is the fact that picture books are such technical creatures.
Usually I write with those technicalities in mind, making sure that I am setting up thirteen or thirteen-and-a-half page turns with potential for active, changing illustrations. But this manuscript not only was long, I struggled so fiercely to comprehend and compress my material, so intensely to make it relevant to my young audience, so ardently to hone my language toward the lyrical that all the while I worked I barely gave either illustrations or page turns a thought. I began to wonder whether it could be divided into viable illustrations, however many pages it inhabited.
So I couldn’t help but worry, just a bit. It doesn’t matter how much an editor loves something. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
I did what I always do in these situations, I turned to new work. For contrast, I chose a project that will be straightforward and won’t take much time. (I’m also moving back into an abandoned young-adult novel, but that requires a lot more groundwork before I can begin to write again.)
I proposed an early-reader nonfiction series to a publisher I have worked with often, a series my previous research provides the background for. And good news! The editors are enthusiastic!
But they have to wait for their publisher’s approval.
Which leaves me writing this blog.
The waiting game will always be part of every writer’s experience. But if we keep on writing while we dangle, we can survive.