Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nudging Brick Walls

Ever have the feeling you're about to attempt the impossible and nudge a publishing brick wall? Have your given that publisher more than enough time to respond to a simple query, synopsis, outline/proposal, chapters or full manuscript? I'll bet you let them slide for extra days or weeks, just hoping that you were temporarily lost in the sea of slush. I've gone so far as to allow a couple of months over a standard response time and still heard nothing but crickets. I can understand those houses that don't respond if they're not interested and state those facts in the submission guidelines. That's bad enough and we all have to live with those. Problem is, we never rightly know if our material made it to destination, which leaves us with an empty spot in our gut, a vacuum that can't be filled. Compound this with "And it's the perfect story--exactly what they're looking for."
 I was looking at my submission spreadsheet tonight and feeling pretty depressed by the amount of non-responders showing up. My submissions dates for small press and some of the larger independents are dating back to the 11th month of 2011. I have about 47 submissions dating from that time up until just yesterday. When I receive a rejection I black bold the publisher's title/name so it stands out. Needless to say, I've never seen so much white space in all my life.  My three agents over the past 24 years have complained of the same thing--"They won't answer my queries or submissions." Or "I can't believe how long this is taking." Or "I'm sorry this is taking so much time."

And yes, I know about Tor and Baen and the others that can take up to a year or more.

Then those feelings surface and I wonder if I'll have the strength to go through the ritual again. Why do I keep telling myself I should have to? It's a needless, almost torturous experience. You instantly fear that a nudge is going to speed things along all right, but in the negative. You feel like you're putting a gun to their head. Then they pull on the emergency brake and stop the train just for you, digging you out of the pile, scanning the files looking for your story title and your name or pen name. I hope you supplied then with a submission date so they know how far back to look. If not, you've just taken up more of their time and they're apt to give you the heave-ho after failing to find you in their system. Nothing can be more awkward than that. Except one thing:

Calling them on the phone.

Don't even do this. Unless they state that a quick, polite call is allowed, bury those feelings in your backyard about 10 feet under.  If they suggest that you can nudge after a six to eight-week wait, then do so but give them another two or three weeks margin. They might have had an open call or a conference attendance that's driven their email traffic up, creating a back-slog of material. I generally nudge about the four-month mark after a query, synopsis or 3 chapters. If sending in a full manuscript is standard, I let it go about six or seven months--no kidding, that long. For a requested full, about five to six months is adequate. I really wouldn't carve into their time much sooner than that, but you can try and hope you get away with it. 

When should you give up? If they don't reply to my nudge in three months I sign them off and make a note (spreadsheet) of their unwillingness to contact me. By the way, this has been happening more and more in the past three years. You can nudge twice but what's the reason for it if they haven't responded by your second letter. You should also check the writing and warning boards and publisher listings--you might be beating a dead horse--a folded publisher. If they respond to your nudge and tell you they're reading it right now or it's next on their list, I would not nudge them again. Ever. If it's good news it'll come. You've said enough.

How should you do it? In the subject line, I put "Submission Status Question." That's real safe and it gets their attention. Especially anything with "Question" in it. Works every time, if they're organizing their emails carefully. Try to find the proper contact email for a question or report. It's usually called the "support" link or url. You can email the regular submission email, and surprisingly, they do fish those out pretty quick. Very fast, in fact, like instantly or the next day. 

How about the wording? How about something like this or a variation of it:

"Hello or Dear, (Agent or Editor)
Good tidings for the New Year! (seasonal suck-up salutation). Please consider this a polite inquiry in regard to the status of my full submission of Fusion, an adult thriller, to Wonderful House Publications on 3-18-2012. Any information about its ongoing reading or rejection would be much appreciated.
Yours most kindly,
Chris Stevenson"

Make it swift and painless. Don't go into any complicated or emotional spiels, threaten, bribe or beg. You were just la, la,la wondering what happened to little old/young you, seemingly lost in their magnificent database, and would they be kind enough to well...GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE OR OFFER SOME GRACE AND SALVATION, FOR GAWD'S SAKE!