Newbie writers often ask me how long it takes to hear back once a book editor requests a complete manuscript for review. Someone online asked that very question the other day, wondering what he could expect after sending his baby off to do battle. Here's how I replied.
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I can tell you from experience in dealing with hundreds and even thousands of publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers over the years that the Queen of Wrong has missed the boat again. Sure, you can expect to wait "as much as a year," but you'd be an idiot to do so when no conventional publisher takes that long to reply to a requested manuscript. None. Nada. If it did, it wouldn't be a conventional publisher for long.
Here's the reality. A book editor with a conventional, legitimate publisher takes a few weeks to a couple months to review a query. If he or she finds the query interesting, he may ask to see sample chapters. Once he receives them, he may need another two-to-four weeks to read them. If he likes what he sees, he'll request a "full read," or the complete manuscript. At that point in the editorial process, most responsible, professional editors will prioritize the manuscript. After all, he asked to see it!
Assuming the full read takes a couple more weeks and that the editor still likes the book a lot, he'll have to pitch it at the next editorial meeting, during which all acquisitions editors present for consideration whatever books they'd like to see the company publish. If the editorial director agrees the book shows promise (particularly from a marketing point-of-view but also a writing standpoint for fiction), he'll pass out copies of the book to all the editors for review and comments at the following editorial board meeting.
Assuming the board meets every two-to-four weeks, and that the book receives a thumbs-up from a majority of the reviewing editors, the editorial director may pass it along to the company's marketing and/or legal department for comments on its potential marketability. If there are no objections from them, the acquisitions editor who originally requested the full read of your book will be given the green light to get in touch with you with an informal offer to publish. Once you agree to terms in principle, you'll receive a boilerplate contract to review, accept, or revise. Afterward, you'll get a finalized copy of the contract for your signature. Once that happens, the book will enter the publisher's editorial pipeline and begin its long, arduous, time-consuming journey toward publication.
The time you'll have to wait from when you submit the requested full manuscript until you hear either "yay" or "nay" from the editor, then, varies upward from a couple months to as many as four or five max--rarely any longer.
Now, in the extremely unlikely event (you hope!) that the acquisitions editor who requested the full read decides against pursuing the book's publication, you should hear back within a few weeks to a month and possibly less. This is where the writer's proverbial "No news is good news" comes into play. The longer it takes to hear back from an editor after receiving the full manuscript, the better the chances the writer will receive good news. Still, a lot depends upon what house you're dealing with, what that publisher's work load looks like, and how well the editors adhere to their own editorial calendar.
But, to say you should expect up to a year's wait to hear back is absurd! Sorry, Queenie, but you missed the boat again. Maybe if you spent less time shooting from the lip online and more time in the real world, you'd come up with more accurate responses. Just a thought. In the meantime ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs at Substack.com weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, I do my best!)