This is not a business for those seeking instant gratification. Much of it is about waiting. And waiting. And waiting …
Waiting for the voice that makes me read one paragraph and sit up, punch the air, and hiss YESSSSSS! (Because it’s the greatest temptation as an agent to sign too many authors, or the wrong authors, and then not be able to give them time and attention – or sell their work.)
Waiting for the words to form in my mind that will best enable me to explain to an author how their story might be refined and shaped. (Because it’s the easiest thing in the world to rip out an editorial letter that isn’t nuanced quite right.)
Waiting for revisions # 1, 2, or even 3. (Because my first mantra is that I owe it to my authors to submit only the very best work of which they are capable. And because my second mantra is that if I’m going to get them a deal it must be the very best deal possible.)
Waiting for publishers to respond to my careful submission, which means everything in the world to me (and my author), but is one of so many for the editor. (Because you don’t get anywhere by hassling them – until just the right moment.)
Waiting for the absolutely final decision. (Because the Marketing Director hasn’t yet read it, the acquisitions meeting was cancelled, the MD was on vacation, the dog ate it, the building burned down).
Waiting for the Contracts Director’s responses to my responses to their responses on Clauses 2, 3c and 15b. (Because every word in this document could be vital if something goes horribly wrong at any stage in the future.)
Waiting for yet more revisions. (Because don’t think for one moment that the poor author is off the hook once the manuscript is acquired. Hah, far from it! The revising fun has only just begun. Let’s dig it up and make it over!)
Waiting for the book to come out. (Because normally it takes a year – or that’s what the Production Director’s ‘critical path’ will tell you. And pub dates move, production nightmares ensue, illustrations get lost, files get corrupted, factories shut for Christmas.)
Yes, this game is all about waiting.
And precision. And absolute focus. And doing things just right.
Because there is also a moment to pounce, where the silence, the holding the line, the breezy patience, the grey days turn into rapid, intense action. The phone rings, the email arrives, the pressure is applied, the answer comes – and suddenly your destiny as a writer has turned on a dime, for good or ill, and the world is transformed.
This is not a job where achievement necessarily matches the hours spent working.
So what does this waiting mean for you aspiring authors? It means waiting (and working) to learn your craft, to discover your voice, to turn that sentence – and every sentence – into one so nuanced and skillful it breaks my heart. It means understanding that this is a slow-moving business that lumbers like an old tortoise until The Moment of sudden action. This is the way of books. This is not America’s Got Talent; this is the ancient craft of story-telling, handed down through generations. Despite our modern publicity flim-flam, writing is still about spinning magic painstakingly and cleverly from words, and there are rarely quick fixes. Sadly, The Hoff will not come leaping at you from the Greenhouse telling you you’re going to Vegas. There will only be me, doing my best for you – whether that’s telling you that I can’t make it work with you, or whether you’re one of the very few whose journey and risk I can share.
No, this is not a business for those seeking instant gratification.