Being “Out on Submission” P1: Advice to Debut Authors

Two weeks ago I announced to you all that I signed a deal with Sourcebooks Landmark as well as selling UK rights to Corvus/Atlantic, and that was a really big fucking deal, pardon my french. So I thought today I would tell you a little bit about the process that happens between getting an agent and getting a book deal (SPOILER ALERT: it’s not a sure thing, and it takes time).

1) Partying like it’s 1999

Getting an agent is not easy. See here and here where I show my work. So the first step between getting an agent and getting a book deal is to CELEBRATE that someone with actual industry knowledge and experience and connections thinks your book is worth reading, let alone worth his/her efforts to try to sell. (Note: agents work on commission. They don’t take on charity cases).

2) Preparing the MS for submission:

Maybe your book is so perfect and shiny and polished that you won’t have any work to do before submitting. If so, raise your hand and I will come to your house and pat you on the back before I punch you in the face.

Just kidding.

I’m guessing that for 100% of authors, at least a final polish won’t hurt before having editor eyes on it. In my case, my agent read my manuscript a second time  and gave me a short list of editorial notes to trim down sections where the pacing was slow, clean up areas that might be confusing to readers (since they’re not living inside my head) or where I spelled out TOO much for the readers, etc. She didn’t worry about doing a copy edit as I had already been pretty thorough about that in the eight drafts it went through prior to Stephanie even reading it. Your agent might be different, but if your MS is chock full of spelling errors and atrocious grammar, chances are you haven’t made it this far.

You should feel comfortable enough to push back on changes you don’t feel are right for the story, but remember you are just starting a relationship with your agent so be professional and respectful and try to keep emotions out of it. Your agent, like you, loves your book and wants it to be successful. And they know more than you, so you should probably just listen to them. Truth.

A note here elaborating on relationship: Always remember that this is a business relationship. He/she is not your boss (in fact since they are taking a commission on selling your work, technically it is the other way around), but remember that they have the choice to work with you or not. They are not your assistant, your mother, your spouse, or your best friend. If you are really struggling with something writing related talk to them, but they don’t need to hear about every problem you have in life. Try not to whine.

We also brainstormed new titles. (Spoiler: You’ll probably have to change your title, no matter how much you/your friends/your family loves it). Often once it gets to an editor it gets changed again, but make sure you can live with whatever you submit it as, because if the editor does really like it that’s what it will probably end up being.

3) The agent takes over

Stephanie developed a list on her own (because really, what input would I have about what editors I wanted to work with beyond “Derrrh…any of them?”) There were about 10 or so editors on the list from all different houses – from large to mid-level – many of which she has worked with or networked with before so she knows their interests and already has positive relationships with them. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before because I haven’t wanted to seem braggy, but my agent also represents Gillian Flynn, (yes, the author of mega-hit Gone Girl). So I think it’s safe to assume that editors trust her taste. If your agent is a little bit more green, you may want to do a bunch of research on your own about what you think will be a good fit.

We had a quick discussion about what name to submit under because I was engaged at the time and planning on publishing under my married name because I liked the sound of it better. We ended up submitting under Kaela Coble to keep it neater (even though I had a mini superstitious freak out about it). So this is the time to discuss a pen name with your agent if you plan on using one.

At this point you should also discuss with your agent how often you want to be updated.  Some people want to know every single comment that passes between editor and agent, including the rejections. I know that this would stress me out to no end, so I opted to trust Steph to update me “as meaningful feedback came in.” Meaning, I didn’t want to know about individual rejections, or even a “Sounds great, I’ll be reading it soon.” If someone was really expressing interest and/or if every agent rejected, then I would want to know. I highly recommend this approach unless you are the most laidback person in the universe, because being informed of every response sounds like too much of a rollercoaster to me.

My agent worked with copy from my query letter to prepare her pitch to the editors and then  sent that off to the list with my full manuscript. The days of “first five pages” and “first three chapters only” are behind you at this point – at least for now.

So now your MS is out in the world – congratulations, and I’m sorry.

Note: I just realized how very long this post is, so I’m splitting it into two. Stayed tuned for Part 2 next week!

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