Sunday, May 20, 2012


Are you contemplating writing a novel? Do you long to see your name on the cover of a book published by some illustrious commercial enterprise? Have you succumbed to furor scribendi? That’s fine. You now have a worthwhile pastime to keep you busy. But before you start spending the advance you hope for, you might read this little article to learn (a) what might happen and (b) how long things can take.

Here is a chronology of the publishing (or non-publishing) of Storm Approaching.

2001 – June 26    Began writing novel
2002 – July 29    Finished writing novel
2004 – June          Finished editing and revising novel. (This could have taken less time, but I wrote the first drafts of Gold and Glory and Resolution before final edit of Storm Approaching.)

2004 – Sept.        Began agent search (103 query letters, 14.6% of which were successful, i.e. produced requests for a partial.)
2005 – April        Secured fine agent. He suggested some changes; made changes, including about 20 pp. of new material.

2005 – by October     Agent begins submissions to major publishers --Major publishers reject novel for various reasons; e.g. From Bantam: “This had an interesting premise and was indeed well written, but…” From Warner: “The plot is great and the pacing is good, but … the problem for me is the writing…”
Very helpful.

2006 – March      A “nibble” from a major publisher. First reader recommends book to Supreme Editor.

2006 – March through 2008 – August.  Nothing happens. Agent repeatedly tries to get Supreme Editor to read book. Editor does not read book. Or maybe does. Or maybe reads part of it. Nobody knows.

2008 – August    Agent gives up: Supreme Editor has maybe read book and did not like it and maybe will re-read it or maybe not. End of agented representation. Author decides to pay AuthorHouse to publish it since only alternative is burning the trilogy.

2009 – May         Storm Approaching published at author’s expense.

And now for the punch line:

2012March      Letter arrives from the Major Publisher (DAW). Excerpts below:  

“Thank you… for your patience… We apologize sincerely for the delay, and are attempting to address our backlog and change our procedures… Please know that, because of the significant positive attributes of your manuscript, which the first reader enjoyed, it did reach the desk of an editor… Unfortunately, the editor did not find the manuscript right for [Major Publisher]….
So there it is: a final answer after just six years. I am a bit surprised that all the principals—the author, the first reader, the Supreme Editor, even the agent—are still alive. As a historian I find it very comforting that, in this age of instant this and instant that, some things—in fact the whole of conventional publishing, as far as I can tell—still proceed at a pace that would have been considered stately when Charles Dickens—or Alexander Pope, for that matter—was trying to burst into print. When Augustus said festina lente, was he thinking of the publishing industry?

Patience is a virtue, and maybe sometimes a vice. If you hope to publish a book through a Major Publisher, start writing it today. You’ll need all the time you’ve got. Oh: The Mercenaries trilogy is available, it’s just not in bookstores. Why not buy the first volume today? Don’t take your time…

Comments? Questions?     Leave them below, or at


  1. I have only been at this for a couple years, and I've heard some of the horror stories, but this is absolutely stunning. Six years to get a response. Wow. No wonder print books are dying. I know I do not know the half of what the publishing industry entails, but why do I get the feeling that traditional publishing is like riding a bicycle on a highway when we've had automobiles for a century?

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. It was amazing. Of course I gave up on getting any reply in 2008, so the arrival of the letter over three years later was just funny, but you have to wonder what happened to get them so far behind.