I am currently waiting to hear back from a major publisher about one of my novels. I submitted the novel over three years ago in December 2014.
No, I’m not kidding. Nor am I surprised--I expected a long wait when I made the decision to submit to this publishing house. Nor is this a complaint. Far from it. Publishers are inundated with manuscripts these days (I blame the invention of the personal computer) and I am grateful that they *have* a slush pile. They are one of the few major SF/F publishers still out there that accept unsolicited manuscripts (i.e. unagented.)
About six months after submission I heard back that my manuscript had passed the first hurdle and had passed on to the “serious consideration” pile, but that there were a large number of manuscripts ahead of mine. Every year I receive a kind note, thanking me for my patience, and assuring me that I am still in the queue.
All of this used to be the norm for writers without agents, but as self-publishing has taken off, I think the willingness to wait has grown rarer. Many of my writer friends are puzzled by my patience.
Why am I willing to wait? For a number of reasons. One, because this is a “trunk” novel that I wrote years ago. Right now I have a backlog of completed books, and it isn’t a hardship for me to wait for one. In fact I’ve had an entire trilogy released from a different publisher in the time I’ve been waiting. Two, because if the book is rejected I can always self-publish it then. Three, because my husband’s salary supports our family. I fully acknowledge that many writers can't afford to wait this long.
Mostly, I am willing to wait because if I succeed I believe it will give my career a leg up that any number of indie-published novels won’t. I have published sixteen novels. Two are self-published. I sold three copies of them last month. Five came out from digital publishers. I sold one copy of those last month. Five were put out by small print publishers. All are currently out-of-print. (Rights have reverted to me and self-publishing them is on my to-do list for the year.) I consider one of those small print titles to be a success: Frost sold about 5000 copies, mostly because it was selected for the Forest of Reading program and a large number of Ontario schools bought copies so their students could participate and vote for the award. (I was 2nd runner up.)
Four of my novels have come out from major publishers. One to Scholastic Canada, which earned out its $1000 advance (this was 1989) plus a little more. One to Tor/Forge, my only hardcover, which tanked and never came close to earning out my advance.
My other successes were the two books that my then-agent sold to Pocket Books, Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes. Violet Eyes earned out its advance and went for a second print run. It sold 28,000 copies. I attribute most of its success to the fact that Barne & Noble picked it as one of its featured teen books and displayed it face out. Silver Eyes sold half the number of copies (this is standard for a sequel) and only earned out after a number of years. In fact, I *still* get very modest royalty checks for these books, fifteen years later, from ebook sales. Violet Eyes is my only book to have over a 1000 Goodreads reviews, despite being released a decade before Goodreads existed. In contrast, most of my other titles have less than a hundred reviews. Most of my fans are fans of that particular series.
So, what have I learned from my experience? That big publisher books can fail or succeed depending on factors I have no control over, but that if they *do* succeed, they will reach a bigger audience. And that, to me, is worth the risk of waiting.
Obviously, every author has different experiences. There are authors who have succeeded in indie publishing far beyond my small successes in traditional publishing (and been able to keep a larger percentage of the pie). Also, most of my experiences are based on the young adult market. (Romance is a whole other ball of yarn. Romance readers have embraced ebooks to a much greater degree than other genres.)