I've Got the Literary Agent; Now what?
There is a lot of information on how to get an #agent. There’s plenty you can find on how to get to the end of your novel, get your manuscript to CPs and beta readers to polish it up and make it all sparkly, and how to create a kick-ass query that catches an agent’s attention. But to be honest, that’s just the beginning of your publishing roller coaster.
Okay, so you’ve done all the things I’ve just listed, and an agent loves it! You’ve had your initial call with said agent, and they’ve offered representation. I mean, hells-to-the-freaking-YES, right!?!
You should celebrate; you deserve this! After all the sweat, blood (?), and tears, you have this awesome manuscript, and someone else loves it so much, they’ve offered to go on this publishing journey with you. And for some of you, you might even have multiple offers. GO, YOU!!!
And here’s the thing. When you accept our offer of representation, we are just as stupid-crazy-happy. In the past, when I’ve woken up to those emails saying that they’ve accepted my offer, I have screamed, broken out into the running man (don’t judge me), and gone to my backyard to channel Maria in the Sound of Music, arms stretched out as I spin in circles of joy and song. I am literally that excited.
And for the sake of this blog, we don’t need to talk about when the email contains rejection, that the author has gone with another agent. Y’all are writers, and you know all about the sting, burn, and knife to the heart that comes when someone passes on your awesomeness. And we’re talking about the positive anyway, so ack, stop trying to steal our blog-joy, rejection!
Alright, so back to you and your agent celebrating the joys of a new book-making relationship. Now, you might have ideas that, you know, you’ve already edited this multiple times, maybe even paid a freelance editor to do a developmental pass, had those CPs and beta readers take a pass, too. Your manuscript is the business and is ready to go on submission, right?
I mean, maybe. Maybe you have that manuscript that’s ready to go out right now, and it’ll be that perfect timing where editors can read it immediately, and you get multiple offers, and it’s the auction of all auctions.
However, in my experience, it almost always needs more work. So, you and your agent might need to go through several more editorial passes before it’s ready. If that’s not what you want to hear, I don’t know what to tell you.
Traditional publishing is a collaborative thang, and you have to be open to it, or most likely, you’re going to find this a very frustrating journey.
But after that, your agent says it’s ready, and yay, it’s finally time for that instant book deal!
Nope. Not so fast.
Now, your agent has to come up with the best pitch for your book and a sub-list of #editors they think will love it as much as you two do. This is where some agents differ, and you’ll have to find out what type of agent you need for your writing career. Some agents share their pitch and sub-list, and some don’t, so make sure you ask during that initial call with them about their strategies and make decisions based on what you need. Your agent has now put together this explosive pitch and found the best comp titles to end this bad boy with a flourish that will rock these editors’ socks. Now, I need to caution you that this step, as every single one before it, takes time. To create a pitch that mimics the tone and voice of your book, AND creates the kind of intrigue that will make someone want to read it, please try and give your agent some room here. For me, and remember I’m a fairly new agent, but I usually build this pitch off my client’s query, and this is why your query letter is so important. For subsequent books, I ask the author to write up a blurb. That way, it gives me a jumping point to create that #pitch.
Next up is the sub-list. Agents want to make sure they are targeting who they send your manuscript to by researching and reading through, sometimes, hundreds of MSWL (manuscript wishlists). At the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, we are very collaborative on this step and often share our pitches and lists because, more than likely, someone has been in a meeting with an editor and remembers requests, but not all agencies do this. And that’s okay. Perhaps they have a different system, but the point here is that agents want to take their time on this step because a pass from one house/imprint could be a pass from all.
And here’s another thing to consider. If you are an author from a historically underrepresented group, your agent should be taking even more special care here. Everybody is asking for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and neurodiverse work. That’s cool, and good on you. We need more diversity in publishing all around! But once you’ve signed with your agent, they should be asking why that specific editor (and even themselves if this is in their MSWL) asked for these kinds of stories. Are they equipped to editing narratives that have a voice, family, and culture outside of themselves? Your agent needs to make sure that your book is acquired but that you are in a safe space and feel comfortable if you disagree with editorial feedback. And this type of targeted research takes time, and so patience from the author is always appreciated when creating sub-lists.
So now is it time for that instant book deal, right? Well...
I’ve seen deals happen within weeks of submissions and others, years. But most aren’t that extreme, and the timeline falls in between those bookended timeframes.
What you do while you wait is up to you. You can take a break or start brainstorming a new book idea. How you go about this depends on you and your agent.
Personally, I love reading synopses, outlines, or hopping on the phone to break a new story. I mean, you don’t have to threaten me with a good time! But that’s me, so again, during that initial call, make sure to go over what communication looks like for this stage in the book-making relationship. There are variations to all of this depending on many variables: you, the author, your agent, their agency, and heck, if you’re an illustrator or author-illustrator, this scenario might look totally different. It doesn’t mean that once you find your agent, you’ll be coasting on a high, either.
My point is, publishing takes for-ev-ah!
Just playing. Sort of. And, for some reason, we all signed up for multiple rejections…
Just playing there, too. **Whispers** Maybe. My real point is this: There will be highs and lows in publishing. But, BUT, you have someone in your corner, someone who has your back, and yes, I know I’ve been mixing my metaphors in this blog, but your agent will/should fight with/for you, and that’s the good part. There’s obviously more—the offers of publication, negotiations, contracts, book birthdays, marketing and promotion, reviews, branding, etc., or questions and concerns if the book doesn't sell or you part ways with your agent. Still, I hope that this is a good behind-the-scenes to the beginning of your traditional publishing journey. And remember to celebrate every single baby step with your version of a happy dance, chocolate, champagne, or wine because you very much deserve it! Cheers!
Andrea Brown Literary Agency
Jemiscoe, or Jem as she likes to be called, cannot say that reading and writing came naturally. Rather, these interests were inspired by pizza. At seven, her school offered free Pizza Hut and Shakey’s Pizza coupons as a reward for reading books, and Jem was sold. Eventually, the books held more interest than the pizza ever did. From reading, writing soon followed.
Jem was born in Washington, D.C., but now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three kids. She spent more than a decade as an Assistant Director for film and television. In this line of work, she met a diverse group of people from all over the world, which offered inspiration for research and character.
Before joining Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Jem returned to school to pursue her love of reading and writing. She holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, and an MFA in Fiction and several of her short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines.
When Jem is not reading or editing–which doesn’t leave many hours in the day–she will most likely be found binge-watching something on Netflix or Disney Plus with her family. At heart, she LOVES books and adores writers, which is why she is an agent, a college-level writing tutor (both formal and creative writing), and a freelance editor.
Agency Site: https://www.andreabrownlit.com
BIPOC Bookshelf Profile: https://www.bipocbookshelf.com/editors-agents-1/chambers-black/jemiscoe