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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Son of New Kid

I posted yesterday about some of the new things going out to market this week, and I thought I'd give a post geared to people who might have similar hopes for manuscripts on my reading pile, where the eldest manuscripts have been almost six months in repose. Which nags at me no end.  Especially since some of these people are friends, or people we at JABberwocky have been grooming.  Or are ignoring me when I remind them that I don't demand exclusives and are kind of patiently waiting for Joshua Bilmes to read and respond.

I'd like it if my life were full of perfect first drafts, but it's not.

I'd like it my days were full of time to sit down and read manuscripts.  But they're not.  The work day can push well past 6:00 some nights, and then by the time I have gym time and eat dinner or finish the newspaper it can be 10PM and I'm just not up to tackling reading, and if I was, I wouldn't be receptive to what I was reading anyway.  Even though I've cut way back in recent years on some of my movie-going and other extracurriculars, it's still harder and harder most weeks to get to reading manuscripts.  And I do need some non-work time in order to continue as a functioning sane member of human society. Maybe I could cut back on blog posts (and in really busy months I don't do many posts), but these days having a blog or a Facebook page or what-not is kind of part of what people do.  Maybe I could give up reading newspapers except I am an addict.  Or give up my New Yorker or Rolling Stone, but it's kind of a good idea to have some idea of what's going on in different parts of the world.  So reading time ends up being scarcer than I would like.

Hence, there's this kind of air traffic control or triage with the reading pile.  So first priority... A client turns in a manuscript that's already been sold to a publisher and that needs to land first because it's already sold, there's a delivery check waiting when the manuscript gets turned in, and often the project is already scheduled so editorial work needs to be done in a specific time-frame in order to meet the publisher's production schedule.  And sometimes I'll read that manuscript a second time or sometimes not, depending on the extent of the revisions and whether or not the production schedule has any give in it for more agent revisions.  Then I'll come across something like Stung that's not under contract but which is from an actual current selling agency client, so that will get slotted behind a contracted-for manuscript but ahead of most anything from a non-client.  And then I'll finally have a moment to read something from a non-client like Latent.  And then there will be the next drafts of a Latent or Stung.  In the case of Latent and Stung, I knew both manuscripts were very very close to going to market, so those had priority over first drafts on the slush pile or some second drafts for things that I know have potential but which aren't quite as close to going to market. 

With Latent and Stung off to market, I have one more third draft of something which I think is very very close which I've decided to put ahead of everything else.  And then after that, for the first time in several months, it looks like I can start to tackle the February manuscripts.  And because those have been here so long, I feel a need to get to some of them over manuscripts that came in May which are theoretically more important but which if I read now could turn somebody else's six-month wait into an eight-month.

And even then there are decisions to make.  Since I'm going to LA this month perhaps I should read the manuscript from an author in LA before I head out, in case we'll have something to discuss.  But if I can't get everything read before the trip, what does that mean for an author who may have turned in a manuscript two weeks sooner but may now wait four weeks longer for a response?

In  part I'm able to get caught up because summer is often slightly slower at JABberwocky.  June and July can be very slow months for publisher payments which means less time spent on processing those.  Many editors in the US will go to ComicCon or on vacation, so I have fewer people to talk to.  Europeans can take long summer vacations so the foreign rights business will slow up.  How much reading time will I have before things get busy again?

If I really like one of these February manuscripts but need to do that revision thing, then it could be that I'll have only four or six weeks while an author revises and then have a second draft for a February manuscript that will get slotted ahead of some April manuscript.

I don't like this, but I'm trying as best as I can to do things as quickly as I can.

And FYI, as bad as things are here...  Some editors have always been very slow, and I sympathize more and more.  In 2009, many publishing houses have had layoffs or hiring freezes as a result of the economic situation, and so they are trying to do more with less.  Which is not always possible, which is making an editor's life a little bit harder.  


brycemoore said...

Thanks for the explanation, Joshua--it's much appreciated. This post combined with your last post have been very illuminating. Having a full time job of my own now, I'm amazed at the lengths agents and editors go to in order to find or make time for new material. Just reading for pleasure takes me much longer now than it did when I was only in college and working full time, and the speed of my writing has taken a hit, too. In the end, I don't really believe 6 months is an outlandish time to wait for a response for something--even a year these days isn't eyebrow-raising. Just in my limited experience, I've had an editor take something like 28 months to get back to me on a full submission. And Brandon of course likes to talk about the 18 months he waited for the response to Elantris.

Anyway--nothing much to add to my response except to say thank you and you have my sympathies.

Lisa Iriarte said...

This is good to know. I have three fulls out, one with an editor, two with agents. It's been awhile, and it's hard to know how long is "long" and when it's okay to ask for a status update without seeming impatient and annoying. You've helped put things in more perspective for me.