You Have an Agent….What Happens Next?

Nothing can bring more joy, and then confusion, than when an agent asks to see your manuscript and then subsequently sends you a contract. But before I begin, let’s start with your work. Do not, under any circumstance, submit your work to any agent unless your manuscript is complete, and has been edited.  By edited I mean edited by a professional editor. If an agent loves your submission they will ask to see your work. . . . every word until The End.

An agent will send you a contract. Whether you are self-published, or have waited patiently for years to find an agent, when the contract arrives you must shelve your excitement and shift into business mode.

Writing is a business. Remember that sentence; it is important.

Authors tend to experience what I call, “A Sally Field” moment. When an agent, or publishing company, asks to see your work we think: they like me . . . they really like me.

However, an agent didn’t request to see your manuscript because s/he likes you. Your agent requested to see your manuscript because they saw something in your submission they thought they could sell to a publishing house. Something in your characters, or your story- or both – caught their eye and at that moment your agent, or publisher, thought I can turn this manuscript into a sellable book.

Publishing a book, while exciting and euphoric for you, is a business transaction for the team working on your manuscript.

Here are your agent’s duties:

* Read through your manuscript and locate a market for your work

* Work with you to create a sellable manuscript. This means editing your submission (This is a non-negotiable step. Your manuscript will require additional edits (plural) once a publisher accepts it. More on that later.

*  Network with everyone they can think of to sell your book

*  Sell your book

*  Negotiate the best price possible for your book

*  Negotiate the legal contract with the publisher (authors should prepare for a two-book deal)

*  Receive royalties and distribute them to you, the author

*  The agent will not, help you market your book.

My Agent Sold My Book . . . Now What?

At this phase, you, the author, are ready to see the printed book.

You still have months, (more like a year) to wait until your book is ready. During that time, please work on your second manuscript. (You will thank me later).

Once a publisher has expressed interest and your agent has sent you another contract, the manuscript goes into what I call “the hopper.” Big publishing houses meticulously schedule the release of their titles. By September, publishers know every title they will release the following year. Your book will have a “birthday.” Its birthday is non-negotiable. Remember, writing is a business. The publishing company works hard to stay in business. Therefore, the team working on your book knows the precise moment the readers will welcome your book. You, the author, do not.

What Do You Mean I need to Re-edit My Book?

Fledgling authors and those who have previously self-published often get confused when they learn that their book will require further edits. Let’s be honest, editing is an expensive step that most self-published authors skip. If you have previously self-published, most likely you have asked your spouse, your momma, and your best friend to read your work. These are the same people who won’t tell you when you have spinach in your teeth, or toilet paper attached to the bottom of your shoe. They maybe teachers, English majors, and your most trusted advisor, but riddle me this, what do they know about the business of books?

Publishing houses have staff devoted to editing your book. They edit books for breakfast. Not to offend, but your Momma does not.

What is my editor’s job?:

In short, your assigned editor has one job. Molding the manuscript your agent submitted into something readers will like well enough to read from cover to cover.

Your editor’s job is not:

Being your new best friend; your editor already has friends.

Tiptoeing around your ego; your editor is paid to work on paragraphs, not your psyche.

Arguing with you about the finer points of Southern Vernacular or local slang.

So What is My Editor’s Job?

Your editors (notice the plural) will take your manuscript and cut it, mold it, then send it back to you with cryptic messages like: tighten this.

What does that mean?

When I work with authors I try to ease them into the real world of publishing, but here are the facts, most authors who have previously self published did so because they needed control. They wanted to “own” their work and they did not want to go through the painful gestational book-pregnancy-period. Secretly, they wanted an agent and a large publishing house, but only if that meant they could control every aspect of their book.

Ouch. Did you expect anything but honesty from me?

Veteran Authors understand that editing is a crucial phase. They trust their editors. Editing will occur. Authors can either work with their editor to create something wonderful, or bash themselves against stones and burn out on the publishing process.

Have you forgotten, you signed a two-book deal?

In short, editing is about trust. You no longer own your book, you signed those rights away during the agent-euphoria process. Your endorsement of the contract meant I trust you to convert my manuscript into something readers will love.

What does Editing Look Like?

I know what you are thinking, what a ridiculous heading. I know what editing looks like. Oh my friend, perhaps you do not. Editing has many faces. Consider this example.

Self-publishing Editing

Momma and ’em have looked at your work and pronounced it (and you) perfect. Just cross a couple t’s and add a few comas and you’re good to go. (They do not mention the spinach in your teeth).

