Writers Learn the Waiting Game

by Steve Laube

Ours is a process industry. Good publishing takes time. Unfortunately time is another word for “waiting.” No one really likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Awhile ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved. Below are some of the things for which a writer must learn to wait.

Waiting for the Agent

We try our best to reply to submissions within 6-8 weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few short proposals.

If you are already represented all I can say is that agents do their best to be responsive to your questions and phone calls. Crisis Management is part of our job description. But one of the first things a First Responder must do is triage. Some issues are more critical than others which can create consternation if yours is next in line instead of first.

Waiting for a Publisher

After working hard to get your proposal just right we send it out to a select list of publishers. Then we sit back and wait. It can take 3-6 months to hear an answer from a publisher. The longest our agency waited was 22 months before we received a contract offer. No kidding. Just shy of two years. [Both I and my client had already moved on, thinking the project was dead.] But that is truly the exception. I believe that if we don’t receive some sort of answer within four months it is probably not going to connect.

Waiting for Your Contract

Once terms are agreed it can take quite a while to get the actual contract issued by some publishers. Many can take as long as two months to generate the paperwork. We once had to change the date of the contract because it had taken so long to create the paperwork that the due date for the manuscript was earlier than the actual date on the contract! This delay can be excruciating. Ask your agent what is typical for the specific publisher you are working with. Some are quick some are slooooow.

Waiting for Your Editor

You met your deadline. And then you wait.


And you begin wondering if anyone is reading the manuscript at all!

This is actually quite typical. The publisher needs to have the manuscript in hand to know that it actually has been written. But don’t think the editor is sitting at their inbox, on the due date, with rapt anticipation of receiving your contracted manuscript. They manage their time in order to keep things in the queue and moving along. It can very frustrating to wait. The key here is to be in communication with your editor. It is okay to ask! Or talk to your agent to see if they know if there is anything going on that is preventing that editor from working on your book.

Waiting for Your Marketing and Publicity to Kick In

The new author is so excited about their new book that they want to start chatting about it the day after they turn in the manuscript. A great athlete or sports team wants to peak at the right time, never too early. The same with book promotion. If you begin tweeting and Facebooking (is that a verb now?) without inventory to back it up, the window of sales opportunity closes.

“But e-books solves that issue because they can be ready today!” you shout. Remember that a lot of people still buy books in stores, online, and off your back table at an event. The physical book is still alive and well and must be available if your publicity and marketing is to be effective.

Recently we had a client contacted by “People” magazine for an interview. Unfortunately their book won’t be out for another year. The story is timeless and we asked if they would be willing to wait for the interview and run it as part of a larger campaign. The risk is that they won’t do the story, but it would have been worse to tell the story and not have a book to back up the feature.

Waiting for Your Money

When I became an agent I didn’t know I’d become a Collections Agent…not just a Literary Agent. Getting paid can take time (i.e. waiting).

Waiting for the “on signing” advance — Normally the publisher can take a full 30 days before issuing the check.

Waiting for the “on acceptance of manuscript” advance — This can vary widely. Just because you turned it in doesn’t mean it is acceptable. One publisher we work with will not issue a “acceptance” check until the book has gone through every stage of the editorial process and has been sent to production for typesetting. This can take months.

Waiting for the advance to earn out and new royalty earnings to arrive — Yes, some books do not earn out their advances. (Read the post about “The Myth of the Unearned Advance.”) But many do earn out and the money eventually starts coming, even if in tiny pieces. This can take a couple years.


At each stage the writer chaffs at the process. This is quite understandable. Recently I read an author’s angry screed (on their blog) criticizing their publisher for the excruciating process of getting their book out. The problem, as I see it, is that the author’s expectations were not in line with reality. Much of a writer’s angst can be avoided by understanding the process and modifying their expectations to match.

Therefore my encouragement for you is to learn the waiting game. Some scientists even claim that it might be good for you (click here for the article). Truly it is to your benefit to accept the nature of this process and embrace the agony of waiting. Anticipating the result can be as fulfilling as holding the finished product.


37 Responses to Writers Learn the Waiting Game

  1. Beth November 28, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    Informative blog, thanks for the thorough explanation.

  2. Marielena November 28, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    Waiting is indeed the life of a writer, and I wrote about this some time ago in our Birth of a Novel blog. http://bit.ly/s0A8lg

    “Waiting,” however, can also be seen as a spiritual practice. As people of God, and as writers, we are always in some process of waiting because I believe this is a part of our being and who we are.

