The Waiting Game

Jörg Weingrill

One of the most difficult – and most unexpectedly difficult – aspects of being a writer is the waiting game. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published four books, as I have, or are querying your first: there will always and inevitably be a lag time, sometimes a very long lag time, between when you want news or answers on a project and when you actually get them. Right now, I am stuck in an endless cycle of this waiting game: I have four projects out in the world, and it feels as if I spend my life staring at a metaphorical “hold” button – it is flashing and flashing and flashing, and all I am doing is willing someone to pick up. In a less metaphorical sense, this means that in reality, I spend a lot of time staring at my inbox with absolutely no emails coming in (barring spam and FWs from my mom).

I remember this feeling back when I first queried, and I’m sure that many of you remember it (or are experiencing it right now) as well. That excruciating time when you didn’t know if an agent would say “yes” to your manuscript, and then, once you landed an agent, when you didn’t know if a publisher would say “yes” to your manuscript. I not only went through this waiting game in my agent search and initial publisher search, I went through this a second time when I switched publishers, and my agent and I sweated and sweated (and then agonized some more) over getting an offer at a different publishing house. And then I went through this again when said imprint collapsed, and I was forced to switch publishers yet again for my fourth novel. (I’ve been published at three different houses over the years.)

You’d think that it would get easier, and yet, here I am again.
Waiting on answers on two screenplays, a movie pitch and a book deal.

In other words, if you’re looking for an easy career, this isn’t it.  :) Or if you tend to chew off your fingernails out of anxiety, you’re gonna need a manicure.

So why bother blogging about this? Because we’re all going to go through it, but that doesn’t mean this has to be a black hole of unproductivity. I mean, there are only so many times you can check your email before you start to feel like you’re coming unhinged. There are only so many times you can (or should) email your agent asking for an update before you become a pest.

So here is my advice, all of which, of course, is easier said than done. (Give me a second because I have to go check my email.)

1)   Start something new. Every seasoned writer will tell you this. The best time to start a new project is while you’re waiting on the last one. Not only does this help take your mind off of your first project, but it also gives you something to dive into if things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s a lot harder to jump-start a new book when you’ve gotten demoralizing news about the last one than it is to get going on a book that is already half-written. And conversely, if things go gang-busters with project 1, you have project 2 to sell right away. It’s a win-win.

2)   If you’re not quite ready to start a new book, find ways or excuses to keep writing – blogging, researching, taking notes for yourself on something that interests you. Every day. I have made this mistake before: stepping away for a few weeks and really not exercising my writing muscles during those lag times. Let me tell you: it is SO much harder to reboot when you’re out of practice. Not even the writing but the discipline it takes to do said writing. Make no mistake: writing is work, and if you slack off on your work, it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to get going again.

3)   Accept that some things are not going to be in your control. This is a difficult one, mostly because no one ever wants to believe that his or her career (and/or life) isn’t entirely within one’s power. But over the years, I’ve come to realize (as have many other writer friends) that so much of what happens in this industry isn’t in our hands. The only thing you can do is write the best book you can, surround yourself with the best people you can (agent, editor, critique group), and then accept that you saw the expectations bar and rose above it. You can’t make an editor read faster; you can’t expect the marketing team to do something that they only do for John Grisham; you can’t make a publisher offer on something if they don’t want to. You can listen to your agent, take advice from your editor and revise, revise, revise. That’s it.

4)   My friend (and author) Kayt Sukel (@kaytsukel) suggests that you busy yourself with something else entirely: a project around the house, a volunteer position at school, whatever. And I wholeheartedly endorse this. The key is to get your mind off of the wait…and your brain away from your inbox. One thing that I have found tremendously helpful, in terms of managing my stress levels these days, is taking an hour away from my phone and computer entirely. Usually, this means an hour of exercise for me – yoga, running, whatever – where I can’t focus on what is coming down the electronic pipeline. I almost always wind up feeling significantly less stressed than where I was an hour before. Even if my email hasn’t delivered the news I’m hoping for, I’m more centered and thus, a little less frantic.

Look, the bottom line is that if you sign up to be an author, you are also going to sign up for all of the things discussed above. This profession is incredibly rewarding and wonderful and freeing…but it can also be equally frustrating and stressful. Not unlike life in general, no? :) The waiting game is, unfortunately, just one of those inevitables that goes along with the rest of it.

I’d love to hear how you guys cope with the waiting game. Any tips that I left out?


About Allison Winn Scotch

Allison Winn Scotch is the author of four novels: The One That I Want, Time of My Life, and The Department of Lost and Found, and The Song Remains the Same. She lives in Los Angeles with her family, where she is at work on her new projects.


