At the end of last week’s blog in this series, Querying, I said it was the second hardest step of the whole process. This week, we’re going to talk about the absolute worst of them all:
Once you’ve signed with an agent, there’s the expectation that it’s all easy from there. It’s not. Not by a long shot. This is the phase when your new agent who you hopefully just love starts pitching your books to their connections in the industry. I remember that first week so well, sitting there squirming, sure that at any moment, Caitlin was going to call and tell me that every big name publisher in the world was beating down her door to buy The Deathsniffer’s Assistant.
Well. Surprise! That didn’t happen. Nothing even close to that happened.
Instead, I waited.
Waiting is the worst. Unlike all the other steps of the process, there’s just nothing you can be doing on your end. It’s not a matter of trying harder, being more dedicated, or commiting to your work. It’s completely out of your hands.
And it absolutely sucks.
Here are some tips that I learned to keep yourself sane during the waiting game.
1. Lower your expectations.
There’s a great way to go through life, and it’s with big dreams, high hopes, and the understanding that reality probably won’t deliver. If you go into this process expecting to get the offer of a lifetime a week after you sign with your agency, you’re going to be crushed when you realize that probably the opposite of that is going to end up happening.
Try to go into this process expecting something reasonable. Like, for example, getting a contract from a passionately interested up and coming independent publisher with a unique business model six months after your agent starts pitching. We all have dreams of where we would like our books to go and how much we would like on our advance for them, but dreams are going to squash you flat if you measure your success or failure on whether you get them.
You probably won’t get an offer right away. You might not get an offer for a long time.
You probably won’t get an offer from a Big Five publisher. You might not get an offer from an established house at all.
This is all okay. There are a lot more happy ending stories in this business than there used to be that don’t involve Random House. A Big Five contract is no guarantee of success, and a small indie house is not a sign of failure.
2. Trust Your Agent.
Your agent has a lot of clients other than you, a finite number of hours in a day, and can’t work miracles. They are doing their best to get your book out there. This is their job, and they know what they’re doing. But if their job was easy, everyone would do it, and you’ll drive yourself insane worrying that they’re not working hard enough on your behalf.
If nothing else, trust your agent’s desire to get paid. If they don’t sell your career, they’re taking a loss on all the time they’ve spent working with you. Everyone wants to get paid!
But more than that, try to trust that your agent believes in your book. Your agent is a busy person. If they asked to read your full manuscript, they thought it had potential. If they got through the entire book, they thought it was good enough to not quit. If they called you up and offered to sign you, they think that your career was worth hitching their wagon to. All of this happened despite the fact that your agent probably got twenty other queries on the day you submitted. They chose you, they spent time on you, and they want to see your book succeed. Why would they be doing anything less than their best?
A motto I kept repeating to myself during this long process whenever I started to get stressed out was that “no news is no news.” Your agent wants to be able to keep you updated and they especially want to tell you good news. If you haven’t heard anything in months, it’s more than reasonable to assume that they haven’t, either. Editors have a lot of agents banging on their doors. Odds are that your agent hasn’t even been hearing “no.” She’s just been hearing nothing at all.
There were eleven months between my submission to Caitlin and the day I signed with Curiosity Quills, and there were some moments in there where I let myself wallow a bit. And in the end, Caitlin came through and I’m incredibly happy with my publishing family and all that anxiety energy was for nothing. Choose not to doubt! You trusted this person enough to sign a contract with them, so trust them enough to fulfill their end of it!
3. Keep Writing!
There is absolutely no point in your life where you’re out of the woods insofar as the Labryinth is concerned. Those dark corridors full of excuses both legitimate and made up are always going to be looming right behind you, even when you feel safe. Every consecutive day you don’t write is pulling you closer and closer back into its gravitational pull.
Fight the labyrinth! Write!
It doesn’t have to be a sequel to that book that’s out there trying to get itself sold. It wasn’t for me! I felt weird writing a second Deathsniffer book when the first one was still hanging in limbo. Instead, I wrote easy, simple, fun things. I did a lot of roleplay writing with my friends! I squeezed out a few short stories. I wrote the beginning to another novel idea to shelve for a rainy day, and I got a start on a fun smutty romance with zero interest in being quality. I did my planning and outlining for the second Deathsniffer book.
Just don’t let your muscles atrophy. The moment you sign, your work load is going to explode. You want to be well oiled and ready to go, not out of practice and rusting in a shed somewhere.
4. Take this opportunity to read a lot.
I’m realizing now that I haven’t gone over this yet, so let me address it quick: you need to read! The most important part of writing is writing, but the hot on its heels is reading.
I know that it can be hard to make time to read, especially when you’re in the middle of a manuscript. Writing is a full time job, and so is, presumably, your actual full time job. And it’s a lot easier to load up Netflix and veg than it is to find a nice, comfortable, well lit place to read.
But reading is important! Reading supports your community and puts money in the pockets of other writers just like you who are struggling to make their dreams come true and have their stories be experienced by strangers. Even more importantly, reading helps you write! You can’t be expected to draw a cat if you don’t know what a cat looks like. How can you be expected to write a novel if you don’t know novels inside and out?
This is a great time to excercise your brain. You don’t have a manuscript on the go, you’re not querying, so take that time and read! Read a lot! Read everything! Read in your genre. Read on the outskirts of your genre. Read things from genres you have zero interest in. Read to enjoy reading. Read with the eye of a director watching a film. Enjoy the characters and the world. Take time to notice how the author is introducing information. Read like a professional, read like a student, read like a fan. Just read!
5. Don’t be afraid to contact your agent if you have questions.
Just the same as you should trust your agent and let them do your job, it’s okay to need an update sometimes. If you’re having a really hard time concentrating on your normal life and haven’t heard anything in months, it’s perfectly fine to throw your agent a line and ask for the status.
Odds are, they’re going to say exactly that motto I taught myself: there’s no news. The few times I reached out to Caitlin, that’s what I heard. That she was knocking on doors, but no editors had gotten back to her. But those little assurances helped when I was feeling like I was afloat alone.
If you have concerns or ideas or news, it’s never bad to shoot your agent off a quick email. Obviously, there’s such a thing as being too demanding! Caitlin’s new blog post gives some great info on how to not act with an agent or editor. But you and your agent are in this together, and they’ll almost always understand if you’re getting antsy and be quick to give you all the information you need.
Hopefully, no more than a year will pass before you finally get that magical phone call, which we’ll talk about next week. Be good to yourself during this rough time and remember that this is just another step on the journey. Just like me, you’ll look back on this period and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over… and also be as embarrassed as I am that you ever doubted it would happen.
It will happen! You’ve gotten this far!