Pub Rants

Interminable Length Of Time

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STATUS: Don’t mind me. I just took an extended MLK holiday! Seriously, I just forgot to blog yesterday. I had 3 meetings and the third one didn’t end until 8 p.m. I kept thinking I was forgetting something but it didn’t occur to me until this morning that it was the blog entry.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ORANGE COLORED SKY by Natalie Cole

Very few of my blog readers probably suffer from the misassumption that publishing moves quickly once an offer is made.

But just in case you do think that, let me make it clear for the record that publishing moves at a snail’s pace that probably wouldn’t be tolerated in other industries. And lately, it seems, publishing houses are moving at an interminably slow pace when it comes to mailing out contracts for deals recently made. Ninety-five year old grandmothers on the highway in their Buicks move faster than publishers. And personally, I don’t think claiming “the holidays” is enough of an excuse.

Let me give you just a sampling of what agents like me are dealing with.

In November (2007), I concluded the deal points for two offers. Just this week I received a contract for one of those deals, and I’m still waiting on the contract for the other. And trust me, it’s not like this delay went unnoticed. I’ve been prodding since early December.

So what I’m saying is that my job often entails loud and frequent whining.

Here’s another example. For a deal “concluded” in late October, I received the contracts the first week in December (which isn’t too bad actually). It took my contracts manager and me about a week to review and then write up the letter to the contracts director at the publishing house.

Now we have been waiting a month and three weeks for a response. Yes the holidays were in the middle of that and yes, I can be flexible but when we are three weeks into the new year without a response, the you-know-what has hitteth the fan.

So what can an agent do? Well, we can give an ultimatum (as in if I don’t have the contract by XYZ date, the deal is off) but that is rarely what an author wants. After all, they have accepted this offer for a reason. Sometimes, it’s necessary though and when push has come to shove and a deadline has been given, response time quickens remarkably.

Funny how that happens…

18 Responses

  1. Bethany said:

    Wow, that does stink! I’ve always wondered though why publishing houses move so slow. I mean, if a book is submitted to a publishing house – and let’s say the book is about fairies – and fairies are huge in the market place at the moment, why would publishing houses not move quickly and capitalize on the demand for those particular kinds of books?

    Do you, as an agent, worry that by the time a book does get to the public, the demand for a type of book will be gone by then and that sales won’t be as high because of it?

  2. Getting There With A Passion said:

    Hurry up and wait, eh? It makes me think, Fran Drescher would probably have made a phenomenal literary agent. : ) Bless those who go out to bat for us!

    I’m about to wrap up editing a contemporary romance I’ve written, and you know – having put in 6-8 months of writing, I think waiting a little longer isn’t too much of a problem if you’re serious about something you’ve invested a great deal of time and passion into.

    Thanks for your blogs, Kristin – they are really informative.

  3. Music Critic said:

    First the time it takes to write a book, then the agent submission process, then the publisher submission process, then the deal negotiation, then finalizing the contract, then the wait for the release… Seems like a long time, but when you do see you book on that shelf, somehow I don’t think you’ll mind. It’ll all be worth it.

    On to the iPod. Nat was a legend and his daughter makes him proud. The girl can sing. We’ll give her a #3 for Orange Colored Sky

  4. jason evans said:

    As a lawyer, I cringe a bit at the notion that you have “a deal” without a signed contract. Do you ever bog down on contractual provisions which threaten the deal?

  5. Anonymous said:

    That’s interesting. I wonder if the quality of the novel has something to do with the delay of publishing. If you have a novel that is going to wow people, and everyone who reads it finds it so fascinating, then can’t you negotiate to have everything done quicker. We’ve all read the JK Rowling books, and if there’s a novel in the same genre that is the same quality or better, then wouldn’t the publisher be excited in getting this book out as quickly as possible?

  6. Anonymous said:

    Ha ha — this all sounds pretty fast, compared to my experience with publishing contracts. But it beats Hollywood contracts, one of which was cancelled as soon as I sent it back signed. They changed their minds in the one-week interim between mailing ’em to me and getting ’em back for countersignatures. So much for that Fed X expense, LOL.

  7. locusbooks said:

    In my experience the only people in the industry who move quickly are writers and independent publishers… I don’t think I could bear the snail’s pace of working in a corporate publishing house.


  8. Pam Halter said:

    Even after a contract, things can move slowly.

    I got my picture books accepted in July 1998. The contract came June 1999. The first release date was Jan. 2000. Then the date was changed to July 2000. THEN the date was changed to Jan. 2001. The books FINALLY came out in August 2001.

    Then came 9-11.

    Even though mail order sales practically stopped, the books still sold almost half the print run, which was 10,000 each.

    Yeah, the publishing world is slow.

    Fran Dresher as an agent. HA! I can see that. I think she’s great. Thanks for taking the time on this blog, Kristin. I don’t usually leave a comment, but I read it everyday.

  9. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Contract delay doesn’t necessarily hold up production, bethany and anonymous at 8:10. I know one author who didn’t get the contract thing out of the way until her books were almost in galleys. But they came out as planned from when they first made the deal and hit lists and all was well that ended well, I guess.

  10. BernardL said:

    Your post confirms my suspicion selling the manuscript to an agent or publisher will probably be my writing experience high point. 🙂

  11. Carrie said:

    That kind of delay the end of the year can make things really dicey — I wasn’t sure if my check would come in 2007 or 2008 which made tax planning pretty interesting.

  12. Ona Marae said:

    In 2004, a publishing house who shall remain nameless FOR NOW, used a poem I had submitted for a calendar without getting a contract signed. Then they wouldn’t pay me for it. Now, Jan/2008, they have finally given me the name of a contract manager who is hemming and hawing about procedure and forms. Next step will be an itemized bill with a 5% charge for everymonth overdue. After that, i start throwing tomatoes. Is it worth getting a lawyer for a $150 bill? But is it worth letting them get away with?

  13. Anonymous said:

    This makes me feel better. I write tech books but recently got an offer on my novel. The negotiations for the novel feel excruciatingly slow. On the other hand, I’ve been given eight weeks to write a 500-page tech book that was already listed on Amazon (release date and all) before we’d even finalized the outline! It’s helpful to see that the slow progress on the novel is normal for that part of publishing.

  14. Kidlitjunkie said:

    It’s not all just on the editorial/publishing house side of things. Just for example–I’m still hounding an agent for a contract amendement that she’s hand FOR OVER A YEAR NOW.

    Now THAT’S excessive.