Thursday, November 19, 2015

More on the glacial pace of publishing


In your blog post  on 10/19/2015 (Conference Meetings with an agent who has a ms on submission), you said it can take 6 months or more to answer a full.  Your blog shows a six week backlog of queries. So seven and a half, perhaps eight months before an answer?
My goal is to have a non-fiction book published by the time of the 2017 BEA in anticipation of the Feb 2018 Winter Olympics. (It includes the biggest story of the 2002 Winter Olympics). Right now I have the full book proposal with two thousand words towards sample chapters.
1. Do I query widely? [I know the answer to this one!]
2. Query now and write like hell towards the full ms?
3. Concentrate on querying junior agents who may provide quicker turn-around?
4. Kiss off my goal?


1. yes
2. yes
3. NO
4. NO

I'm selling books for the Fall 2017 season right now, so you should be querying RIGHT NOW.
The good news is turn around time on proposals is significantly less than it is for novels. 

The bad news: writing a good proposal takes a good long time.

Make SURE you've read Susan Rabiner's book Thinking Like Your Editor. It's the best book out there on non-fiction.  

The other thing to remember is that you might think that the 2018 Winter Olympics is the best time to have this book on shelves, but people buy books about the Olympics regardless of whether it's an Olympic year or not.

Off the top of my head: The Boys in The Boat  was pubbed in 2013. Sacred Games by my client Gary Corby was pubbed in 2013 as well. The Amateurs by David Halberstam was pubbed in 1985. 

So worry more about writing a GREAT proposal and worry less about timing.  



Unknown said...

Susan Rabiner's book Thinking Like Your Editor is in fact a brilliant book; whether you write for fiction or non.

Colin Smith said...

Picking up on yesterday's morbid theme, what if a client informs you that they have been diagnosed with a terminal condition, and, given the current speed of the industry, it's unlikely their current project will be published in their lifetime? I'm sure your first reaction (after sadness and concern for your client) would be that he make the most of his remaining time, and not be overly concerned with his novel. But if his novel is so dear to him that he wants to continue to work on it, how would you, Janet, as an agent, deal with this? Clearly, the glacial pace of publishing mitigates against an accelerated publication timeline. But are there ways to push things along under the circumstances?

I know you addressed the client who suddenly went silent on you yesterday. The difference in this scenario is the client has actually been told his time is short. And, yes, I know there are many who live for years beyond what they were told, but let's assume the client has a condition where it's very likely the doctors are correct.

I can take my answer in the comments, or a future blog article. :) Oh, and no, this isn't personal. As far as I know, I'm fine. :D

Mary said...

Yes! And what I am learning is that even when you get an agent, their work with publishers can take twice as long as the query process. I'm not getting younger, but I just focus on the next book and leave it up to the universe. Patience is not a virtue of mine but I am learning it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

The writing process takes a good spell too. I have been querying for all of four months and I am already exhausted.

To Colin's question, I am not sure your pending death would do more than garner an agent's sympathies. Janet does say publishing is a business. Dead author means no further work. I could be wrong on that account, but I have read somewhere that it takes three books on average for a writer to really take off. One book authors are probably akin to one hit wonders in music.

This makes the glacial pace all the harder to endure. Especially for those of us who undergo the rigors of traditional publishing. Querying reputable agents (at least a year on average), agent revisions, putting together book proposal, agent submits to publishers, publisher edits, galleys, in line for a likely publishing date, on and on and on. And I am just doing a WAG on what comes after ensnaring an agent.

Craig F said...

The rules say that the writing biz is glacial. All rules do, however, have exceptions. It is all about the writing. If you query a sure best seller agents will set aside more questionable things and push your product.

Again, it is all about the writing.

Susan Bonifant said...

Of all the good points in Janet's response, this one would have been the one to turn my writer's frown upside down:

"The other thing to remember is that you might think that the 2018 Winter Olympics is the best time to have this book on shelves, but people buy books about the Olympics regardless of whether it's an Olympic year or not"

I know some people write very fast, but the idea of "hurrying" a book, gives me a sympathy tummy ache for any writer.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

What MB Owen said.

When I was working on a memoir/nonfiction-something, amazing journalist, historian and writer Ellen Fitzpatrick swore by Rabiner's book. She told me to not proceed without it, because to her, at your stage of the WIP, "'s all about the proposal."
That book is beyond helpful.

Karen McCoy said...

Yet more proof how we're all in the trenches, held together by the occasional encouraging blog thread.

Another great book to read at this stage is
Do the Work
by Steven Pressfield. Not specific to writing, but helpful all the same.

LynnRodz said...

OP, Janet's last sentence says it all.

That said, here in SPI, Slush Pile Inferno, Colin and I seem to have more time to dwell on the morbid. Colin mentioned a terminal illness, but I've wondered what would happen if a writer knew they were going blind or they're in the first stages of Alzheimer's. When do they mention this?

A writer going blind could still continue to write, of course. (A possibility would be to record their story and have someone else type it.) But what about Alzheimer's? At the most, their future work is limited. Would an agent pass on a manuscript they love because they know that writer's career is not for the long haul?