  1. says

    Thanks for the great advice. I like to start a new writing project and shut off the Internet so I’m not tempted to look at my emails every 15 minutes. I’m self-published so my waiting games usually involve waiting on critiques.

  2. says

    Thanks for this. I’m waiting at the beginning of the process — unpublished, project out with agents. And, oh, the waiting! I’ve whined, I mean blogged about it recently, myself.

    I took the seasoned writer advice and started another longer writing project as soon as I finished the one that’s out and about, but I’ve found myself distracted by wondering about the other project. So I still work at it, but it’s work.

    While I wait, I like to do shorter things that I can finish: blog posts, projects around the house. It’s tough having big things up in the air for long periods of time, so I find I have to pile up mini accomplishments in other areas to keep myself going.

  3. says

    Even with freelancing, there is an obligatory waiting period with editors. I keep working and find new projects, keeping them diversified so I have something different to focus on. Sometimes wine helps too. ;)

  4. says

    I am resolved to expect reasonable delays especially from agents who have a tsunami of submissions that take time to weed through. But, I do have little patience with those who say ‘no simultaneous submissions’ then take 6 – 8 months to reply…if at all. Unless you expect to live to be 170, you MUST make simultaneous submissions. Grumble, grumble.

  5. says

    So true! I think as someone about to have her first book published, I’m learning that waiting is as big a part of publishing as writing! And the downtime can either help you or hurt you — and it’s our job to make sure it’s not the latter. It’s hard to make “the others” (people not in publishing or writing) understand why it will be 18 months from book deal to book shelf, but I’ve also tried to keep everyone informed throughout the process.

    I also think that sometimes there are surprises that come with the waiting – like when something happens *POOF* and you’re not waiting anymore. That’s the BEST.

    Thanks for all the reminders, Allison!

  6. says

    I’m about to go into a submissions waiting period, but this problem has already been licked for me. By my wife. That’s right, she’s already taken care of it. While I went through a rewrite over the summer and fall, she accumlated the most elaborate and extensive honey-do list anyone has ever seen. These are big projects, too (remodel the bathroom and strip and refinish the dining room floor-type stuff).
    Makes me wish I could just obsess over the inbox. :-/

    Thanks for the tips, Allison. I appreciate the insights from a pro.

  7. says

    Thanks for this post! I am newbie and about to start the agent-search process. (My synopsis is almost done!) So this is very helpful. I was going to take a break from novel writing until January, but mentally, I don’t think I could handle not doing what I love until then. Besides, as you say, it will keep me focused. Thanks for confirming this!

  8. says

    The waiting IS hard. In some ways, I’ve found it to be the hardest part of the process. Every hope and dream and fear is hung out to wave in the wind.

    Thanks for the timely reminders of how to get back to the doing, and leave the waiting behind.

  9. says

    It also helps if you can’t afford the internet, haha. My internet experience is completely relegated to the coffee shop where I work. The no-email weekends are especially nice. ;)

  10. says

    Loved this post. Right there waiting with ya right now!

    One thing I’d add is that it’s a terrific time to build your platform. You have extra time to blog or tweet or FB, so do it! Comment on other blogs. Make new writing friends. It helps a little, plus it helps YOU in the long run.

    I’ve been doing this lately…then finally gave up and started writing another book in another genre from my book that’s on submission. I figured WHY NOT. The creative process can’t be stopped, and the worst thing EVER is a stagnating writer.

    Still, I’ll be checking email at least 50 times a day, until I get the emails I’m waiting for!

  11. Ray Pace says

    Keeping busy writing is definitely the way to go. I have two websites, one dealing with art ( the other with expressive writing ( and both need constant feeding. I also hang out with writers, belong to Sisters in Crime – I’m a Mister in Crime, and a member of a group that is exploring Apple’s iBooks Author. The creative ideas literally flow from all these activities and you run into so many wonderful character types you can use. Network, network, network!

  12. Christine Autrand Mitchell says

    As someone waiting to hear from an agent with an exclusive for a novel and in option talks for a screenplay, I am there with you! Luckily I have other projects to work on, but the email-checking magnet is very powerful!

    Commiserating with others in the same position certainly helps!

  13. says

    You’re so right on with your great advice. When I first started querying, I ignored the advice to start the next book. I regret that now, as it took so bloody long to get an agent, I could have written two more books. Now, I’m in submission purgatory, and working on other projects is saving my sanity. Sort of.

  14. says

    I think every writer should hear, “there will be a lot of waiting.” Patience is required not only for the early stages of querying and later for book and movie deals, but for PR and sales themselves. There is no one magic bullet that causes a “tipping point” for writers or whether or not a blogger or journalist will pick YOUR book out of the hundreds received each month to feature or read/review or how long it takes for the sales to start coming in once readers do find out about your work and recommend and hopefully “catch fire.”