    “People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something else.”

    -Henri Nouwen

  3. Anita Mae Draper November 28, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    This reminds me of my 20 yrs in the service. On the first day of boot camp – before we were issued our weapons or even our uniforms, we learned the unofficial motto of ‘Hurry up and wait’. It was a career-long lesson.

    Being a soldier is hard for independent thinkers. You don’t see what the upper level sees. You don’t understand why they make certain decisions. You don’t want to wait when you can be forging ahead for the advantage.

    To the uncomprehending civilians who asked how I survived military life, I always answered the same… I played their game. I’m not trivilizing the important job of a soldier, here. What I’m saying is that in my mind, boot camp and what came after was similar to a game. You played by the rules, you accomplished assigned tasks, and you bided your time until they called you forward. Simple logistics.

    Writing is the same. Almost. No one shoots at you for doing an inferior job.

    Anita Mae.

    • Timothy Fish November 28, 2011 at 7:05 am #

      Perhaps not, but it might make an interesting plot.

    • Jane Mohline December 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Thank you, Anita. You draw a clear picture of an author’s life. And BTW, thank you for those “20 years of service” to me and this great Nation. There is much to be gained in playing by the rules, creating our words as clear as possible, and looking to Adonai Elohim for open or closed doors.
      L. Jane Mohline

  4. Timothy Fish November 28, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    The hard thing about waiting and what the article seems to point out is the silence. People are willing to wait for greater rewards, but they have to have enough hints to tell them that their waiting is not in vain. An author spends months working on a book because they think it will pay off in some kind of reward. They send it off to an agent with the expectation of a reward. But when there is little or no feedback, the promise of that reward fades and the waiting becomes difficult

    • misty provencher November 28, 2011 at 8:23 am #

      Couldn’t agree more, Timothy. I don’t think it’s a case of just wanting to hurry everyone along. I think it’s that you just want to know where you stand and that you haven’t been forgotten. I waited seven months just to hear if an agent was going to OFFER me representation. Waiting is NOT the problem. Having no communication or being told you’ll hear when you won’t…that’s what takes its toll.

  5. Rick Barry November 28, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    We live in a day when people can stand beside the microwave oven thinking, “Come on; hurry up! Cook faster!” We’re trained to expect instant gratification. I rejoice that I live in an era when I don’t need to write with a quill and a bottle of ink. That would definitely try my patience.

    If an author craves quick sales followed by relatively quick checks, I would point that individual toward periodical writing, where you can sell an 1800-word story for $300-$475 and more. I’ve been blessed with many such sales, but the lure of novel-writing still beckons.

    • TC Avey November 28, 2011 at 7:50 am #

      I am fairly new to all of this and so far my patience hasn’t been stretched. Maybe it’s because I have read so many wonderful blogs telling me how long it takes, regardless I am thankful to be on course and going along nicely. However, I am interested in your suggestion of periodical writing, it would be nice to potentially earn some money while I am working on getting an agent for my novel. Could you give me some advice on how to go about doing this? Who do I contact and how does it work?
      Thank you.

      • Rick Barry November 28, 2011 at 8:07 am #

        TC, short stories and articles require a different approach to writing than you’ll use for authoring novels. I call short stories the SWAT teams of literature: you jump in, you do your job quickly, and then extract again without excessive time devoted to reflection or admiring the scenery. How to begin? That depends somewhat on the genres you like to write. However, if you’ve never written and submitted short pieces, let me recommend that you study articles devoted to those subjects. Learn the meaning of “first rights,” too. If you already subscribe to some magazines, consider whether you have ideas that could be sculpted to please their clientele. Never write a short story and then wonder, “Hmm. Who might buy this?” Handcraft submissions for a specific publisher’s needs, and study the periodical’s writers guidelines diligently to avoid wasting time (both yours and theirs). Best wishes to you!

    • TC Avey November 30, 2011 at 4:19 am #

      Thank you for the information! I will look into it more. Hope you have a wonderful day.

  6. Lindsay Harrel November 28, 2011 at 8:02 am #

    Great post. It helps me keep my expectations realistic as I move forward in this journey.

  7. Sundi Jo November 28, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. It helps me in my waiting game. Really appreciate you taking the time to invest in sharing your knowledge with others.

