Manuscripts: Why does it take so long to hear back?

You’ve spent months, maybe years, writing your book. You’ve edited and tweaked and rewritten and run it past people whose feedback you trust. You researched publishers, labored over a query letter, printed your manuscript, and took it to the post office in an ecstatic sea of excitement.

And then you wait. And wait. And wait some more.

Why does it take so long to hear back from a publisher?

If you’ve queried a larger publisher, your query letter and/or manuscript—if it is read at all—may be read by an acquisitions editor, the person whose job it is to find the next Harry Potter or Twilight. Or it could be read by an editorial assistant, who screens out manuscripts to be read by the acquisitions editor.

For smaller presses, generally the smaller the publisher, the more likely your query letter and/or manuscript will be read by The Publisher herself. Or himself. And then it’s a matter of priorities.

Not that your manuscript takes a higher or lower priority than other manuscripts, but rather that when The Publisher is the one reading manuscripts and running the business, there’s only so much time and a lot to do, and those tasks have to be prioritized.

Here’s how I prioritize:

1. Order fulfillment (distributor, stores, customers). I’ve said before and I’ll say again, publishing is a business, and while it would be nice and lovely to publish books on merit alone, a royalty publisher (like Yotzeret) has to be reasonably certain that they can sell the books, to recoup the costs of editing, artwork, permissions, design, marketing, printing, and shipping, and be able to pay royalties. So, fulfilling orders is a top priority.

2. Current authors (important tasks). This would include (but not be limited to) royalty reports, marketing current and upcoming books, awards submissions, reprints, and so on.

3. Current projects (books in production). Includes editing, interior design, cover design, pre-publication marketing, printing, etc. Even when some or all of this work is contracted out, the publisher of a small press wants to double-check to make sure it meets company standards before it goes out into the world with the publishing company name on it.

4. Operating tasks. All those things that one needs to do to keep a business going. This includes taxes, accounting, billing, general marketing, correspondence, continuing education, keeping up with industry news, etc. Oh, and filing. Some people would put filing here. I probably should.

5. Acquisitions. Here’s where we get to your manuscript, the one to which you’ve devoted part of your life and sent out with high hopes and maybe a kiss on the envelope. I would much rather read manuscripts than do filing, which is why I don’t put filing under number 4. I also don’t want to read manuscripts late at night, because I think it does a disservice to the author when I can’t bring my full attention to it. So I do a little bit at a time, where I can when all the other tasks for the day have been done.

The good news is that I do read them. I read them and comment on them and even if I have to say no, I’ll generally explain why. On at least five occasions in the recent past, I’ve had to reject a manuscript as written, but sent a detailed response that included where or how it needed work. In three of those cases, the author rewrote and resubmitted (so far resulting in two contract offers). In the other two, the authors are still working on them.

Yes, it does take a long time, and I’m sorry it has to be that way. I’ve submitted work before and couldn’t figure out why a manuscript that took me a day to read took a publisher six months (or longer) to consider. In the past eight years of publishing, I see up close and personal why it takes so long. I just ask for your patience.

3 Comments… add one
Phyllis Moore July 24, 2011, 5:02 pm

Hi Sheyna, I now have two blogs. One is Mythrider, which I am dedicating to writing & publishing. I’m expanding it to adding guest writers and will eventually add typed interviews. I’d like to publish this article on that blog. Please check my blog out and let me know if you are interested.
When I am up and running on interviews, would you be interested in an interview?
Phyllis Moore

yotzeret yotzeret July 26, 2011, 10:41 am

Hi Phyllis, yes, you may reprint this article on your blog. Please credit it as “Copyright 2011 by Yotzeret Publishing, Inc., reprinted with permission” and a link to http://yotzeretpublishing.com — thanks! And yes, on the interview. Just shoot me an email when you’re ready.

łuki i strzały May 29, 2012, 2:44 pm

I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

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