How to Get Traditionally Published, Part 2

Read Part 1 in this series.

Read Part 3 in this series.

So, in case you missed Part 1, I am trying to lay out the very SIMPLE BASICS to getting published…

I emphasize “simple” and “basics” here because every author’s journey is different and because, although things seem clear-cut on the surface, they are actually kinda complicated underneath.

Overall, though, the moral of last Friday’s post was that getting an agent requires four main things:

a polished manuscript + a stellar query letter + tons of industry research + perfect timing

And sadly, today’s moral ain’t gonna be that different. That “perfect timing” component is such a bi***–and pretty much makes or breaks absolutely every author out there.

Now, I had intended to make this how-to guide a 2-part series…but I quickly realized that it would need a solid 3 parts. So bear with me. A lot of this information may not be pertinent to you all YET, but one day, you might be quite pleased to know what comes next.*

Before I dive in, I want to lay out a disclaimer. The following steps are based ENTIRELY on my own experience and the experience of my writer buddies. Most of my writer friends also write YA, so it’s possible these steps do not span across all genres (though I’m pretty certain they more or less do). The point is: please just keep in mind that EVERY publishing path is different.

Okay, to quickly run through last week’s steps:

  • Step 1: Finish your manuscript.
  • Step 2: Revise your manuscript.
  • Step 2.5: Find a critique partner.
  • Step 3: Try to get an agent.
  • Step 4: Get some rejections from agents. Try again.
  • Step 5: Receive an offer of representation from an agent.
  • Step 6: Accept the perfect agent.

Moving on to…Step 7: Revise your manuscript with your agent. This is actually a MAYBE step because not all agents are editorial agents. Mine is (and that was a very important requirement when I was trying to decide who to query; see step 5 from last week), so before I EVER go out on submissions, Joanna will read my ms, compile notes (just like an editor would), send me her feedback, and then have me revise. After I revise, she will read it again…and maybe compile more notes. We will go back and forth like this until she feels it’s polished enough for an editor’s desk (remember what I said about how my agent is worth her weight in gold? Well, she is.).

Step 8: Your agent compiles a list of editors for submission. Presumably, these are editors with whom he/she has built a rapport. Additionally, your agent thinks that YOUR ms will be a good fit with THESE editors.

Now, your agent may or or may not share this list with you. Every agent handles this differently. My agent informs me of which houses she has submitted to, but she does not give me editor names. I personally prefer it this way because it keeps me from Twitter-stalking the editors (sounds silly, but I SWEAR everyone does it; see step 10 below).

The number of houses on your agents list will also vary. Some agents only submit to a handful of editors each round; others may pitch your book to twenty. Again, everyone is different.

Step 9: Your agent contacts the editors. Typically, this happens via a phone call. Your agent will call up the editor and say something very vaguely along the lines of, “Hey Amazing Editor, I have this great thriller here I think you’d really love. <insert book’s pitch here>. Are you interested in reading?”

Usually, because your editor and agent have this trusting rapport, the editor will say “Sure! Send me the manuscript.” Then your agent will type up a recap of the phone conversation (pitch included) and send along the full document.

Step 10: You wait. This step is agonizing. You probably won’t hear anything back for weeks (or more often than not, months). This won’t, of course, keep you from obsessively checking your email inbox…Or twitter feeds. Or anywhere you know editors might hang out online. 😛

Step 11: Rejections start rolling in. Or maybe not…but for most books, at least a few rejections will precede an offer. This doesn’t mean your agent flubbed up–it just means that the fickle goddess of timing was off. Maybe the story just didn’t resonate…or a single character didn’t resonate. Or the editor had a similar book on their list already. Whatever the reason is, most editors will take the time to give a quick rundown of why they didn’t want the book.

(Note: If ALL the editors declare a similar reason for rejection, then you likely have an issue on your hand that you’ll want to fix before you go out on round 2 of submissions.)

Of course, it’s also VERY possible that no rejections will roll in. In fact, nothing at all will roll in. When people say, “Publishing is slow,” they aren’t kidding. Editors have a TON of things on their plate, and your little manuscript is low priority.

So, if your agent hasn’t heard anything, he/she will nudge the editors after a suitable amount of time (and as always, “suitable” is entirely up to your particular agent).

Like I said, in Step 10: this wait can be agonizing.

Step 11.5: If all the editors on your first list say “no”, then your agent compiles a second list–and lucky you! You get to go back out on subs and wait all over again. Or, if there was a consistent reason why editors rejected your book, then you might revise…and then go back out on submissions.

Step 12: YOU GET A DEAL OFFER. OMG, you should dance like a CRAZY PERSON right now because this is huge.  You have an editor who has managed to get your book through all the hoops (read about those hoops here), and assuming nothing bad happens (and yes, the deal can still fall through), you will be a PUBLISHED AUTHOR soon…Or soon-ish.

