Congratulations! You’ve signed with your first literary agent, and they love your manuscript! Huzzah! Bravo! Cheers! Mazel Tov!
… now what?
What happens next?
Working with your Agent
After you’ve had “The Talk” with your agent, and agreed to sign on as a client, one of the first things you will likely discuss with them will be what revisions they would like to see done on your existing manuscript (unless you already revised the book as a condition of offer).
You will likely also have a conversation about what other manuscripts you currently either have already complete, or what ideas you may have for future books or – if the book you signed on has series potential – where to go with the next books.
Remember, your agent is your ally for your future career, and they are the ones with their eyes on the market.
Shopping your Manuscript
Once your manuscript edits are complete and your book is ready to be sent out to publishers and editors for consideration, your agent will work with your to build a Shopping or Pitch package. This is where those Back Cover Copy, 1-3-5 Page synopsis, Market Comparisons, Series Potential, etc. documents that you ought to have been writing while you were sending the books out to agents to consider come in.
When you’re both happy with what you have, your agent will start sending out letters of interest (these days, more like emails of interest) to the industry connections they have. Editors, publishers, etc. They’ll talk it up at conferences and list it in their available properties if that’s something they do. They’ll work with the agency’s foreign rights partners and dramatic adaptations partners to pitch the manuscript around those parts as well.
You’ll likely get some nos, some partial or full reads and a pass, or some interest. The ideal is to have several editors at multiple houses wanting to acquire the book, which would result in a bidding war.
Once you have an offer, you and your agent will discuss the terms of the offer (it may include a book tour, it may not; it may include an advance, it may not; it may include an audio book, it may not, etc.), request any desired changes to the phrasing or clauses, and then sign it.
At this point, the work of turning your manuscript into a book passes out of your agent’s hands and into your acquiring editor’s.
Working with your Publishing House
Once all the paperwork is signed with your publisher, your acquiring agent will reach out to you with a formal Editing Letter. You will likely have been in contact with them already, talking about the book and what they loved about it, and where they see it fitting in their hourse’s roster and marketing plants. But this will be the first real notice that it’s Go Time.
The letter will outline the strengths of the manuscript, and discuss any changes they propose. You can always talk with your editor if something is unclear, doesn’t seem to sit right, or would impede future narrative plans. Always make sure you guys have a through understanding of what you’re each talking about and are completely on the same page before diving back into revisions.
Sometimes these revisions are substantial and include complete burn-and-rewrites, and sometimes they’re like, four little notes. It all depends on what serves the manuscript best to make it a strong book product.
Once you and your editor are satisfied with the rewrites, a timeline for publication will likely be set, and the great spinning wheel of turning this manuscript into a Book starts cranking into motion.
Next, your manuscript will be handed off to a proofreader and copyeditor. Their job is to hunt down and destroy all those typos, comma splices, and mistaken homonyms.
Depending on the size of the publishing house, this might be the same person as your acquiring editor, or a freelancer they hire, or an in-house copyeditor. Either way, these edits should all serve to strengthen your manuscript, so if at some point you’re reviewing them and something is clashing, or they’re stripping out the voice, talk to your acquiring editor about it.
You may have a few back and forths, depending on what you want to accept or reject in their proposed changes.
Likely, you’ll have already been discussing your ideas for the cover with your acquiring editor. Remember, you as the writer don’t actually have the power to dictate or veto the cover ideas, but of course as the person who knows the story best you will be asked your opinion. Different publishers include authors to different extents in this discussion process.
Usually a cover is completed far enough in advance of the book that it can be used as the jumping off point for the Buzz Building that will take place in the 3 -12 months prior to the book’s release date.
Discuss with your editor what their marketing department has planned for the cover release, and loop your agent into this discussion so all three of you can strategize together.
Interior Design & Galleys
The next time you see you manuscript, it will be book shaped! After everyone’s signed off on the edits, your manuscript is forwarded on to a typesetter/interior designer, who will lay it out in book format. This is the time when they’ll add things like illustrations, if your book comes with them, or specific fanciful scene separators, or the title page.