No, I'm not going blind, nor do I have Alzheimer's. Not to my knowledge in any case.

Donnaeve said...

Let's face it. Most questions asked eventually circle back to one answer, The Writing.

Off Topic! LynnRodz's comment about a writer going blind reminded me of the memoir I read about a year ago, titled SLACKJAW by Jim Knipfel. He wrote in a self-deprecating way, and I found it entertaining, but OMG, to go through that! I can't remember the eye disease, but I think he started losing peripheral vision and eventually his ability would be reduced from that.

Anyway. Yeah. Off topic.

Janice Grinyer said...

Okay fine. I pop in here because I not only have a deadline with the USFS with the day Timber Cruising job (and its snowing every other day in the woods) but now I see that I'm not giving my non-fiction the time it deserves, spending more time enjoying the fiction work I am almost completed with.

And I just butchered an Elk in my *spotless* kitchen my Husband shot this past weekend and will be filling a deer tag this week to butcher again this weekend before Thanksgiving. Not normal behavior for everyone, but meh, "Montana". And I know how to get out LARGE bloodstains which reads well in an Outdoor mystery setting...

GAH! Someone feed the horses; I have non-fiction writing to do! And reading Susan Rabiner's book!

I want cheese to go with my whine.

So enough with over my 100 word comment usage...just call this 3 comments and Im done.

Janet, does this mean that I need to query asap with a well written query letter BEFORE I finish a non-fiction Montana wildfire story?

Janet Reid said...


Also, I have bloodstains from writers in my office.
I wonder if you can come look and help me get them out.
They seem to appear magically when I reply to queries.

that and an odd howling that sounds like wailing.

nightsmusic said...

(It includes the biggest story of the 2002 Winter Olympics).

First, I believe the period goes inside the parenthesis, but I could be wrong. Nitpick, I know, but if so, an editor would mention that.

Second, there were so many scandals with the 2002 Winter Olympics from the bid bribery to even get them to Salt Lake to the pairs skating (ask me sometime about subjective, DD2 was an individual skater for years!) to the doping and blood transfusion scandal...I think some deliberate mention of which scandal you're including would be the right thing. Especially since you made the effort to mention it as a draw for your book.

Third, I don't know a lot about non-fiction query timelines or protocols, but Janet's line of worrying about the great proposal is exactly the same as those of us worrying about a great query for a fiction story/novel/what-do-I-really-call-it. Your timeline won't mean anything if your proposal doesn't produce the desired results. To attract an agent.

Janice Grinyer said...

I will answer my own question above, because Janet already answered in her post. (Yes, I know what I said about 3 comments. So shoot me. It's been a trend around here.)

Just downloaded "Thinking Like your Editor" from B & N.

Once I finish reading this, I will be busy working on a healthy proposal to submit before I "flesh out" ("there ya go, JOHN FRAIN") the non-fiction.

And the key to getting this non-fiction published is making the proposal perfect. Which takes time.

Got it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My blood runs a lovely shade of black and it doesn't come out. Apparently, this has started a decorating trend in agent offices throughout the industry. So agents be gentle in your replies to my queries lest you succumb to a trend and preternatural shriek which will haunt your nightmares for years to come. No pressure. :/

Janice Grinyer said...



Uh, does this mean I need to send borax and enzyme rug cleaner with my hopefully perfect query in a few months?

*quivers again, wishes this was easier than living through wildfire*

E.M. Goldsmith said...

While Janice is writing her non-Fiction tale about surviving that wildfire (wowza!), she will find herself becoming a model for one of my fictional heroines in my fantasy series. Butchering elk in her kitchen, fleeing wildfires, a horse ranch. Awesome sauce!

Mark Ellis said...

Currently reading a delightful little book by Clive James, "Latest Readings." He was terminally diagnosed 2010, set about reading, with a focus on re-reading the classics, and then started writing about what are his last readings. I'm sure the manuscript was rushed to publication; then again, he's famous.

Colin Smith said...

Mark's comment goes along with something else I thought of (yes, word count, number of comments--but this is me being ON TOPIC (sort of), people! Let's milk the moment!!)--are there not certain types of books that do get rushed to publication due to their time-sensitive nature. E.g., books by terminally ill famous people, or books that are tied to events (e.g., memoirs by presidential candidates), or books that analyze upcoming events that might not have traction after that event passes (e.g., all the Y2K books that were popular 16 years ago)?

Craig F said...

Hydrogen peroxide does wonders on blood stains.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This is a combo-comment regarding a little bit of yesterday and today. A two for one, a bogo, buy one get one...

This is a piece of advice given to me, by a very generous someone, at a time when the project at hand seemed undoable because of timing. The limit of time as presented to us may be different, you Olympics/me age, but the advice applies to both.

"If writing the book brings you joy, do it." Her advice.

If it's good, really good, the rest will fall into place. My advice.

Nike !

Pam Powell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BJ Muntain said...