Vanity-press Editing

For clarity, the term “vanity” press is industry-defined as a company the author pays to take their document and convert it into a bound book. Very little editing-other than a cursory read-through- is done. You pay them. They deliver a book and off you go to pound the pavement and sell your book. Perhaps you have tried this in the past and determined there was a better way, hence the agent and larger press.

Small-press and Academic- Press Editing

Small presses are legitimate, hard-working presses who release a dozen or so carefully selected titles. Their editing process goes like this. You deliver a hard-copy manuscript. An editor marks on it, returns it to you and expects you to make the corrections they suggest.

That is phase one.

Phase two comes after you have made the suggested corrections. The editor reviews your corrections (not the entire manuscript again, they do not have time), the book goes to the next phase, and the next employee. I should also add that most-likely you will not know your editor. Small presses rarely reveal the identity of their editing staff. That protects their employees from fledgling insecure authors who believe their submission will be a NYT bestseller.

Middle and Large-Press Editing

Most editing is done electronically.

The author receives an e-document that has been edited using the “track changes” option.  Portions of the manuscript may have moved from one place to another in order to create “better flow.” The editor, who is a professional and expects that they are working with the same, writes what may appear as cryptic messages: (remove echo, tighten, dialect, flesh out character, more movement, redundant, this is a “darling, kill it”) just to name a few.

By the way a “darling” is perhaps your favorite part of the manuscript. Don’t get married to it my dear, odds are you love it too much. (More on darlings in a later post).

An editor works for your manuscript, not you, the author. The editor is devoted to words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters. If an author becomes angry, puffed up and argumentative their road will be long and rocky. Enter into this the time-frame. Readers are wishy-washy. They love vampires one day, zombies the next. As an aside, do not write about either. And, since the book industry is ever-changing one should expect this. Authors should be very careful during the editing stage. Learn to separate yourself from your emotions. People talk and it takes one word to ruin your career. One. Making a correction to your manuscript is not the end of the world; it is part of the pruning process. Pruning makes you a better author (we can all use a little pruning); and, pruning your manuscript allows it to grow

I have a New Editor . . . Now What?

Employee turnover is common, perhaps even expected, in the publishing industry. It is rare to have the same editor two books in a row. It is also rare to have an agent for an extended period of time. The same editor who worked on the last New York Times Bestseller had honed her skills for years. She knew the business, knew the readers, and knew how to take a good manuscript and make it better. She has just received a promotion within the company. She is an Agent now and has just handed your manuscript over to someone who now works for her. That new editor may send you a second “round of edits” because the new editor knows how to hone a good manuscript into a great book.

My First Book is Out and Now Everything Has Changed Again . . . What do I do?

You have experienced the emotional highs and lows of editing, and survived. Now it is time to write the second book in your two-book contract. You’ve learned a lot: shelved your emotions, perfected your craft. Congratulations. Your next manuscript will be better than the first. But wait, you have been assigned another new editor who wants you to submit your content as you write.

Yes. As you write.

By your second book, the publisher expects that the author has learned to submit their best work. Your editor is investing their time in another fledgling author, which is why they ask you to submit your work in fifty page increments. If you have a completed manuscript editors will, of course, accept it as a whole. However, if you have incomplete work they want to see it as well. They will edit as you write, which may or may not be a comfortable situation for an author. This new process allows an editor to mold the story from the beginning. Once completed there will be another round of edits before copy-editing (which is proofreading and fitting the words to the pages as they will appear in the finished book).

Hopefully, this lengthy blog post has explained the editing process. If you have questions, please leave them in the comment section. Feel free to share any editorial experiences you have had. As always, I believe that knowledge is power. The more educated you can be about the process, the less stress you feel during the book gestation period. There is a reason seasoned authors call their work a “book baby.” The delivery process is rarely without pain, but once you hold your baby for the first time everything you have experienced is worth the journey.

My best to you, always.

GEORGIAWRITERSPHOTORenea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches which  Mercer University Press will release in September and Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination.  Those confused about the publishing process should purchase a copy of her book, Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author.  Renea is the judge of many prestigious Georgia Author awards, and is part of the Make Your Mark Publishing editing team. Meet Renea in Savannah at the Red Clay Conference Georgia’s Moveable Literary Feast where she will lead a workshop and offer critiques. Reserve a space for your manuscript here. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.

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