Step 13: Your agent will notify the other editors he/she submitted to, and if no one else is interested, he/she will start to negotiate the specifics of the deal.

If other editors ARE interested, then you might find yourself in an auction (WHOA!). You can learn all about what that entails here.

Step 14: Once the deal has been hammered out (this can take hours or days…It really depends on what your agent is hoping to get), you will accept the offer. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. You should really throw a freaking dance party now!

Step 15: You talk to your shiny new editor. Yep, he/she is now YOUR editor, and you guys will get to chat about your book. He/she will probably give you a vague idea of the revisions ahead, but mostly you’re both just going to gush about how exited you are. Because seriously, this is awesome for you AND it’s awesome for the editor.

Step 16: Now comes the tedious process (tedious for your agent, but not for you! Again: agent = gold) of working out the actual contract. This is your agent’s job. This is just one of the many reasons why he/she gets a 15% commission. Once the contract has been agreed upon by both parties (your agent and your new publisher), you will get a copy of it to sign and send in.

Read. It. Carefully. If there is anything you don’t understand or don’t like, you need to SPEAK NOW or for-freakin’-ever hold your peace.

I’m serious: read it.

Then, after signing it and mailing it, you HAVE to dance. Honestly, if you haven’t flailed like a psycho yet, then DO IT NOW. You have just achieved something many, many people all over the globe dream of doing. You are officially a badass.

Stay tuned…Next week, I’ll give you the various steps that go into the actual editorial process. Or rather, what YOU, the writer, are required to do.

And, if you weren’t already aware of my forthcoming e-novella, this popped up in the Publishers Weekly children’s newsletter yesterday:

I honestly could not be more proud!** This novella went through all the usual processes–pitching to the editor, convincing the editorial board, negotiating a deal, and all the above jazz. And, even more exciting is the thought that YOU ALL will get to read Daniel’s story.

HUZZAH! Fist bumps and dance parties all around. 😉

Oh, and because I shared this info last week, here’s the timeline for Something Strange and Deadly. 

  • Step 7: 2 weeks. As I think I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, my book might’ve been “too” perfect when I queried it. I was so, SO scared of sending it out into the world or burning bridges with my dream agents that I waited until my book was as “perfect” as I could make it before querying. As such, my agents (at that time, I had two) had almost no revision feedback. We went out on submissions almost immediately.
  • Step 8: 1 day…? I simply received the house list, but I don’t know how long it took my lovely agents to craft it. Probably several days/weeks.
  • Step 9: 1-2 days…? I’m not totally sure how long pitching the book took either, but my agents emailed me once the book was in all the editors’ hands. I feel like it was ~2 days.
  • Steps 10, 11, 12: 6 days. Yeah, this isn’t the norm. Please don’t base your own journey off of this. It was ALL about my agents approaching the right editor at the right moment. *waves frustrated fist at goddess of timing*
  • Step 13: 1 day. All the other editors weighed in pretty quickly at this point–and they bowed out of the competition. HarperTeen was the winner!
  • Step 14: 2 days. My agents were on the phone for FOREVER trying to negotiate specific rights back to me (e.g. foreign rights).
  • Step 15: A few days after the deal was finalized, I chatted with my acquiring editor. I was SO GIDDY. Much nervous giggling ensued. And more dancing.
  • Step 16: Getting my contract took months. Seriously. I had an issue with the first contract that came through (through no fault of the publisher or my agent), and that meant even more negotiating. But this is also totally normal–just don’t expect to get paid for a loooooooooooong time. 😉

So all in all, this process happened unusually fast for me. Please don’t assume all books work this way. Please, please, please. I have had another book go out on subs that NEVER sold…and that is way more the norm. 🙂

The general formula for success here is: an amazing agent + tons of patience + perfect timing. Yep, you’ve got to have all three of those to make it in this very frustrating business…and, as always, the deal-sealer is that timing monster. There is NO controlling what editors will want what story or when they’ll want it. You just have to keep on keepin’ on until the ball rolls into your court.

Which leads me right back to my good ol’ motto: dream big + work hard + never EVER give up! You’ll get there one day.;)

What do you guys think? Have any insights or different experiences? Please share!

*I had no IDEA what came next. Every step of the way was a surprise because no one really talks about this stuff online. The reason no one talks about it online is because everyone’s journey is different and because some things are just meant to be kept “secret”. I tried to share as much as I could here without giving away those Top Secret Behind-the-Scenes bits of publishing. 😉

**Notice the reference to my agent! SHE IS WORTH DOUBLE HER WEIGHT IN GOLD. Triple, even. I ♥ her so, so much.