I have a non-fiction book I'm working on, and a not-so-arbitrary deadline - the centennial of the end of the event occured in the summer of 2016 (the story itself started months earlier, and there is absolutely no way I'd get it or even a proposal written that early). Unfortunately, I didn't know I'd be writing this until less than a year ago, and just realized last summer that the 100-years mark was coming up.

I don't expect any publishers will step in and say "We gotta get that book out in time!" I don't think it would have the international or even national appeal of a book about the Olympics, or a book written by a celebrity, or even something about a well-known event, so if I can get it done in time, I might self-publish it. If not, then I'll ignore the centennial and go the publishing route - probably a local publisher, as it's a local historical trial.

I put Thinking Like Your Editor on my Christmas wish list. Just in case.

Theresa said...

Another enthusiastic recommendation for Rabiner's book. I kept it right by my side while writing my first book proposal.

Pam Powell said...

Janet! Thank you so much for your answer to my questions!

I just ordered Rabiner’s book and plan to read the book between bites of turkey and cranberries over Thanksgiving. Then, I’ll worry more about writing a GREAT proposal and worry less about timing.

Here’s what I love about your blog: pragmatic, helpful, eye-opening advice – totally BS-free. Hurrah!

For those looking for getting out spots – Folex is a cheap, odor-free carpet spot remover. Also works on spots going into the laundry.

But for the really tough spots you want to get out of, see Ms. Reid! Again, thanks Janet!

John Frain said...

Janice, I'm champing at the bit to salute you! (I'm just not sure which direction to face.)

BJ, this is just a thought, feel free to ignore. I wonder if you could pull a few snippets (chapters, scenes, sections, whatever) from your story and send them to your local paper for a three-part series leading up to the centennial of the trial. Then, assuming the entire story is ready, you could plug the book at the end of each article. Maybe it runs on successive Sundays.

Newspapers are thinly staffed these days, maybe there's a shot.

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, John. I hadn't thought of the newspapers. I'll look at that as things come together.

nightsmusic said...

Totally off topic here but, we're cat sitting this weekend too! Two cats though. And a bun. My daughter and her SO are flying to Vegas tomorrow and the SO came to the house last week to ask my husband if he can marry our daughter. How quaint is that? They've only been living together almost three years. Anyway, he's proposing in Vegas and we get the cats.

Sorry, didn't mean to hijack anything, but your picture of Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl shows a very pretty cat!

S.A. Turnbull said...

OT - I was a volunteer in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics, so I gotta know: What *was* the biggest story of the 2002 Winter Olympics?

John Frain said...

Best story of the SLC '02 Olympics was the volunteers, S.A. Don't believe any other answer.

Anonymous said...


Envious of the fresh elk steak. My dad was an avid elk hunter. I used to love listening to the bulls bugling when we were up at the mine. When Dad had his stroke he'd just received his cow permit and I sat by his bed for weeks as he hovered between life and death and reminded him he needed to get well so he could get his cow. He never went hunting again, but eventually stepped away from the abyss and lived many more years.

Re the original question. I sort of feel this crunch about writing also, but I don't have any deadline to meet other than a self-imposed one. Jack Whyte gave me some advice on researching and writing COWGIRLS I have been putting into motion. I'm not sure I can do it all like he suggested, but I have some things in focus now.

The biggest thing that concerns me about writing to a deadline as the original questioner was, is that the quality might suffer. I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately for research and boy howdy are some of them bad. I'm having to cross reference everything at least twice. Take your time and get it right and interesting.

BJ Muntain said...

Hey congrats nightsmusic! That must be so exciting!

nightsmusic said...

Thanks, BJ, but I almost think it's just more relief at this point because as long as it's been, I was afraid she'd tell him to take a hike and try to move home. ;)

Leigh Caron said...

The tigress leaned forward propping her ample bosom on the oak bar, heaving with anticipation. “Just a whisker of gin in a slow fizz,” she purred. “And four cherries. I’m hungry.” The bottle-blonde winked at Alan then turned to the roomful of college jocks deciding which tenderoni she’d stalk tonight.

That broad is too old for them, Alan mused, fingering a vein. But in the nadir of his not so white tidy-whities he wished that tonight he’d be lucky enough to be her prey. But then, track marks would no doubt be a deal breaker.

BJ Muntain said...

Em-Musing: You need to post that in the comment thread here:

Her Grace Duchess of Yowl Flash Fiction writing contest

Good luck!

Anonymous said...


Congratulations! I'm sure daughter will be dancing on clouds when she gets home.


nightsmusic said...

Thanks all! She called at 12:30 this morning and of course, my phone was off for the night, to tell us he'd asked. He had all sorts of big plans but that ring was just burning a hole in his pocket, I guess ;)

Janice Grinyer said...

Oh Congrats EM! You have a new wonderful family member to love!

Julie - Your story of your dad stirs up my own memories - hugs to you! And yes, young cow elk is the best - so far this week we have had Elk medallions, Elk steak, and Elk lasagna...This week we will switch to turkey for thanksgiving ;).