Congratulations. An agent or publisher is showing enough interest to want to speak with you.
There is usually a slow process of meeting each other, to see if you will get along. The agent or publisher will shower your story with praise, then probably suggest changes to your script and see how you respond. Sometimes they are slight tweaks and can be fixed in a week or two. Other times, you can be asked to do substantial redrafts that take months. Throughout all this, they are looking to see how you handle the situation.
They want someone who responds quickly and takes advice well. If you let yourself be distracted by other pressures
or decide now is the time to close your laptop and take a gap year, you risk losing their attention.
Do not expect a contract at an early stage although it can happen. Agents are more likely to be prompt about contracts than publishers and will send you a standard form of around a single page. In July we looked in detail at what agents do.
If a contract does come your way, keep breathing and think about it. You do not have to accept it straight away. You can ask for thinking time if there’s another agent/publisher you’re hoping to hear from. And it’s a good idea to consult the UK’s Society of Authors or a lawyer about the legal terms. There’s usually little you can renegotiate in standard provisions but it helps to be clear about what they mean.
As soon as the agent is happy with your script and has taken you on, your script goes out to chosen publishers. It came as a shock to me that agents get rejections too but it does happen. Maybe someone just pipped yours to the post or the heat has gone off a particular genre in the space of weeks. I have met an author whose agent was passionate about his thriller and spent five years hawking it around the world, but could not place it. There is a long history of classic novels being rejected many times. Rejection does not mean your agent is incompetent or that your novel is worthless. Stay calm, polite and positive – and keep writing the next thing.
The upside is that, at this level, you know your work will have been carefully read and that your agent will sift and report on feedback. If not, go elsewhere.
A publisher says yes
With undying thanks to your agent, you are sitting in the offices of a real, live, smiling publisher who has your work on the table. (In July, I posted detail about what publishers can do for us and when. My first post is here, and part 2 is here.) The publisher’s editor has put you through yet more rewrites and has satisfied the marketing and money people at the new acquisitions meeting that this deserves a chance. You’ve got a deal!
Congratulate yourself again – very few new writers reach this stage. Most publishers take at most one first-time novelist a year. A publication date is set and the cover’s agreed. You have more work to do now:
- Your help will be vital with publicity and this starts before publication.
- Prepare your own website if you have not already. Start blogging about your new book and how you came to write it. Podcasts go down well too.
- It’s never too early to start your social media spinning.
- Make friends with your local booksellers. They’re lovely and are usually delighted to meet local authors. Your publisher should provide you with some free publicity copies to hand out.
- Contact local newspapers and blogs to ask for interviews and reviews.
- Plan your book launch.
- And try above all to keep writing the next thing. You’ll need it sooner than you think.
They’re asking you to buy some of your own books?
Your publisher will probably offer you the chance to buy some copies of your book yourself, at discount. The idea is that it encourages you to market it, hence all the ‘meet the author’ signing events. Events are tricky if you’re shy and they steal your writing time but the discount (paying 40% of the full price is not uncommon) means that if you sell at 80%, you are still making more profit, more quickly, than waiting for royalties.
Fame and fortune at last?
Most first novels sell fewer than a thousand copies. That’s why the Booker Prize was invented, to help literary novels reach a wider audience. Publishers and agents hope that by the time they publish your third or fourth, preferably in a series or the same genre, the public will have noticed you and the whole exercise will become financially worth their while. They are gamblers at heart. You may be one of the lucky ones who has a substantial advance from a big publisher who is going to flog your book with a great big publicity budget. I hope so. Even if you’re not … You have become a strange new creature, a published author. That can lead you to other ways of making money (coaching, talks, radio and television appearances). It means too that people see you differently. Instead of the friend they are used to, the one who spends most of the time alone and gives a slightly dejected shrug when asked how the writing’s going, they see a new, confident you with a book in your hand. That book has your name printed on it and they are being asked to buy copies. After all the years of lonely scribbling, there is no finer sensation than welcoming friends to your book launch and watching them queue, smiling and laughing, for you to sign copies for them.
Congratulations, you’ve made it. It has all been worthwhile.
I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing!