Reflections on seeking a publisher 2: A lengthy process

book publishingThe process of proposing and publishing takes a long time, so patience is important. I started the proposal process nine months ago, and there’s a chance I may be working on a new proposal soon. There are ways that I could have saved time in the process, but even if I had been maximally efficient, I would still have been looking at a process of several months.

In February, I sent my first proposal to an agent who specifically requested sole consideration, which was fine with me, given that part of why I was trying an agent was to avoid doing multiple proposals. (I will discuss the question of giving publisher sole consideration in a future post.) The agent’s website said if I hadn’t gotten a response within six weeks that I should assume that my proposal was rejected, so I waited (and avoided the difficult task of preparing another proposal).  When I hadn’t heard within five weeks, I started to work again, thinking about to whom to send my next proposal.

At that point, I decided to try sending query letters to gauge interest, rather than a full-blown proposal. I figured that a brief query letter would require less effort than a full proposal, and being only a brief query about possible interest, not a full proposal, it skirted the issue of sole consideration.

At the beginning of the seventh week after sending out my first proposal (early April), I sent out my first query letter. My plan was to send out one every day until I got some interest. I chose to do only one a day because I wanted to write a letter that was specific to each publisher, and writing a good cover letter can take a few hours.

The fortunate circumstance of receiving a positive same-day response to my very first query derailed my one-a-day-to-several-publishers plan. The quick response was thrilling, of course, but it meant I had to do a full proposal, which took me away from writing another query letter. It was a few days of work and then a week to hear back. All of this felt like things were moving quickly and couldn’t be better—the first publisher to whom I wrote, and one of the top publishers on my list! The editor expressed interest in sending the proposal to reviewers (again, great!), but suggested some revisions to the proposal first. That took me a week, but by early May I had submitted a revised proposal. The editor confirmed receipt, warning me that she was going to a conference and then on holiday and wouldn’t be able to get back to me for a week or two. And that was really the end of it. Over the next couple of months, I received first a few promises to get to my proposal right away, and then later no response to my emails.

I procrastinated, hoping that the editor would follow up, so it was not until early August that I sent out a new proposal (yes, a whole proposal, not just a query letter—my strategy was not entirely consistent). It got no immediate response (and none since), and ten days later, I sent out another proposal.  This one got a next-day response—a rejection. It was as positive and friendly a rejection as could be imagined—the editor encouraged my proposing to other publishers, and even took time to answer some follow-up questions I asked in response to his rejection—but a rejection all the same. It was, by this time, late August.

For my next step, I returned to the plan of sending multiple query letters. And again, my first query letter received a quick response: the editor to whom I had written was forwarding my query to a colleague. The next day I received an email from an editor (the third in the chain) who  identified herself as the editor of one of the books my query mentioned as a competitor, and who invited me to send my proposal. That took me a few days, but my delay was basically irrelevant, as she was about to leave for a conference and then holiday.

Two weeks later—end of the first week of September—she decided to send my proposal out to reviewers.  That would take about eight weeks, she warned—an accurate estimate, as the reviews were returned in late October. The reviews were positive enough that, pending my response to the reviewer’s concerns, she was interested in taking it to a publisher’s meeting with the intention of offering me a contract. My response only took a day, but it was Friday, and the editor is in the UK, so she didn’t get to it until the beginning of the next week, and, as the weekly publication meeting is held on Tuesdays, she didn’t have sufficient time to prepare the book for that week’s meeting, which brings the process up to date at the moment I write, over nine months since I started.

Maybe I could have cut a few months out of that process by acting more swiftly and aggressively, but even if we disregard my proposals that were rejected, by the time the publication meeting has been held, it will have been nearly three months just with one publisher, and everything moving relatively quickly (my editor warned that reviews don’t always come in in a timely fashion, for example, but mine did).

Publication is a long process, even when everything moves quickly. Finding a publisher takes a significant chunk of time.  It is one reason for writing a proposal before you finish your book, which is the subject of my next post.

Read the first installment in this series, “Reflections on seeking a publisher 1: Introduction”


Dave HarrisDave Harris, Ph.D., editor and writing coach, helps writers develop effective and productive writing practices, express their ideas clearly, and finish their projects. He is author of Getting the Best of Your Dissertation (Thought Clearing, 2015) and second author with Jean-Pierre Protzen of The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning(Routledge, 2010). Dave can be found on the web at www.thoughtclearing.com

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.