Writers in Waiting

By Elaine Viets

In the writing business, there’s one thing we all have in common – waiting.
I’m not sure if waiting should be classed as an art or a skill, but it’s something we writers endure. It’s our common bond. All writers, indie or traditionally published, beginners or old hands, are waiting for something.
We’re waiting for our manuscript to be accepted.
We’re waiting for our editor to read our next novel.
We’re waiting for the copy-edits to be finished.
We’re waiting for the page proofs.
We’re waiting for our agent to tell us what she thinks of our proposal.
We’re waiting to see how that new mystery we just released online sells.
We’re waiting to see the new cover the artist promised by Friday.
We’re waiting to see if our short story will be accepted in the new anthology.
We’re waiting for a contract.
We’re waiting to see if we won that contest for unpublished writers.
We’re waiting for a royalty check. (Oh, yeah, that one.)

Some of us are better at waiting than others. When I’m waiting, I’m like an old-school teenager waiting for a phone call from the coolest guy at school – I jump every time the phone rings, and nearly kill myself answering it. I’m afraid to leave the house, and when I do leave, I hurry back. I check messages every ten seconds. I bug Don, my long-suffering spouse, with questions he can’t answer: Do you think he’ll call today? If he does, will he buy it? If he buys it, do you think it will sell?
Meanwhile, Don’s waiting for me to shut up.
I ask myself all the questions that should calm me:
What’s the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t work?
I can entertain myself for hours with worst-case scenarios: I won’t make any money. I’ll have to start over. I can always sell it elsewhere. I can, can’t I?
Possibly the scariest waiting game I ever played was when I met Genny Ostertag. Genny was a hot new editor at a major New York publisher, back when those existed, and she was going to the Malice Domestic convention at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. In those days, the hotel was located on Jefferson Davis Highway. That road has since become the Richmond Highway.
Genny and my agent had been playing telephone tag. I waited for days to hear back from him, while chugging Pepto-Bismol. Finally he finally called with the news:
He’d arranged a meeting with Genny. “She wants to have a drink in the bar with you,” he said, “and she wants to talk to you about your proposed series.”
Wow. Visions of fat advances danced in my head.
“But remember,” he said. “You can’t mention it until she says the magic words: ‘What are you working on?’ Before that, you have to make small talk. Promise.”
I promised, though I didn’t realize the wear and tear it would create.
I went to the convention bar half an hour early to meet Genny. I was too scared to drink, so I bribed the bartender to dress up my club soda and make it look like an adult beverage. Genny arrived and ordered white wine. We met and said hello, then made stiff small talk until Genny said, “Can you believe this hotel is on Jefferson Davis Highway? Don’t they know they lost the Civil War?”

And suddenly we were talking about the Civil War. I dredged up every fact I could remember about the Jeff Davis and the Civil War. (Did you know that Jefferson Davis used to be Secretary of War for the USA, and he started the US Camel Corps? Yep, he served under President Franklin Pierce, and that’s about all I know on Pierce. Anyway, Davis believed camels would survive in the deserts of the far West better than horses. His idea might have worked, except the experiment was interrupted by guess what? The Civil War. Just as well. I can’t see John Wayne riding to the rescue on a camel.)
Our conversation seemed to last at least as long as that war (1861 to 1865, just ask me) until finally, finally, Genny said, “So, what are you working on?”
And I told her about my idea for the Dead-End Job series. Genny became my editor and bought the series, which resulted in fifteen mysteries and a lot of adventures working those dead-end jobs. So it was worth the wait.
What are you waiting for, readers?

Don’t wait! Buy the newly released ebook versions of the Dead-End Job mysteries, the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries, and Francesca Vierling mysteries here: https://awfulagent.com/ebooks/?author=elaine-viets

This entry was posted in Writing by Elaine Viets. Bookmark the permalink.

About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

28 thoughts on “Writers in Waiting

  1. Elaine, this was a good, instructive post.

    As an adherent to Heinlein’s Rules and a writer who writes off into the dark, I let the characters tell the story that they, not I, are living.

    Because that’s how I work, I love your quote: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t work?” But I apply it to the front end, to the joy of writing, not to the back end where others take control of my IP. In fact, I never see that end.

    I’m a fortunate guy. As for all that waiting, it must be rough. I can’t imagine. (grin)

  2. You are definitely a glass half-full type of guy, Harvey. There is great joy in writing — it’s a creative activity. I’m extremely luck to have freedom — I’m not writing press releases for cereal. It’s fear that I’ll lose that joy that helps trigger the worry.

  3. Elaine, being a writer is like being stuck in Sartre’s Waiting for Godot. You’re so right that it never, ever ends.

    The state of waiting means being at the mercy of factors beyond your control, which is nerve-wracking. Waiting used to torment me until I read somewhere– probably from Jim Bell when he was fiction editor at Writer’s Digest–to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control.

    Write a short story or article. A short piece works esp. well b/c you can finish it sooner than a novel and have a sense of accomplishment.

    Start on the next book. If you don’t have a next book in mind, hunt for ideas in your “story file” (you do keep one, don’t you?)

    Read a craft book. Learning a new tool or technique can make you eager to try it out in a new story.

    Change genres. A different mindset often breaks the logjam loose and sets you in a new direction.

    If you’re too busy with a new writing project to worry about what’s going on with your project-in-waiting, you’ve conquered the beast.

