The Traditional Publishing Process Part 3: Working with an Agent

typewriterThis is the third installment of my mini-series on the traditional publishing process. In Part 2, I discussed the process of researching and querying agents. Now, let’s look at what comes next. Once you’ve accepted an agent’s offer of representation, then what?

As always, keep in mind that this is based solely on my own experience. This process can vary widely depending on the agent, how they work with their clients, your plans for your book, etc. Therefore, consider this representative of my own experiences, but not necessarily everyone’s.

Once you’ve signed with an agent, here are the steps that come next in the process:

  1. Revision

This process will vary widely depending on the circumstances. Some agents are hands-on, editorial agents who want to do revision before sending your book out on submission. Some are not. You should ask the agent about this before accepting their offer of rep, to make sure that their plans align with yours. But assuming that you have an editorial agent—and most agents nowadays are—then the first thing you’ll do after signing is work on revisions. The agent will reread your book and offer you notes for revising the manuscript to get it ready for submission.

How much revision you do at this stage is, again, entirely circumstantial. In my case, I’d already completed an R&R with my agent before signing with her, so we were able to do a brief round of edits and go out on submission quite quickly. But, based on the experiences of other authors I know, this seems pretty unusual—many writers work with their agent for months before the book is ready. (For more about R&Rs, see this post.)

This revision can be challenging, because it may be the first time you’ve ever received professional feedback on your manuscript before. It’s both exciting and terrifying to get editorial notes for the first time. The key is to remember that your agent is on your team and wants to help you sell your book. Their suggestions will probably help make your book better, so it’s important to consider them carefully. But of course this also a collaborative process, and it’s okay to talk things out if certain suggestions don’t align with your vision for the book. This is another reason why you should talk to the agent about their ideas for the book before you sign with them, to make sure that you’re both on the same page (pun intended).

  1. Pitch letter

While you’re working on revising the manuscript, your agent will begin writing a pitch letter, which is the info they send to editors about your book during the submission process. A pitch letter is similar to a query letter, and may even be based on your original query. But it may also vary depending on the agent and their relationship with particular editors. Also, agents are able to use much more subjective language than you, as the author, can get away with in a query (which is another reason that it’s beneficial to have an agent). For example, your agent can describe your book as “thrilling and action-packed” or “stunning and heartbreaking,” which your query letter shouldn’t do.

Your agent might ask for your input here, but for the most part it’s best to sit back and let the agent write the pitch. They’re professionals, and they know what they’re doing. Of course, you can always speak up if you want to make minor adjustments, but it’s best to leave most of this process up to your agent.

  1. Submission list

At some point during this time, your agent will start compiling a list of editors at different imprints to submit the manuscript to. As with the pitch letter, knowing who to send your work to is your agent’s job. Different agents have different preferences as far as including their clients in this process—some will ask if you have any particular connections or preferences, others won’t. Some will tell you who they’re considering immediately, some won’t tell you until you go on sub. None of these processes are wrong or abnormal. The most important thing is to make sure that you’re communicating with your agent as much as you, personally, feel comfortable with. It’s definitely a problem if, for example, your agent is compiling a submission list for Big 5 imprints but you wanted to only work with smaller presses, or vice versa. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of who/where t submit, it’s best to leave this up to your agent’s expertise.

As for how agents decide who goes on the list, it depends entirely on the book and your unique circumstances. Creating a submission list is a complex process, because you can’t submit to multiple editors in the same imprint or house at once, and agents have to utilize their personal connections, plus they have to consider what the editors have purchased recently and what they’ve submitted to them recently… It can get very involved. (For more about this from an agent’s perspective, check out a great post by agent Jennifer Laughran here.)

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After these basic steps are completed, it’s time to move on to the next one: the submission process! I’ll cover the complexities of submission in Part 4 in a few weeks!

Have any tips for working with agents and preparing for submission? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments!

Related Links:

The Traditional Publishing Process Part 2: Research and Querying

The Traditional Publishing Process Part 1: Writing and Revision

Revision Strategies for Your Novel

Agent Red Flags

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