Let us assume you have successfully followed the steps listed in How to Get a Literary Agent. The agent will then submit your project to multiple publishing houses (whom he/she feels are good fits for your work), and then you wait for the fish to bite.
And now, let’s assume your agent has found a publisher for your book. One out of the four publishing houses that he/she contacted has made you an amazing offer. Yea and hooray! Pat yourself on the back.
But, be warned, there’s still a long road ahead. So what happens next?
Your agent will negotiate your advance (how much you get paid for the manuscript prior to royalties), your royalty percentage, your territory, your marketing budget, etc. with an acquisitions editor.
Then, if the powers-that-be (e.g. the editorial director) approve everything, the contracts department in the publishing house will draft a contract. Your agent will negotiate a bit more (in your favor, of course) until everyone has agreed and signed on the dotted line.
Once that steps is finished, you’re allowed to announce your first book sale! Woohoo! Drinks all around (especially for your agent).
Ah, but now it’s time for you, the author, to work on this baby again. The publisher’s editor will now send you an editorial letter suggesting changes to your manuscript (sometimes negotiable changes, sometimes not).
After you’ve made all those changes, your baby moves to copy-editing. The typos and similar errors are fixed up, and the page layout is designed. Your job now is to review each step of this process and check for uncaught errors. Fun.
Meanwhile, the publisher works on designing your book: the cover (sorry, you probably won’t get much say in that. Recent issues can attest to this.), the paper type, the font, etc. At this time, the publisher also works on the marketing, but the amount of marketing and publicity generated for your book depends on your marketing budget. In other words, the marketing could be left up to you rather than being led by a marketing team.
Eventually, the book is printed and sent out to bookstores. Wow. And remember, your agent will stay involved in the process and keep you informed along the way.
And what a long way to go, no? When I tell people I’ve written a book, they always ask, “So is it for sale yet?”
“Um, no,” I answer. “It’s not even through revisions yet — I just wrote it. Maybe you can buy it in about four years. Or longer.”
Then they stare at me, disbelief clearly written on their face. No doubt they think I’m just making excuses. (Or maybe that’s my own insecurity manifesting itself.)
The point is, it’s a long process from start to finish. It’s a difficult process, too, but if you keep your spirits high and your patience abundant, you’ll get there one day. Best of luck!
NOTE: Keep in mind that everything I’ve laid out for you is extremely streamlined. Things don’t happen smoothly or quickly in real life (well, not usually anyway). Maybe you’ve spent a year trying to get an agent, and it’s highly possible your agent will spend another year searching for a publisher who wants your stuff (worst case scenario, this happens). Then, once your novel is in the hands of the publisher, it could take another two years to reach the bookshelves. Frustrating, isn’t it? Chin up!