Nothing epitomizes the phrase “Hurry up and wait” so much as publishing. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say publishing epitomizes the phrase, “Wait and hurry up.” Of all the attributes a writer can have, patience is among the most important (okay, talent helps). It doesn’t matter how much you wish it weren’t so, no matter how much you push, it takes a long time to get anything done in publishing.
Except when it doesn’t.
So there’s a trade magazine I write for occasionally. Basically, it’s the kind of thing where you remind the editor that you’re alive every now and then and every now and then your “I’m alive” email matches her need for a writer and she gives you an assignment. There’s a long lead time, and then a leisurely editing process and then the approval happens and sometime after that, in what feels like a complete disconnect between effort and reward, a check comes in the mail.
Or this: I wrote a book proposal in January. It will probably start being shopped to editors sometime in June. If someone buys the book, you won’t see it on shelves until 2011 – or later.
So I’ve learned to keep a lot of irons in a lot of fires. That way, I’m not ever holding my breath about any one project (in publishing, holding your breath waiting for something is a very good way to get dizzy and pass out).
However, sometimes the business can move lightning-fast. I mentioned to a colleague that I intended to pitch a magazine she writes for, and would she mind sharing the email address of her editor. Before I even finished proof-reading my pitch letter, let alone hit “send,” I got an email from the editor in question asking if I could take on a rush assignment. It turned out my friend let the editor know I was interested in writing for the magazine at the very moment when the editor needed someone who could turn around some copy fast.
Things like that happen all the time, and you just don’t know when they’re going to happen. So you have to be prepared.
I know writers who finish a draft of a novel, and hearing how long it takes to get an agent and how hard the process is, start querying before they’ve revised. They figure it’ll take two months to hear from an agent and they can finish the revision in that amount of time. That’s a gamble I wouldn’t want to take. I’ve had agents respond to a query in an hour, others in a day, others in a week. Certainly many take longer than that, but you never now. That’s why you have to be prepared with your best stuff before you get started, even if you do end up having to wait a while for responses.
Patience is important, but preparation means you can jump on opportunities that arise quickly and unexpectedly.