  8. Theresa Meyers November 28, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    Great post. Reminds me of speaking to an elementary school group of sixth graders as a “writer”. I asked them three simple questions: “How many of you would like about half of your job to be surfing the internet for research and being on social media?” All the hands went up. “Now, how many of you would like to work by yourself all day?” About half the hands came up. “Great. Now how many of you would be willing to work 20 years for your first paycheck?” One hand. I looked at the little girl in the front row and smiled at her. “Mikala, you might be a writer.”

    • Timothy Fish November 28, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      That reminds me of a quote from Mark Twain, he offered a proof that a man was suited for writing, namely, his is “to write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers pay within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for. If he has any wisdom at all, then, he will retire with dignity and assume his heaven-appointed vocation.”

    • Steve Laube November 28, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      Theresa, that is a GREAT anecdote!
      And Timothy, that quote of Twain is classic!

  9. Lyndie Blevins November 28, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    I would add more one more section : Waiting for the right words to come.

  10. Martha Rogers November 28, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Great reminder, Steve. One thing I’ve learned in the past few years is patience. Waiting for the contract, waiting for the advance, waiting for “final approval” have all taught me to be more patient. The biggest lesson in patience was waiting for that very first stand alone novel contract. Theresa wasn’t far off the mark in that willingness to wait 20 years for the first paycheck. It’s been worth the wait and then some to work with the people I’ve met in these past few years. Have an awesome agent, too. 🙂

  11. Janalyn Voigt November 28, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    It helps to know the process.

    I’m still trying to get my mind around the idea that waiting is good for me. Is that akin to eating vegetables? ;o)

  12. Jamie L. November 28, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I personally feel that self-publishing is the way to go. I have done the “waiting” game. And its not because I like everything “now!!” that I hate it so much, its more like this:

    I do all the work. I pour my days and nights into a book, then I have to polish said work-which means more days and nights, then I have to submit to ONE place and wait. Then I have to wait for a rejection to submit to another. And another. But I cannot send more than one at time over some silly “rule” that somebody, somewhere made up. This all can take a year or more.

    THEN what if I do get picked up? Then if its an agent we have to wait more to get a publisher. If its a publisher, then you can tell me whether I need to change my title, change my content, and you get a cut of the little money it would get sold for in the store. Everyone gets a cut of MY work…..the bookstore, the publisher, the agent, etc. Then I am left with very little, and considering I am the one who did all the work in the first place. How is that fair? Granted, the editor would be handy to fix any mistakes and make it sound better, but my husband and I are both writers (and both are very good at editing) we can do each other’s work for free. I know Photoshop so I make our bookcovers.

    I think this whole “publishing game” is coming to an end with the rise of self-publishers on Nook and Kindle, UNLESS they start scouring the self-published works out there and start picking those up, which would be smart. Granted, this also means there are a lot of crappy books out there…writers who publish even though they can’t write very well. But who knows, somebody may like those people’s books. I mean people read James Patterson’s awful “chick lit”-which are traditionally published btw, so anything is possible 🙂

    I don’t make much money self-publishing, but I do sell a good amount of books and that’s what matters. I write for other people to read, not to be rich. I think people are living a pipe dream if they think they will have the success of Stephen King (whose horror I hate-but love his fantasy) or Jodi Picoult (and one of her books stink-although the others are great). But if people are buying your books, no matter how much or little, you’re a professional writer and that’s amazing 🙂

    • Steve Laube November 28, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      Not sure who told you that you have to submit to one agent or one publisher at a time. Simultaneous submissions is part and parcel of the process. I always assume the author is reaching out to other agents at the same time.

      The exception is the magazine market. There, it is my understanding, that you should only query one magazine at a time for a specific article.

      Be sure to read tomorrow’s “News You Can Use” segment which will have a link to an article about Amazon and the myth that you have control even when you self-publish in e-book form.

  13. Dawn Kinzer November 28, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Thanks, Steve. This article is helpful. I’m in one of those “waiting” stages. Without any communication, it’s easy to fear that the proposal or manuscript is lost in cyberspace. It would be great if writers could get even a short acknowledgement that materials were received.But maybe even that would be time consuming for the agent/editor–time that could be used for more productive things.

  14. Hilarey November 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Is it true Steve, that this time of year the waiting is even longer?
    That nothing really moves through the month of December.

  15. Peter DeHaan November 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    The bonus is that as I wait, I will have plenty of time to work on my next project!

