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January, 2008

Word Wright

Neubauer's Nuggets
No problem is too big or too small for our Joan
By  Joan R. Neubauer

Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer answers questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her at Subject: Neubauer Nuggets, and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.

Dear Joan,

I have been selling my work as a freelancer, and my articles appear regularly in local magazines and newspapers with very little editing. Now, I’ve just sold an article to a national magazine and the editor said she’d like to buy the article with some revisions. I like the article the way it is. Why should I revise it?

Freelance Queen
Clear Lake, Texas

Dear Freelance Queen,

Congratulations on selling your work. You seem to have learned how to be a freelancer on a local level. Now you have to learn what professionals know to sell on a national level.

Most publications don't have the staff to do extensive edits, so to a large degree they print what writers send them if it comes close enough. When an editor decides to buy your work, it's because it solves their particular problem. And if you present editors with something that almost fits the bill, they have the prerogative to ask you to customize it to particular needs, and they often do, particularly for national publication.

It doesn't matter how much you like something, the editor, the person who will sign your pay cheque has to fall madly in love with it. Therefore, you have to provide something that will exactly fit their needs.

No one says you have to revise it. You could simply withdraw it from this particular editor and continue to shop it in hopes of selling it as it is, or you could capitalize on your good fortune by revising it as the editor has asked and get a pay cheque from that effort. Then, go ahead and continue to market the original article and sell it without revision to a noncompeting publication, and earn a second pay cheque for your work.

Remember, the editor who signs your pay cheque has the right to ask you to revise.

Good luck to you,

Dear Joan,

My agent has had my novel for a month now and I haven't heard a word from her? How can I ask for the status of my manuscript without making her feel as though I'm stalking her?

Potential Stalker
New York

Dear Potential Stalker,

As an author, I totally understand your anxiety regarding the status of your manuscript, but you must remember three things. First, hardly anything can happen in a month. Second, your agent probably has many authors that she represents and spends time marketing each day. Third, you can safely assume that your agent has not yet sold your book or she'd have called you by now to tell you the good news.

The wheels grind slowly in the world of publishing so I wouldn't expect to hear anything for at least six months. I remember the sale of my first book took 18 months, so have a little patience. Remember, your book has to go through a number of readers, editorial committee meetings, as well as marketing committee meetings before the acquisitions editor finally makes the decision to buy your book. One month is hardly enough time for your manuscript to make it from the editor's desk to the first assistant editor's reading pile. Don't stress.

Second, as authors, we tend to forget that when we sign with an agent, that in itself is an action that conveys trust and confidence. Give you agent some time to do her job. I'm sure she's working to market your work as well as several others. That takes a lot of time and resources, so much so that she probably doesn't have the time to check in with all her authors once a week. If at the end of six months you haven't heard anything from her, by all means, drop her a friendly email asking for the status of your manuscript. At that time she should be able to give you the names of some of the publishing houses that have your manuscript for consideration and/or the names of those that have already rejected it. Above all, don't be demanding and maintain your professionalism.

Third, assume that your agent continues to market your book. If she had already sold it I'm sure you'd have heard by now. If after six months she has not sold it, try having a conversation with her and ask if you can do anything to help in the process such as offer to produce some press kits or PR material about yourself in order to make yourself more attractive to publishers. Your agent might have some other ideas.

In the meantime, don't sit around marking off days on your calendar. Start working on your next novel. Odds are, you've learned a great deal while writing the first one and the second will be much better. If you and your agent get lucky, she'll sell the first one to a publisher who absolutely loves your work and wants more from you. How great for you if you have something in the chute all ready to go.

Just because you're waiting right now, doesn't mean you should be doing nothing. Keep writing. Offer to help. Keep learning and educating yourself, so when that contract does come your way, you'll know a whole lot more, thus increasing your odds of success. And remember, no stalking allowed.

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Joan R. Neubauer is an author, publisher, public speaker, and editor. Her latest books are A Serpent’s Tooth and Shadow Dancing. For information on topics that Joan speaks about or to invite her to speak to your organization, you can contact her at

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