On Waiting

Today I’ll be talking to all you writers out there, you hopefuls. You can get the short version in a Twitter thread I wrote:

But I’ll go into a little more detail here.

When you’re querying agents about your manuscript, it’s like walking a tightrope. Without a net. There is an exhausting amount of tension involved as you try not to fall. When querying, that tension comes in the form of hope—you’re hoping all the time that an agent will have a favorable response to your query and/or your first pages. And if they do, you’re then hoping they’ll like the full manuscript. Constant hope is tiring to sustain. And as with tightrope walking, any little nudge—a lack of response, a bunch of form rejections, no sign of interest from anyone—can send you crashing right over the edge.

Let’s say you get an agent. Hooray! Well, now your agent is going to be sending your manuscript out on submission. More waiting, but this time you have a safety net under your tightrope. While your manuscript is in the capable hands of your agent, said agent may also be giving you guidance on what to work on next. You’re no longer alone in this venture.

[Note: I realize many authors will say, “I was never alone! I had critique partners and beta readers and fellow authors!” This may be true. But there is a marked difference between the support of your fellows—which is still a wonderful and lovely thing to have—and the support of people who are actually in a position to submit your work and make things happen on your behalf.]

Okay, so your agent is submitting your manuscript. There’s still a modicum of that exhausting, infernal hope that an editor or publisher will take it, but it’s not as exhausting as querying because of that safety net that is having an agent.

And then! Your book gets accepted by an editor! After you celebrate, you will wait some more, this time for editorial notes, and then more notes, and then more notes, and also a cover, and marketing info, and a finalized publication date. BUT. While this is all very exciting and you may be impatient to get through this process, the hope element is over. Now we’ve moved on to anticipation. Because there is no longer a question of whether your book is going to be published. It’s really happening! No more tightrope. You’re on the ground now, in the center ring, with the circus around you. It’s dizzying, but there is no fear of falling.

Well, maybe you’re a little afraid your book will suck and get terrible reviews. But you have an agent and editor and publisher who believe in you, and that goes a long way psychologically. From those lonely days of querying and hoping, you now have a full support system and—thanks to the guidance of your agent—other books in the works in case this one isn’t as successful as everyone, well, hopes.

Hoping alone, though, is very different from hoping together.

Knowing you won’t bear the sole brunt of the fall, should falling occur—that counts for a lot.

So what I’m saying here, that I said in much shorter form via Twitter, is that when people tell hopeful authors—authors without agents yet—to get used to waiting . . . Well, yes, that’s going to be a big part of the process. But I’ve noticed the people doling out the advice usually already have agents, and sometimes have editors and publishers as well. They’re speaking from a place with a safety net and support system. And while they’ve walked that tightrope that is querying, they are now in a position of privilege that feels out of touch with where querying authors are. Similar to the, “You’ll make it if you try hard enough!” school of encouragement, the, “Just be patient,” school doesn’t address fundamental problems. Like the very real psychological stress of not knowing an outcome. We like to make light of how we check our emails repeatedly and have trouble focusing because this hope takes up so much of our energy, but it’s a significant (and not always funny) issue. “Just be patient” doesn’t alleviate that stress and in fact often adds to it by making querying authors feel like they’re doing something wrong. Like there’s a wrong way to wait.

We’re waiting. We’re being as patient as we can be because, seriously, we have no other options. We’re on this tightrope, and we’d love a safety net. The truth is, we may never get one. That’s a stressful reality. So please, if you’re an author giving this advice, don’t be patronizing. We know you mean well, but you’re not always helping. Sometimes you’re even throwing us off balance.