What to Do While You’re Waiting

Last week, I offered tips on how to research literary agents. But suppose you’ve done your homework, queried a dozen or so agents, and are impatiently waiting to hear back. Now what?

The wait may be long. Agents are inundated with submissions. You can generally expect to a wait at least two to three months for a response, often much longer. Sometimes you’ll never hear back. In the meantime, the wait can be excruciating. So what should you do while you’re waiting?

Here are a half dozen suggestions:

1. Read good books. This will make you a better writer, make you a better human being, fill your heart with joy, and enrich your life. It might also help you come up with comp titles for the new book you’re working on. (You are working on a new book, right?)

2. Write (something else). At some point, your new agent may have notes for you on your manuscript, and once your agent sells your book, your publisher will most definitely want to work with you on edits. In the meantime, set that book aside and work on something new. If you score an agent meeting, they’re going to want to know what else you’re working on. And if your new agent scores you a two-book deal, you’re eventually going to need a second book.

3. Submit. Get some short stories or essays out there. Consider whether an excerpt from your novel might make a good standalone story. Give readers a taste of your writing so that, when your book comes out, they’ll be anxious to read it.

4. Query some more. Depending on your pitch strategy, you might want to send out five or so new queries each week, from now until the end of time … or until you get an agent. Whichever comes first.

5. Work on building your platform. This might include your website, a mailing list, social media, or getting stories or essays published that help establish your “brand,” which is just a fancy way of saying, let readers know what you’re all about.

6. Live your life. Get out there and experience some things, not only for the sake of drumming up new ideas for stories, but because this is your “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”). Visit family, go out for a nice dinner with friends, meet your bestie for coffee, take a walk on the beach, go ziplining. Live, writer, live!

Bonus suggestion: Don’t waste time and energy comparing your publishing journey to anyone else’s. I belong to a group of a half dozen or so writers who had either finished or nearly finished a book manuscript in June 2021. Two of us landed agents who now have their books out on submission to publishers, one of us landed an agent but is waiting for approval of her final revision before her book goes out on submission, two of us are still querying agents, two of us haven’t yet started querying because we’re still revising, and one is still writing because hers is a much longer historical novel requiring tons of research—writing historical fiction is a many-years-long proposition. Some of our books are more commercial than others. Some are genre, some are literary. One is memoir. We all have different visions for our future careers as writers, so we’ve all got our eyes on different kinds of agents and publishers. To compare our journeys to one another’s is fruitless, like comparing apples to oranges.