    As much as I can, I try to practice staying in the present moment and “being where I am” which is not to think about things not in my control, which is really what waiting is. Why wait when there is so much life to be lived NOW. When the news comes, it will be a pleasant surprise. Hard, but works.

  15. says

    Great advice — I wish I’d read this ages ago. Publishing is like a series of mountain ranges — you get to the top of one (say, finishing your manuscript) and just when you think you’ve earned a chance to enjoy the view and catch your breath, you realize there is a whole other mountain you have to climb right in front of you. Patience and perseverance are essential.

    That said, the waiting period is a nice time to catch up with all the friends you’ve neglected while writing or researching an agent or publisher. : )

  16. says

    Sounds like there are a lot of us obsessively checking our inboxes right now.

    I’ve repainted my daughters’ bathroom, read a bunch of novels, written blog posts, etc. I can’t quite get motivated to start another project since that will almost feel like I’ve given up hope that I’ll soon be interrupted by THE CALL.

    Before long, I might have to, though, or I will surely go insane from a lack of things to do.

  17. says

    Okay, well, I’m just excited to hear more about those 4 projects of yours once you’re done waiting for green lights on them.

  18. says

    Hi Allison:

    I really loved this post! Especially grateful when seasoned authors such as yourself, help direct and teach us newbies on what can help us.

    After we wrote our first book, we were so psyched to query and get this project picked up. Then, real life hit, along with the rejections. You loose confidence and steam along the way and begin to doubt yourself and ask serious questions. But beginning a new project, for us, made us feel as though we were giving up on the book we believed in. Rather than sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, we took it as a learning experience. Began looking at the work. Cleaning it, over and over. Then, we finally agreed that it would be better to keep moving forward, and ended up writing our favorite of our three books. It’s important that aspiring writers hear what you said. By pushing on, it helps the writer to gain more experience thereby improving their craft. Another thing we try to do, is enter competitions, giving us a chance to not only get our work out there and judged. But also, make some money writing and hopefully add some credentials to our name.We also joined forces with other writers and those who love books, to organize a writing group in our small rural community as well as a book club. Volunteering was also a great recommendation Allison. There are so many good things we can do for the community. Reading to children in the hospital. Organizing a book drive for lower incomed families who cannot afford to buy books for thier kids. No better way to come off a bad ride than to help others. Especially children and promoting reading and writing. Thanks so much for the great advice. Greatly appreciated!

  19. says

    An excellent post, Allison. Thank you for sharing. All four of your recommendations are ones I try to use, too. And they all help, for sure. You’re right: the waiting game never does end, and so much of it all is out of our hands. Great sage advice.

    I can’t wait to hear more about your projects! Congrats on being at this stage of the game.

  20. says

    I think #3 is the hardest, but most important, for every writer to do. Even if you self-publish, you have to play the waiting game. When you query to agents or traditional publishers, you can at least say that your fate is in their hands now. When you self-publish, you may feel like you’re supposed to be in control, but you’re really not–and you’re not waiting for the approval of a single person, but the endorsement of hundreds or thousands to succeed. All you can do is put the book out there, do what you can marketing-wise, and wait.

    I agree that you need to keep writing and keep busy…but sometimes you might need a break, too. There’s nothing wrong with stepping away from the computer for a few days or even a week. Runners need to recover after a big race before diving back into training. Writers need time to stop checking emails and sales figures obsessively and ease back into the groove.

  21. says

    Like Vaughn (or his wife) I recommend housework. Usually, it’s a great time to clean up my office which has become an even bigger mess than usual. Like, it would be nice to see my desk again. So that’s my plan for when I send my ms to my agent in the next couple months: de-piling.

  22. says

    Allison, these words are so, so wise. I’ve missed reading your blogs. You always know exactly what to say, exactly when I need to hear it. Your honesty is such a comfort to all of us at every step on this journey.

    Here’s to emails that make you cheer, and may they come swiftly.

  23. says

    Great post… all the suggestions are good. But I wonder why writers have such a hard time relaxing. Is it part of our genetic make-up or something? Like if we stop, relax, lay on a beach (for a day or seven or fourteen) we WILL NEVER EVER write AGAIN? Social media is nice because we can tweet, post, blog and still be technically either marketing or writing (or both). Ok so we can garden, do housework, or write write write some more. Well then, how about a break? A break is good. Yes writing is work, however, if we never get a day off then it is just a job, like every other boring grueling job, it aint nothing but work and not a dream. Would it be too much to ask to add to your list a certain #5 . . . as in #5 TAKE A VACATION ?? Vacations are excellent for the creative juices too. Filling the well of ink with quiet time.