  4. Great post, Elaine. That’s a lot of waiting. And, that’s one of the reasons I decided to go indie. My waiting is for the feedback from the beta readers, waiting for the edits to come back, and waiting for the cover artist. Probably the most painful waiting is the one or two days–I know that’s short–when I have to wait to see that my formatted book upload to Kindle has been accepted, and I didn’t miss anything stupid…ahem, like the last time I forgot the footers and the page numbers. I didn’t say that.

    Have a wonderful holiday season…without any waiting!

    • Thanks, Steve. Forgetting the headers and footers sounds like a small problem. Especially when as an indie writer, you can fix the problem yourself and your “editor” will never know.

  5. Like you, Elaine, I am not a patient waiter by nature, but I’m working on it. I’m waiting for my editor to send the 1st round of edits for my thriller, an agent to read my proposal, and my true crime house to offer a contract. If I allow myself to think about, I’ll go mad, so I dove into a new project. Works every time.

  6. Wow, you have a whole lot of waiting going on, Sue, but you’re sure to have good news on some of your projects. Smart idea to keep working. That’s how we distract ourselves. Wishing you good news, as soon as possible.

  7. I’m not the most patient person, either, Elaine. Years ago, when I was submitted short stories to the various speculative fiction magazines, I counted the days. It could take several months to hear back, usually in the form of a “form” rejection. Ironically, when I finally began earning acceptances, it was to small, digital magazines, with responses times measured in days.

    As an indie, I have to wait on my beta readers and my editor. Usually I’m outlining my next project during those times. I also have to wait on cover designers as well as promotions like BookBub, but I find that easier.

    Other than that, I have to wait on myself–wait to be ready to write a particular novel or series, and that can be hard. I’m charge, which means managing myself and staying focused. That, too can take some patience 🙂

    BTW, I have a long-running personal anthem for the waiting we writer and creatives must endure: Tom Petty’s “The Waiting.” I’ve listened to the original, the live version, and Linda Ronstadt’s cover many times. I heard an NPR interview with Petty years ago where he said he came up with the song literally playing with chords while waiting for inspiration. This after the song had been my own “waiting” anthem for some time.

    Thanks for another great post. Have a wonderful Thursday!

  8. Impatient people don’t belong in publishing because it will give them ulcers or stress them into a fetal ball. I was beaten into submission very early in my career. Manuscripts held by agents for up to two YEARS, requested manuscripts by editors held almost that long, the process of going from query letter to partial to full manuscript to rewrite request then rejection taking a minimum of six months a step, and on and on and on.

    I once did a kind of stupid but at that point I didn’t give a crap retaliation by sending a small publisher a year anniversary card on a requested manuscript. She thought that was funny and called me to tell me she wanted to buy my book. I learned from friends this publisher was run by crooked incompetents so the sale never went through, but, dang that card felt good to send.

  9. I wait for nothing.

    OK, I’m fibbing a little. My last waiting was to hear from Amazon about changing an ISBN. But while waiting, I was reading my latest proof copy.

    So much to do; so little time to wait.

    Maybe it’s my OCD…

  10. The early-in-career waiting is a killer. Back in 1995, when I was first querying agents during the days of SASEs and the US Postal Service, the daily mailbox vigil was soul stealing. Then, for 27 SASEs in a row, as rejections piled in, the wait began to feel like the prologue to the real pain.

    Then, I got a yes from an agent, which led to dozens more yesses from publishers around the world. Same mailbox, same phone, entirely different experiences.

    Now, in the days of emails and instant gratification, I’ve learned to enjoy the wait. Unless things change–which is always a possibility in the entertainment business–I write my books under contract, so I can afford to take a few weeks off between submission and commencement. I now enjoy those waiting days.

    • I remember those SASEs, John, and the long waits for answers — and then the long waits to hear from my agent. Email has made the waiting game a little easier.

  11. As a “started later in life” author, I have so much to learn and so much to do, I don’t have time to wait. If my manuscript is at the editor’s, I’m reading craft books, jotting down notes for the next book, listening to podcasts on writing, and reading, reading, reading. And trying to stay organized.

    There is one thing I wait on: it takes my Windows 10 laptop for-ev-er to make itself presentable when I boot it up. Although I only use it for emails, etc (I write on a Mac), it still serves as my patience-ometer.

    • Welcome to the club, Kay. My Windows 10 was so slow, I called my computer tech. He added more memory (to the computer, not to me) and it’s still slow!

  12. Reading your piece made me think of the saying “All good things come to those who wait”. I didn’t know where it came from, so I asked The Google and it tells me it’s originally a biblical proverb. I’m not so sure if it’s necessarily true in the writing business, though. My experience is good things generally come to those who go out and make them happen. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Elaine. By the way – what are you working on? 🙂

  13. I agree, Gary. In the writing business we (or our agent) has to make things happen. I’m currently working on my 7th Angela Richman mystery, due at the end of January — and my editor will not wait. Happy holidays, all.

  14. I’ve never been good at waiting. For anything. Taking the indie route has eliminated some of the waiting in the publishing world, as others have already pointed out. But most of the time, regardless of what it is, I feel like my dog must when she looks at me and gives me the “What do you mean it’s not dinnertime yet?” eyes.

  15. Sorry to be late to the party, Elaine. Not that anybody was waiting.

    Whenever I become inpatient (frequently) I think of the following quotation, the source of which is unknown but frequently and incorrectly attributed to Sun Tzu in The Art of War:

    “If you wait patiently by the river, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

    I realized this as a truth long before I became familiar with the quote. Thinking of examples of it is one way to make the time pass when waiting for something.

    Thanks for yet another great post.

Comments are closed.