Submitting your book to agents is one thing. It’s a writer’s first time putting it all out there and the responses are varied.
However, when your agent submits your book to a publisher that’s a whole other level of stress. It can be exciting! Finally, it’s out there in the world. And it can be worrying…what happens to my project now? You might hear back from editors in a week or a few months. It could be good news or bad.
Here are 5 things to do while your book is on submission:
- Trust your agent. We have your best interests at heart, truly. If you don’t trust your agent then you shouldn’t have signed with them. Let us handle the submissions and worry about the business side. We will consult you on decisions. Pull together with your agent at this time because the bonding will happen.
- Vent with other writers, but never online. I hope this goes with out saying, but I do see writers participating in this and I want to warn them off. Tweeting/Blogging/Facebook-ing about your submissions to publishers (or agents for that matter) is not considered appropriate behavior for a number of reasons: privacy, keeping mystery, keeping your cards close to your chest–however you want to see it. But that information is yours and shouldn’t be public.
- Work on your platform. Pitch essays, build your online community, and join an organization (RWA, ITW etc). A month before your book comes out is NOT the time to build a platform. The right answer is AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. So there’s no better time than the present when you want to keep your fingers busy typing.
- Most importantly…get back to the next project! No matter what you have to keep writing. Whether that book sells or not, your agent needs to know what you’re working on next–either to tell the editors or to coach you through the next steps of submitting again. The right fit is always worth waiting for.
- Get used to this feeling. Publishing is about waiting. Learn how to control and manage these feelings. Develop your own strategy for coping because it’s different for everyone. Physical exercise, TV/movies, throwing yourself into your next project (always my advice!), chocolate, glass of wine/coffee–your choice!
Q: What do you YOU do while you wait?
Many writers think their day job is getting in the way of their writing and count down the days until they can quit because that big book deal is on the way, right? Wrong, for now.
(I should preface this with: Some writers have the luxury of external support, have modified or flexible work schedules that allows them to time to dedicate to their creative projects. Day job or not doesn’t make you more or less of a writer.)
I’m a fan of suggesting writers keep a job, volunteer, or engage in other intensive hobbies for the following reasons….
Keeping your day job has many benefits:
- Inspiration via interactions with people other than your family and settings other than your immediate location.
- Steady income that you can rely on.
- Routine–it’s never a bad thing to have some structure in your life. Even if that means knowing you can only squeeze in a hour or two of writing every other day.
When you quit your day job you have to get your inspiration from sitting at your writing desk all day, your income will come in crazy spurts and there will be many lows, and you suddenly have no routine and the norm becomes sleeping in and working in your PJs all day.
I’m a big proponent, if you can, to keep your day job for as long as you can. Once your writing income surpasses your day job income and you have a multi-book contract where you can plan out your income for months and years to come then it’s time to think about whether you need that day job. And many writers still keep theirs.
Getting paid in traditional publishing looks like this:
- Getting your advance paid in thirds (or fourths!): part on signing, part on delivery and acceptance of the manuscript and part on publication (and sometimes 3-12 months after publication). That money, on average, is divided up over the course of 1-3 years. Plus, your agent or lawyer gets some too.
- Twice yearly royalty statements, but only once you’ve earned out that advance. Royalties go towards earning back the money paid out in advance. So sometimes books earn out and you see that money in a year or two, but sometimes they never earn out. It’s not something you can plan on unless you have a royalty-only publishing deal.
- Foreign publishers, if you’re lucky enough to get some translation deals, don’t pay quickly. If you get a deal in Italy or Greece you’ll get paid, on average, 8-12 months later then you’re supposed to. Foreign money is always “bonus money.”
My experience with debut authors is that sometimes when they quit their day job before getting published their books start to be about the idiosyncrasy of daily life with their kids or their spouse/partner. When what we need is big idea debuts that are about more than the mundane things of daily life.
Q: Do you look forward to being able to write full-time?
An agent’s job is part project manager, part contracts consultant, part therapist, part editor, and always full-time advocate. We try to be so many things for our writers and all agents have particular strengths in one part of that equation.
However, what we all have in common is treating our writers’ careers like a business.
When we sign up new authors this is what we ask ourselves:
“How can we help you make a living from your writing?”
Not only do we have to fall in love with a manuscript, connect with the author personally, sell ourselves to the writer as their champion, and know how to sell their book–we have to have a strong vision for their career and know that we are the best agent to help them secure that future.
That’s why you hear agents saying “it wasn’t for me,” or “I liked it but I didn’t love it.”
We have to be looking two books, three books, or a series ahead. It isn’t just what’s on the page today, but if we think they can grow into an author we can help for years to come.
HOW CAN YOU SHOW AN AGENT YOU’RE A CAREER AUTHOR?
- In the author bio paragraph of your query letter tell us you are working on your next book.
- Have a short synopsis of your next book prepared if an agent asks.
- Know where you see yourself in 5-10 years as a writer. Writing the same genre? Switching gears? Still writing?
- Network with other writers and show a public commitment to your own success.
- Make sure your social media bios include the word writer and your posts link to writing or creative topics from time to time.
- You don’t have to have an MFA, but attending writing workshops or joining organizations is helpful. There are so many: SCBWI for children’s books, WFWA for women’s fiction etc.
- Knowledge about how the industry works. This is my top book on the business: INSIDE BOOK PUBLISHING. This will provide you with more than you need to know.
- Know what you want from an agent (other than the basics): publicity division, film/tv specialists etc.
One of the most popular questions I get asked during an #askagent Twitter session or at a conference is: What are agents looking for in a writer?
All agent interests and guidelines aside here are the qualities I look for–these are my personal opinions–in a writer:
Professional demeanour online and via emails/phone conversations
You are a reflection of your agent. When we matchmake you with an editor we step back, let you build your author/editor relationship and talk directly with them. We have to know that you are going to conduct yourself professionally during that time. If we bring an editor an author that doesn’t conduct themselves professionally it looks poorly on us. Not to mention when an author starts promoting their book and interacting with fans there is a certain level of professionalism expected.
Incredible passion and persistence
I need writers to love their work, voice, and style and be ready for the long haul. There will be times when writers get down and their agent has to pick them back up, but overall they have to believe in themselves and believe in their work. Start building some thick skin and pick who you trust (i.e. carefully choose critique partner and agent). There will always be conflicting advice, but you have to know in your heart that you can make it and your agent will work with you to achieve that.
Granted, understanding the agent/author role comes when you have that relationship in place. You’ll get to know each other. But, right away you’ll know whether that level of respect is there. I know it’s hard to hand over some control to an agent to take care of your baby, but that’s our job; it’s what we’re trained to do. Choose who you’re querying carefully and ask the right questions when an offer of representation comes. I can tell when I start to interact directly with a writer if that level of mutual respect is there. Continue reading What are agents looking for in a writer?