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How Long to Hear Back from a Publisher? Should I Be Concerned?

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Your Book Writing and Publishing Coach

A few weeks ago, a client asked the question: how long to hear back from a publisher?

Here’s our email exchange (condensed):
Sue: Thank you for all your help with my proposal. My agent loved it and sent it out to 16 publishers last week. So far we have gotten 3 rejections, and I’m praying for just 12 more (as opposed to 13 more). I so believe in this book, and really want to see it out in the world, so, fingers crossed.
I’ll be in touch to continue our work together once I have a book to write—fingers crossed!
Me: Oh, let’s pray for 4 or 5 more. AUCTION! My intuitive friend says always envision a few more than you want because some part of us often downgrades the envisioning. So, 1 is definitely too few!
Sue: I love that idea—of envisioning more than you want! I always worry about being too greedy with my hopes and dreams—I would be so grateful and overjoyed with just one offer!
Also, I don’t know how this timing works (and of course this is an excellent question for my agent, but I’m trying not to pester her with my anxious questions). I’m worried that if 4 or 5 people wanted it, we would have heard from them already, no?
Deep breaths! This process is not for the faint of heart!!

Me: Not at all. The rejections come in first. When an editor knows it’s not a fit for them, they respond quickly. When they are interested, they bring the proposal to an acquisitions board meeting where the board examines the proposal and decides. The acquisitions editor whom your agent contacted will make a case for the book and lead the group through highlights of the proposal. They may suggest changes so it fits with their audience/vision/etc. or have questions for the author. So there can be some back and forth.

Keep writing!

So, if you haven’t heard yet:

a) they may have a full plate and take a little longer to get to it
b) they may not have had the acq meeting yet, or may be waiting until a meeting in the future if there is backlog.
So, it’s a great time to imagine hearing about the auction and imagine which publishers you are most excited about. Go with that feeling of excitment and gratitude. Or act “as if” and begin writing more chapters and really enjoy it. Do fun things to inspire yourself and all that good energy will help.
Here’s an interview with an acquisitions editor, Jess O’Brien from New Harbinger, that I wrote for the Huffington Post: Behind the Scenes in Book Acquisition: Inside a Publishing Board Meeting. I think you’ll find it helpful in understanding the process. And here’s a post about How to Interpret Responses from Literary Agents and Publishers, in case you have heard back and they want changes to your book, as happened in the case of another client (short answer, it’s usually a good thing; the post explains why and where that response comes from).
There’s a P.S. to today’s story.  I started this post over a week ago and now the author’s book did go to auction and she got an exciting book deal! So, be patient, keep writing and have fun envisioning your success!
Do you have questions about the publishing process—from writing a book proposal to getting a book deal? Ask away as a comment below.
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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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Comments

  1. Laura Brose says

    Sneaky! The actual question about how much time is reasonable to give a publisher for a yes-or-no answer is never actually answered. The scenarios given here may take hours, days, or weeks. So the prospective author still has no clue about the time frame.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Laura,
      I didn’t mean to be sneaky. This is a question I often hear (and heard from that client). But, yes, the answer is that it varies and I offered a) some sense of what might be happening behind the scenes since the author may not be kept apprised and b) why it may take longer than you expect (to alleviate any stress) and c) some ideas for what to do while you’re waiting. So, there is no exact answer for how long (the question people ask) but there is a more nuanced answer about what’s going on (which may be more of what’s needed given the unpredictability of the former). I hope that helps.

    • Lisa Tener says

      That’s exciting Irene! Is it a memoir? Or what genre? Best of luck and do keep writing or editing. If the book is finished, maybe write a blog post or an article on Linked In. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  2. patrick says

    Your teachings have made a very big impact on me madame LIsa Tener.As a writer who started at the age of 59 years old I get very excited about writing a book. I finished one book proposal last year but I need your personal help to turn it into a book.where should I start.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Thank you, Trish. I found your recent linked in article fascinating! And I just realized I had an email from you in July that I missed, so I’ve answered it, finally. I hope I am not too late!

      • Trish Muehsam MD says

        Thank you, Lisa, for your email reply, and no worries, it was not too late!

        And, thank you, too, for reading my LinkedIn article — am honored!

        You offer such wonderful and encouraging words of wisdom and sustenance — just reading them has inspired me to put fingers back to the keyboard and complete that proposal!

  3. L-Rose says

    How long after an acquisitions board does an editor get back to your literary agent? Do they let them know in the same day? Same week? I have a manuscript going to the acquisitions board this week and I’m seriously losing sleep.

    • Lisa Tener says

      That’s exciting Lily! congratulations. If they are discussing the book at that meeting they usually get back fairly quickly, though it depends on the individual editor. Your agent may know better how quick that editor tends to be. Good luck and let me know what happens!

  4. Shawn says

    A question from a amateur writer. Why is it that an editor wants only to read a book manuscript that is in perfect order, we submit a story to be read, not to be judged on our typing skills or punctuation. If they are professionals, then they can read past the few imperfections and read the story, everything can be fixed , but to be rejected because of font mistakes is wrong. We amateurs learn as we go…..theres a lot of wonderful stories out there…..

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Shawn, I can understand your expectation. However, rather than seeing yhourself as being judged, perhaps see it as submitting something that is considerate of your reader, in this case, the editor. Good writing is about a) being understood and clear b) beautiful, artful ways with words – even if it’s business writing and c) entertainment.
      If there are misspellings and poor punctuation, your meaning is not clear. The editor has to work extra hard. When there is so much well written work that will be easier and more fun, they don’t want to take the time and extra work to read something where the writer did not even take the time to fix spelling and punctuation.
      As to fonts, that can be irritating and hard to read as well, but an extra reason behind having standards is that you can tell that a flexible person who takes the time to learn the rules will send it work that is much easier to work with and will be flexible when the editor has changes they want to make. Think of it as a test of how easy it will be to work with you. They are wondering, how coachable are you?
      There’s so much great writing out there, why not take the time to make yours polished? Good writing often takes many rounds of editing. Great writing–even more. Perhaps consider hiring a proofreader, or even an editor.

  5. Rose says

    I have a question regarding my book query. After some rejections I finally got a publisher interested and she requested my full manuscript. It has been a little of a month ago since then, and I am worried that she will not get back to me. Should I wait longer for a second response, or should I email her asking about progress?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Rose,
      Email is not always reliable. A month is a good chunk of time. I encourage you to email her saying something like, “Thank you for requesting my manuscript. I sent it on DATE and wanted to make sure you received it.”

      Also, check their website to see if they say how quickly they usually respond.
      Good luck!

  6. Deborah says

    Hi!
    I just received an email from a publisher stating that “the quality of the pieces in my collection are so high and the message so important that we are sending it to one of our outside readers for their expert opinion.” This is a small, traditional publisher and I am thrilled with their interest. Just wondering if they have such a strong interest in it, what are the chances that their outside reader will too?
    Thanks
    Deb

    • Lisa Tener says

      Deb, congratulations on this exciting step and positive feedback. It is impossible for me to say, but the publisher’s response is certainly an indicator that interest is likely. Take it a step at a time. Hopefully they will make you an offer but if they don’t, do ask for feedback–what did they like about it and what concerns did they have? Get as much feedback as you can. In this way, many authors who initially got a rejection, ended up fine tuning their book/manuscript and finding a publisher in the long run.

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