I wasn’t initially going to add this section, but then I realized there wasn’t much online about actually selling the book to a publisher and getting an editor for the project. I was COMPLETELY CLUELESS going in, and while not exactly necessary, a little knowledge would have been nice.
So you want to write a book. Hopefully you’ve already read the posts on how to write a non-fiction book proposal and how to get an agent, if not, read those and come back. I’ll wait.
These posts are generally geared towards non-fiction, but a lot of it is applicable to fiction as well, particularly the agent part. So here goes. You’ve thought about your book idea for some time and finally decided to take the plunge. You wrote a smashing book proposal and a killer query letter and secured an agent. Awesome, congratulations! The next step is for your agent to sell the book to publishers. To do that you’ll both go through and polish up your book proposal and sample chapter. The amount of editing and revision could be minor or major. If they want to reorganize the proposal or add sections, listen to them. Your agent is an expert in publishing and they know what editors and publishers are looking for. Now is not the time to push back on your agent, they’re working with you, after all, and your success is their success.
At this point, things are largely out of your hands. Your agent knows which book imprints and editors are best for your book. You need to trust them. The goal is to sell your book, and they know the people most likely to want it. By all means, ask them who they are thinking of sending it off to. In fact, that’s even a good question when talking to agents before you sign with them. I didn’t, and want to know why? I didn’t even know I didn’t know. I was CLUELESS, remember?
So what’s an imprint? Those are the trade names publishers use to print their books, and a publisher may have one or twenty of them. Go to a bookstore and look at the shelves. You see all those little logos on the spine? Those are the book imprints. And I gotta say. It’s confusing as hell. Take a look at the imprints, on the left, just from HarperCollins, one of the “Big Five” publishers. The one from Penguin-Random House is even crazier.
Now, this is not my expertise at all, so ask your agent how all this works, but each imprint is like a little publishing company within a larger one. They work fairly independently and usually have a niche, like young adult or gardening. When your agent is selling your book, they are really selling it to an editor who gets the greenlight from the imprint to buy and publish it. You’ll then be working with that editor on your book project. They are your boss now. Not exactly, it’s still your book, but they know what works and what doesn’t. Listen to them. If you disagree on something, be an adult and have a conversation with them. Involve your agent if you need to, that’s what they’re for.
So now your agent has sent your proposal and sample chapter out into the world. How exciting! It’s now in the hands of 2-12 editors at various imprints. Hopefully some will nibble at the project and your agent will set up a call with the editor. This is nerve wracking. My agent walked me through what to expect, and yours will, too. Your agent will be on the phone call, but they’ll be in the background, piping in when necessary to make a point or save your ass. A lot of the conversation is about the book and yourself. The editor is probably trying to get a sense of what it would be like to work with you. It’s a business, and they not only have to be excited about the book, but like working with you, too. So be relaxed – hard, I know – and be your authentic self. Ask questions. How will they market the book? What similar books have they worked on in the past?
After each call, talk to your agent and get feedback. How did you do? Talk too much? Not talk enough? Have these conversations. It won’t help you with that imprint, but you can learn and adapt for the next call or the next book.
Afterwards the editor will be in contact with your agent. They’ll either make an offer on the book or take a pass. Like with finding an agent, rejection hurts. But remember, it’s a business, and you want them to be excited about your book and have the time to invest in it. Just because they pass doesn’t mean they don’t like the book. They made time in their busy schedules to talk to you about it, after all. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you. It just wasn’t right, or the right time, for them. And that’s OK.
Hopefully you’ll get multiple offers and your agent can negotiate for the best deal. The best deal is usually about money, but not always. Your agent will guide you. With regards to money, which is what everyone always want to know, you’re usually paid an advance against future book sales in portions, like half up front and half on delivery of the book, or broken into thirds or fourths with milestones mixed in. Other websites break down how advances and royalties work much better than I can.
Talk about all the offers with your agent, this is why you have one. My contract was fairly standard, I think, but it was confusing to me. You’re not just talking about rights to the print book, but e-book and audio books, too. Foreign rights, translations, other media. I didn’t understand any of it, but my agent hid her annoyance well and spent an hour on the phone walking me through Every. Single. Line. She’s awesome and I’m very fortunate.
Now all that is left is to sign the contract, pop the champagne, and get busy writing! I hope this helps and that you take the plunge on your book dreams!
And be sure to read parts I and II.
So You Want to Write a Book, Part I: The Proposal.
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