I recently saw a Tweet from a literary agent who quoted a query she’d just received. I’m paraphrasing, but the query indicated the author was giving traditional publishing a shot before she opted for self-publishing. Needless to say, the agent didn’t seem impressed with that attitude.
I don’t blame her. Supplicants shouldn’t telegraph disdain to prospective benefactors. Or, to put it another way, beggars can’t be choosers.
That said, I’m not unsympathetic to the author, though, either. The publishing business moves at the pace of a languid turtle, with long wait times — to hear from agents or editors — not unusual. It might make some cringe to know I waited over two years to hear back from an editor before deciding to self-publish a manuscript. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have waited that long, but this particular editor had helped me in the past, and there had been some personnel changes at her house that had slowed the process, so I worked on other projects while I waited.
Many agents and editors do let authors know up front how long they usually take to consider submissions. They will tell writers on their websites that “if you don’t hear from me by X weeks” either feel free to follow up or, in the case of mere queries, to assume it’s a rejection because they don’t have time to respond personally to all of those. That’s a nice change from years ago when you’d wait and wait and wait and know nothing.
But the key word is “wait.” You still usually have to wait a long time to hear on submissions. Unless you’ve written something so spectacularly unique that agents and editors devour it as soon as it crosses their cyber-threshold, you’re usually looking at waits of several months at the very least.
Now that I’m mumble-mumble years old, however, I won’t wait ridiculously long times anymore to hear back from editors or agents.
My goal is to share my stories with readers. While I’m still alive, if possible. 🙂
So nowadays, I do put a fuse on submissions, even if I’m the only one who knows it’s lit. Sometimes I will politely let an editor know that I’m considering self-publishing if they’re not interested and could they let me know by a certain time. I don’t set a hard and fast deadline. I might say “in a few months” or “in the spring,” and when I follow-up, I’ll gently remind them of this deadline, especially if I have the time to pursue the self-publishing tasks involved and am eager to get started.
In this way, I’m trying to be professional but frank. After all, if I knew someone else was about to make an offer on the manuscript, I’d let other editors considering the book know to give them a chance to read before I accepted that offer. In this case, I’m the one about to make the offer on my own work. I’ll move forward with self-publishing at some point and won’t wait indefinitely.
To me, the key is to marry courtesy with honesty, not to be arrogant or snarky or pompous, when communicating this approach.
Beggars can’t be choosers. But, with self-publishing options, authors are no longer always beggars.