Agents And Editors And Other Confusing Things

independent author

Your book is done.


You can breathe again.

You’ve written around work and kids and crazy in-laws.

You’ve worked late into the night when you are alone with the moon and early in the morning when the sun is barely cracking the horizon and you say to yourself, “I CANNOT believe I’m up this early. This should be illegal.”

You’ve slugged down both coffee and wine. Too much of both.

You’re wiped out. You need to go and spend a year at a spa but, alas, you cannot.

Now the second part of your wild writing journey begins.

You want to sell that sucker. You NEED to sell that sucker. You want to be a writer.

I get it, I do.

Here’s a VERY short form summary of what to do next in the rather frightening and intimidating world of publishing:

Find an agent. How do you do that? If you are going to writing conferences, if you’ve joined writing groups, if you have a critique group, you may well be hearing the names of different agents that people like. Check all of them out.

You can also buy/borrow books where the title is, basically, “How To Find An Agent.” Writing magazines sometimes have lists of agents who want to see new authors.  Look for an agent in your genre. If you write science fiction, look for agents who represent science fiction.


Next. You must send out a cover letter, a few chapters of your book, and a synopsis to the agent. There are many articles online on how to write a cover letter. I am on deadline and hardly sleeping and super cranky so I cannot go into depth here.

But in the cover letter you’re trying to sell your book. In a paragraph, or two, hit the highlights. Another paragraph is about you and your qualifications. The synopsis is about two pages.

Agents will often say that they carefully read all submissions. That is impossible. They receive thousands. They would never sleep or eat. They will give your book a page to jump out at them, maybe two. Make sure those are the best pages you’ve written in your life.

Here is where I will tell you that I broke the rules when I first sent out my cover letter/chapters and synopsis for my book Julia’s Chocolates. (Please remember, I wrote many books that were rejected before Julia’s Chocolates. Every time I got a rejection I wanted to throw my computer through a window.)

Conventional writing wisdom says to find your favorite agent, and send the above package to him/her and WAIT FOR A RESPONSE. Friends, I will tell you the truth: A response may well never come from the agent. Or, if the agent asks everyone to query by email only, you may get a rejection letter within ten minutes of sending off your package. It will be a polite rejection letter but quite clearly they did not read what you sent.


Why did they not read it? Because that agent isn’t taking any more authors.

Here is my advice, though MANY people will disagree with me: submit to five or more agents at a time. When you’re rejected by one, send your cover letter, etc. right back out to another agent. People will gasp when I say this and say, “But what if ALL the agents want my work?” Then this is splendid news.

I sent my cover letter, pages, etc. out to a New York editor and three or four agents.

(Don’t send your manuscript to editors. It is usually a waste of time. That was my mistake a zillion years ago. I just didn’t know better.)

The editor never replied, the agents all wanted to see the full manuscript. I waited for my favorite agent to reply, the one that I wanted most, who I am still with, and I sent the book to him (After I finished writing it, that is another story) and he later sold it.

See? No problem.

If an agent likes what she reads in your chapters, she will ask you for your whole book. You will send it and then you will get down on your knees and pray loudly or you will meditate until your nerves stop screaming or you will send positive and powerful thoughts through the atmosphere towards the agent.

If the agent doesn’t like your book it will be rejected, probably with a form letter and that will feel awful, it does, I know it, I lived it, and I’m sorry if it happens to you. And, friends, it probably will. You will get rejected. ‘Tis the business.  Stay strong. Keep trying.

If she likes your book, she will then ask to “represent you.” If you would like to be represented by her, if you want to work with her, you will sign a contract.

It is a long contract. It is written in legalese. Have an attorney look at it. The contract will state that the agent gets 15% of whatever you make on the book forever and ever even if we are invaded by purple aliens. It will say a whole bunch of other stuff, but that’s the most important part.

Your agent will then shop your book around to various publishing houses. Some will be big, part of the Big Five, and other houses will be smaller. You will, again, be on your knees sending magical thoughts into the universe hoping that a publishing house wants to buy your book.

If the publishing house wants to buy your book, they will contact your agent. If multiple publishing houses want your book this is very excellent news and there will be an auction.

Your agent will present to you any offers she gets for your book. If you like the upfront money the publishing house is offering and you understand and accept the percentage that you will get for every book sold, and a bunch of other details, you will then sign a contract with the publishing house. Get an attorney to look at this one, too.

The publishing house may just buy one book. It may offer you a contract for two or three books. I work off three book contract deals and I love them. I’m committed to my publishing house and they’re committed to me. If you trust the publishing house, take it and dance to loud rock music and rejoice.

What then? You will work with your editor at the publishing house. She will probably have suggestions/deletions/edits for you. You will work through your book yet again.

Hello, wine! Hello, coffee!

Once that’s done you will work with copy editors and go through your book another time.  You will read through the proofs. Concurrently you will give information to the art department for your cover and they might use it, they might not.

You will wait months and then one day you will walk into a book store or you will look online and TA DA your book is there.

This is a glorious day. Celebrate.

Now about writing for small presses…

Or Amazon…

Or self publishing….


The money you should or should not accept….

Ha. No. Not today. That is a huuuggge article.

Keep writing, friends.