By Stacey Graham
What happens after the confetti is swept up, the champagne drunk, and the silent glaring from other writers fade after you receive “The Call”? This is where you and your agent switch gears from hopeful writer and agent making a longshot match to being true partners in your writing career. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s a heck of a lot of work. Buckle up, buttercup, it’s go-time.
For many agents, the next step is going back over the manuscript to offer notes and a degree of editing. Some agents edit–and some don’t. I’m, by nature, a nitpicker, so I love to edit my client’s work. That said, the manuscript should always be edited as well as possible before you query.
At Red Sofa Literary, we require all books to be accompanied by a proposal for both fiction and nonfiction. Odd, you say? Damn clever, actually. A book proposal is your action plan going forward that helps your future editor in the War Room carve out funds for your project. As a writer and agent team, you want to make it as easy as possible for her to say yes by including a marketing and promotion section to show that you’ve thought out of the box (or off the shelf) to reach readers.
By doing the digging for your editor to find readers beyond the first tier, she knows that you’re serious about the business of being a working writer and that you’re committed to the success of your book. Your agent will also work with you to create an overview of the book so editors–and their sales and marketing team–will see the reach of the project, as well as rounding out the rest of the proposal with your biography, comparative titles, and sample chapters.
As the writer edits and works on the proposal, your agent is busy researching editors to pitch. Hours, if not days or weeks, can go into a single title to find the right publishers as the agent delves into large imprints and independent publishers that would be just the right fit. Editors often move houses, so agents are also keeping up with job changes within the industry to get your project to the top of their inbox (and not bounce at an old email address). As most agents have multiple clients, this process takes time to devote to each book.
After the research is done and your agent has a nice list of lovely editors to reach out to, she works on the pitch. Think back to writing your query letter and how much wine it took to get through it. Imagine doing that for twelve different books. That’s a lot of wine. Your agent spends a lot of time working on making the pitch sound inviting, compelling, and (at least with me) a little sassy. And as with queries, if she’s not getting the responses she wishes, she re-writes the darn thing and heads back in. Wine optional.
After all of the work put into the manuscript, the editing, the proposal, and the thrill of sending it out into the wild…you wait. Agents tell you to work on another project 1: To keep your mind off the manuscript in circulation, and 2: If an editor doesn’t love that book but likes your writing style, she may ask to see what’s coming down the pike.
While you’re waiting, your agent is busy chatting up editors, nudging those who have the manuscript after a few months, and namedropping you like you’re an Obama. This is one of the agent’s busiest times, keeping track of which house has the manuscript, which editors to pitch next, and helping you build your platform through guest posting on blogs, magazine articles, podcasts, your own website, and social media. You should probably send her some cookies.
The Offer and Book Deal
It’s time for another Call. Your agent has high fived herself a dozen times before she even dials your number. Occasionally, the editor will ask to chat with you by phone first to make sure you and she are on the same page (publishing humor!), accompanied by your agent. Before the call takes place, you and your agent will discuss in length questions to ask and then you meet your awesome new editor (hopefully). With luck, an offer will come a few weeks later. A copy of the contract will come to your agent who will then negotiate the best terms possible for you as her client. As soon as the terms are acceptable to you and the publisher, the contract is signed.
Easy, right? As with everything in publishing, it takes time and perseverance. You’re playing the long game, but after the work you put into your book, doesn’t it deserve it? Agents will be your biggest fan and loudest champion because we love the end result. All we need now is for you to join in.