The quest for an agent is often a harrowing and exhausting one, and just as often the pinnacle of the story pre-published authors tell themselves. But, in a way, the real story begins AFTER the offer for representation.
Yes, the standard for landing an agent can be intimidatingly high. But after you pass that threshold, the agent will ask for revisions. Your manuscript had to be amazing to get you to this point, but the agent (assuming it’s an editorial one, which most are these days) will work to make it even better. You will revise however many times is necessary until the agent is satisfied your manuscript is ready for submission.
Every once in a while, an agent will know the perfect editor for a specific project off the top of their head and pitch it to that person first. But most of the time, agents are going to submit a project to many different editors. Figuring out who to submit to when involves solving the sort of logic puzzle that makes law school admissions questions mere child’s play. Agents have to think about how the current project might fit with what the editor has recently acquired. They’re looking for something that fits in the line without feeling too similar. “Same, but different” is an important concept here.
The agent also doesn’t want to put different imprints of the same company in a position where they have to bid against each other – not a nice way for authors or agents to form lasting relationships with editors. And agents have to be mindful of not inundating editors with submissions from various clients. All that (plus the desire for feedback if it isn’t an immediate sell) leads to the need to submit in rounds.
Once the submissions are off, then – surprise – the waiting begins again. Only, agents can nudge a bit more proactively than writers can (how often depends partially on agent philosophy, their relationship with different editors, and the imprint they submitted to). And responses trickle in. An editor might offer feedback which results in revisions. Or might offer to see the manuscript after revisions. (So, basically, the same thing that happens at the agent stage.) Then there’s no offer, and the next round gets shot off, or there is an offer, in which case talks with other publishers begin.
Then there’s examining offers, negotiating offers (which can take several back and forths while agents and editors haggle over important minutia while the author is hyperventating off somewhere in the corner), and finally (hopefully) SIGNING OFFERS.
Which leads me to one of the most unexpected things about having an agent: landing an agent does not necessarily mean scoring a contract. Remember, reputable agents don’t get paid unless you do. They only take on projects they think they can sell. But no agent bats a thousand. (Unfortunately, we don’t know what the real percentage is because no agent reports it.) So always KEEP WRITING. It’s good for dealing with the waiting game, it’s good for your career, and it’s good for worst-case scenarios.
But back to our happy story. Now begins a new journey – one where I condense six-eighteen months of work into two paragraphs. One that involves editors, line editors, publicists, cover designers, interior designers, accountants, and more all working to help make your book a success.
After all the revisions you did before subbing to agents, after the revisions you did before subbing to editors, your manuscript is now a highly polished piece of beauty that your editor is going to ask you to revise. Yup. So, if you don’t appreciate the revision process, you may want to learn how – or find a new career. Then the galley proof (an early draft of the publication, for copyediting purposes) must be checked and perhaps rechecked. Your cover (which you usually have no say over) is unveiled. Advanced reader’s copies (arcs) of the book are sent to book review sites large and small. Tours – real and virtual – are scheduled.
And all the while, you are working on your next project, right? Because a new cycle is about to begin…