  16. C. S. Lakin November 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    LOL I have and continue to wait for many of those things, even right at this moment.

    I think we all have to take a sort of Zen approach to the whole process (chop wood, carry water thing) which is to enjoy the journey and remember life is a journey and not a (series of) destinations. Always reminding ourselves God is in control, he knows what he is doing in our lives, and he has a plan and expected end for us should put us in the right mindset to “let go and let God.” I really do think that is one of the most valuable lessons he tries to teach us in this life–to trust that he knows what he is doing with and in our lives and careers. That’s a real test of faith IMHO.

    I remind myself that after Moses and Paul were told their “destiny,” they had to wait many years before God used them fully and sent them out to impact their world. Sometimes God puts that calling in our hearts, but makes us waits years (for me decades) before jump-starting our writing career.
    Thanks for the posts!

  17. Peter Eleazar November 30, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    Steve, I respect all you have said here and have no doubt that publishers face tough challenges. However, imagine if someone had said to Paul, sorry, your letters are in the works.

    Time is running out. Publishing is not a simple business activity – neither to the church nor to its antithesis. Christian publishing must nail its colors, stand up and be counted for the struggle of the ages. It must be kingdom-minded and resonate with the heartbeat of the kingdom. Writers through the ages were always part of the clarion call that alerted a deaf world and summonsed the church to war.

    Trouble is all about us. People are facing increasingly desperate challenges of their own. We dare not assume to let process hold back the tides of glory, but we may yet hope to catch the waves and be a part of what God is doing. However, that demands a visionary, kingdom-centered heart.

    That I have never even had a manuscript submission so much as acknowledged, is by the way, because my own words will at best only make a marginal contribution to the greater cause of heaven, but lets not let such vital platforms fail the higher cause.

    If the voices of truth are drowned out by the clamor of the mobs, then truth will stumble in the streets. We are one kingdom, one people, serving one God and Father. There are no departments or compartments in that kingdom, nor should we presume to preside over what He is saying through His own. We can at best only be good stewards of that which He entrusts to us – the timeless power of the written word.

    I hope you can see beyond my words to the heart of my concern, because I really sense that you are of noble heart.


  18. Greg Beesch December 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    No, publishing is a product industry, the process for producing that product is inefficient and a tyranny. And by tyranny I mean it’s arbitrary and despotic, in the lower case ‘a’ and lower case ‘d’, sense of the words. The ‘agentized’ process model that has developed over the years and accelerated with the consolidation of publishing companies has highlighted those process inefficiencies.

    You say process, but you don’t mention outcomes. Statistics vary marginally by fiction vs. non-fiction and genre but 70% of all titles published never turn a profit (Publishers Weekly) so the process doesn’t work. Agents and editors FAIL implicitly at the very core of their purported expertise, that is, validating a writer’s skill and validating the commercial viability of the writer’s product.

    Why don’t literary agents/agencies publish the statistics of deal to published book profitability, or any other type of metric? Why, because everyone buys into the myth that agents are necessary to bring the product (the manuscript of a writer) to the consumer (book,e-book buyer), and agents don’t think they have to.

    The process is broken, . . . in biblical terms, there was an earthquake and the veil in the temple fell away. . .what new and amazing consequences no one is quite sure yet but the tyranny is coming to an end.

    • Peter Eleazar December 1, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

      Greg, I am not sure that money should be a Christian writer’s main priority, but in any case, especially as the sowing will reap longer term value through speaking circuits, further books, etc. I am sure the industry is less than perfect, so is the world we live in, but I am far more interested in partnering with an agent/publisher. That should allow me to become part of the solution without adding to the problems you describe. I try to keep a kingdom perspective on these things, which helps me see the bigger picture whilst informing my need to work with others, a core value of the kingdom of God. Practically speaking, publishers are increasingly reluctant to accept unsolicited work, so agents bring a vital role.

  19. Steve Laube December 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Wow Greg. Can only say that you obviously think my work is part of the problem. Sorry you feel that way. You are free to do-it-yourself. And there are many who have done that successfully. My role is not necessarily for everyone. But I will say that our office has solved more problems than it has caused over the years.

    If you look through some of our other posts you will find I am very open about publishing profitability metrics.
    Example one:

    Example two:

  20. Daniel J. Parker May 19, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

    Ahhhhhh …..I am writing for my heirs. Perhaps I will revise my estate plan and leave any royalties to St. Jude’s !


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