Some people don’t enjoy the dating game. I’m done with that one, luckily. Phone-tag can be a drag, unless you have friends like my pal Craig, who makes up droning, off-key songs on my voice-mail. There are other games I do not enjoy, like games of chance or games where my nephew shows off his creativity by making up rules as we go along (he’s growing out of this habit, luckily, because he’s too old for it to be funny anymore). There is one game I will never enjoy: The Waiting Game. And that’s what I’m playing now.
I sent off a manuscript of a book I’ve written to a publishing company, and I’m waiting to hear back from the publisher. The company has been great. I’ve already worked with one of their editors to hammer out some bumpy parts of the book. He was very helpful despite the fact that I secretly second-guessed much of his advice. He read and re-read passages for me, and when I thought it was ready to submit to his boss, he made me feel comfortable doing so.
Then I began to wait.
I am not a patient man. I skipped a year of high school because I wanted to be in college. In college I didn’t bother to wait to decide what kind of job I wanted when choosing classes to take. When I met the woman of my dreams I didn’t wait long to propose, and though I agreed to be engaged for two years I was still married pretty young. I did wait a while to have a child, but not until I was as financially stable as I would have liked. Despite my impatience, I’m lucky to be married to the right person, have the right child, and have a job I love. From my perspective, seeing how everything has worked out so well, patience seems highly overrated. I know it’s a virtue. Yada yada yada. No time for that! I want to have my cake and eat that m-f-er NOW!
Like so many other areas of life, there are things that are simply not within one’s locus of control. I cannot make the publisher make a decision, and if I could, it would likely be to encourage him to reject me that much more quickly. I mean, let’s face it; most manuscripts are rejected. I know my novels and short stories were never picked up in the past. Why do I think this one will be different? Aren’t I just hastening my own disappointment?
There’s the rub. Is it better to know, even if knowing hurts? These things would be easy to measure, if only we knew in advance how much we would hurt later. When the publisher rejects the book (which, deep down, I know I should expect) will I wish I could have had more days of waiting? Will I be relieved to move on to another publisher? Will I sink into a funk, decide the project was a monumental waste of time, file it in a drawer, and forget about it? I can’t know. Analyzing the prospective outcome of my waiting only adds another layer of uncertainty.
Is there a pleasant side to waiting? Definitely, though it isn’t as enjoyable as Craig’s spontaneous songwriting. Anticipating gives me a window to imagine what I will do if I get good news. It’s a ticket to daydream. Sure, the dreams are much smaller than the ones I enjoy when I buy a lottery ticket. Actually, I’ve only done that once, but my wife and I spent the whole evening discussing what we would do if we won the 300 million bucks, and even after taxes it was a kick. We even wrote down the charities we’d want to support, the influence on them we’d like to have, and some we’d like to start. Since then I’ve come across other ideas and logged them in my memory for when I hit it big. But I haven’t played again. When it came time to announce the winner, I found I was no longer enjoying myself. Sorry Wikipedia and The One Campaign. You won’t be getting a couple mil from me anytime soon.
Publishing the book isn’t about money. I don’t expect to be paid even minimum wage for the time I spent hammering at this keyboard, let alone the time I’ve spent wondering if it was all worth it. I’d write anyway. I’m an addict. No, publishing really is about the ideas getting out there. I’d self-publish or post the whole thing on the web, but I know that, sadly, people are far more likely to read something they have to pay for. I’ve been given people’s manuscripts before, three-hole-punched with Xeroxed black-and-white covers, and I know what happened to some of those. Or I don’t, which is the point. No, publishers are valuable gatekeepers. They let people know what they decided to invest in, so readers, in turn, can have a better sense of what is a worthwhile investment of their time. Publishers make that investment, so they get to make the decisions. Writers, we get to wait.
My particular prospective publisher hasn’t made waiting easy. He doesn’t have to. That’s not his job. Still, after waiting for about a month, I finally sent off a letter to my editor friend asking if it would be appropriate to ask the publisher when I should be expecting a response. He told me that was fine, and that it was a good thing I’d asked. The publisher then told me he’d get back to me by the end of the month.
When that came around I went through the editor again. He talked to the publisher, who sent me a kind apology for running late and told me he’d be done by “the first of next week”. I took that to be Monday.
Now, he may have sent out a letter by snail mail today, or maybe he’s swamped and I’ll hear from him tomorrow, or maybe the “first if the week” quote means the beginning of the week, as in the first few days. In which case I don’t want to nag too soon.
So here I am. Waiting. And if this post feels a bit inconclusive, well…
See? Not fun.