I can’t think of many other businesses where the discipline of patience is needed more than in publishing. Often moving at glacial speed, there is very little in the industry that is or can or should be rushed from creation of a manuscript to the publication of a book, no matter how frustrating that can be.
So you’ve written your first draft—congratulations! What next? Put it away for a while. Stephen King says he puts his first drafts (and he has a four-letter word to describe them) away for at least six months. Not all of us have the luxury—or discipline—to do that, but even six weeks would be a good practice. Put it away and then patiently and slowly, go back over it for your first round of edits.
Then workshop the draft and send it to beta-readers and then (again) patiently wait for feedback. You might even consider hiring a professional editor. Don’t rush your second, third, or fourth round of edits. Take your time and polish until you honestly feel you can’t take your manuscript any further.
Then the fun part starts: you’re ready to find an agent! Do your research and find the best agents for your work. Prepare and polish your query letter and send it out. And then wait some more. Agents receive many, many queries per week and it can often take a few weeks or months before they even look at it. If an agent likes your query, they will reach out and ask for a partial or full manuscript and put it on their reading list. However, agents are busy professionals, with first priority given to existing clients, and it can take anywhere from days to months for them to reach out and/or read the requested material.
So now you’ve secured an agent—awesome! More waiting begins. Often an agent will have editing ideas and notes to offer once representation is secured. You’ll need to hang tight while they work their editorial magic. Once you receive your edits, take your time on them too. Nothing discourages me more as an agent than when a client makes edits in a few days after it has taken me much, much longer to put them together in the first place. Sit on the recommendations, think about them, and slowly make the changes. And then you will have to wait for your agent to have the time to read your revised manuscript.
The next level of patience will be required when your agent is finally ready to submit your work to publishing houses. Editors have many submissions coming in every day and your submission will be logged and put on a reading list. I have had responses from editors vary from a few days to six months (or longer). Even if an editor loves your project, they will need to assign it to in-house readers and, eventually, take it to the publishing board.
And, finally, once you have an offer in hand, contract negotiations can take a while, up to several months depending on the situation. The announcement of the deal can take at least a month on top of that. And most likely, your book will not be published for 18 to 24 months, following signature on the contract, as per the standard length of the publishing cycle.
The point of all of this news is that, in publishing, as in life, there are few things we can control. My advice then is to control what you can and try to let the rest go. For example, you can control the quality of your manuscript, and your query. But you can’t control the rest. I always tell my clients whose works are about to go on submission to concentrate on their next project, maybe taking a tiny break in between. Very few authors I know have gone into this business because of the financial rewards—they write because it is their passion and they can’t not tell the story. Writing is the one thing within your complete control.
Tell the best story you possibly can, be patient, and start writing your next manuscript!