Any specific imagery or layout choices will have likely already been discussed with your acquiring editor before this time, so now is the moment to review the book and make sure that it was translated onto the page correctly.
A “galley” is basically a dress-rehearsal for your book. You’ll be asked to review it (and hopefully with at least a few weeks lead time so you’re not rushed), and make sure that not only are major mistakes (like two chapter 4s and no chapter 5 ) or small weird formatting concerns (like cut off lines, or things that are italic which should not be or vice versa), or something else is wonky.
Where I’m given the lead time, I prefer to be able to print this out and see it “book shaped” to get a sense of the whole product, not just the story.
You’ll be asked to send back your fixes and then, for really reals, the book will be out of your hands forever. That’s it! No more changes! All done!
Marketing and ARCs
A lot of this work will probably actually take place alongside your work on what was requested of you in your Editing Letter.
Once you have your cover (and it’s been released), you can start using it in your own marketing initiatives. Authors are usually the ones who must design and pay for the little in-hand things like lapel pins, bookmarks, postcards, library posters, and of course whatever graphics you use for your own social media and website.
Your publisher will work to get the book out to review sites, awards, industry publications, and if they have the pull and the money, premium placement on a shelf, or book tours or appearances. You may or may not be paired up with a publicist in the house to help with this.
You may have very little marketing support, if they’re a very small house with a very small budget, so in this case you may want to consider hiring a publicist yourself, or a social media advertiser, or a virtual assistant, or paying a friend in wine to put out a newsletter every month for you (thank you, Karen!). Or you may wanna just buckle down and do it yourself.
Either way, do some research and make yourself a plan. I have lots of advice on marketing your work in my other Words for Writers articles.
When the book is done-done-done, the publisher will make ARCs – Advance Reader Copies. Basically, pre-publication books. This should be the final book in every way except that they are available before the book’s actual release date.
These are sometimes paper, sometimes e-only. Reviewing the ARC will be the Final Chance Ever to find mistakes, but should be pretty clean.
ARCs are then sent out by either you or your publisher’s marketing team, or both, to reviewers, media outlets, contests, and industry publications. This helps to generate the vitally important pre-publication buzz for the novel.
The Big Wait
(Sometimes I think this stage is added simply so you can take a breather from your book and stop despising it after having reread and rewritten it about seventy million times. I’m always grateful for it though because it’s nice to have the time to refill your well with excitement and joy for your story.)
This is where the marketing plans start whirring into motion and you’ll start sending the ARCs out for reviews. They’ll start coming in so you can use them to support your marketing, and add them to your website.
This is the perfect down time to do all those little To Do list things you’ve been missing – update your website, write thank-you notes, get your social media queued up, arrange your book launch party, etc.
Time to go have another chat with your agent! Get them up to speed with the marketing plans that your publishing house is enacting, and talk through what you think you can add on your end, and from the agency, to support or augment that push. Makes some checklists, start some buzz going, and then…
RELAX. Catch up on sleep. Do your taxes. Spend time with your kids. Meal prep. Whatever sparks your joy.
And, eventually, when you’re ready to jump back into the creative well, start the next project you and your agent earmarked as your follow up. This might be book #2 in your series, or something else entirely. Check in with your agent, and then have fun!
Time to get back at it!
On the day your book is released, it will likely be All Hands On Deck. You, your publisher, your editor, and your agent will be working in tandem to execute all of your social media blasts and marketing pushes. Try to set up as much of it as possible to be automated on the day-of.
Some people have their book launch party coincide with the release date, some choose to do it after, and some choose not to have a party at all. Research what works best for you, and make sure you have enough lead time for you/the bookstore to actually receive your box of books in the mail!
The book is out, the party is over, the cake is eaten and your hand is cramped from all the autographs you signed. Bravi!
Don’t forget to keep your social media and website up to date with any changes that might come with the book – new fantastic reviews worth sharing, the announcement of a foreign language edition acquisition, an audiobook adaptation, etc. etc.
At the same time. take some time to refresh, recharge, and revel in what you accomplished before jumping back to the other project you’re working on.
You deserve it! You published a book!