I could use some guidance, if you have a moment. Here's my situation:
My book went out in a rolling submission to a good group of editors in October. I received one non-specific rejection in November and since then, nothing.
My agent says we are still within the realm of normal, that anything can still happen, that editors are damn busy with other things that keep them from debut novel submissions. He says I need to be patient. But...
My agented writer friends say this is too long to have waited, even given the holiday season. They believe something is amiss. My writer friends certainly received their rejections faster, but they are still as unpublished as I am.
To me, it feels weird that it has taken this long to even get a no from so many editors, but what do I know? Only what I see on the Internet, a very dangerous place to get information. What do you think?
This was a really interesting question to me, and thanks to this reader for letting me post about this. I imagine a lot of first-time writers feel a little lost waiting on the end of their phone line for things to happen. So here's my take (and I would love to hear if others disagree or have had other experiences--this is just how I operate).
I have to admit that (except in certain very special cases) I never even look at a proposal until an agent has followed up, and I know from having worked with other editors from other houses that I'm not the only editor who functions like that. We have so much to do that we really waffle on acquisitions a lot, and tend to put off looking at manuscripts until we feel some pressure to. I'm honestly not a huge fan of agents who start pestering you three days or a week after they've submitted, but a month is a very fair pester-window. In this case, it sounds to me like the agent is being a little sleepy.
If I were one of the editors who had received this novel, I probably would not have looked at it yet, and I almost certainly wouldn't have been in touch with the agent. I never send out-of-the-blue rejections. Never. It just creates bad feelings and awkward conversations. However, I usually don't make out-of-the-blue offers, either, since it drives the property price up (the agent can then take that offer, shuffle off to other houses, and shop it around--my offer would make the project more valuable elsewhere) so most editors avoid that like the plague. Meanwhile, while the agent isn't in touch with editors, the property price goes down--if it gets to be 6 months after submission and there are no bids, any editor you follow up with will say, "Hmm, s/he hasn't sold this in 6 months. There must be a problem with it." (Even if there's not.)
Of course, different agents and different editors have different systems locked into place, and the things I say here might not be the MO of certain agents or the editors they tend to work with. I just know that with the amount of work on my desk (don't even get me started!) it's really hard for me to make myself read a proposal unless I feel a little pressure.
As far as the possibility of getting rejections, I think rejections are better than non-responses. There will always be other editors to query in another round, if that's in the cards, and rejections might give insight from an editorial standpoint about what isn't quite working. They might give an author the boost or polish s/he needs to lock it in during the next round. I would say that if you're at the point where you're getting some rejections (even if the book sells!) ask your agent if s/he can squeeze some critiques out of editors. It will be hard--we're a cagey bunch--but not impossible.
Any other thoughts on this?