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Getting an agent offer: from signing to submission

When an agent is interested in offering rep, they will usually call you on the phone to discuss your book. They’ll tell you how much they liked it and why, what their vision is for it, what edits they’d like to do if any, what publishers they’d like to target, and then probably ask you more about yourself, your writing, your career goals, and whether you have written other things.

If you have sequels planned, this is the time to tell them. If you want to ask whether they will rep you as a one-book agent or a career agent, this is the place. Some agents will keep you on if your book doesn’t sell, some will drop you. My agent is a career agent; when my first book on sub didn’t sell, she kept me on and waited 2 years while I wrote a new one.

After your call, you should usually tell the agent who offered that you need a week or two (not more than two) to consider. Then you should email all the agents who currently have full manuscripts of your book, or else swiftly query ones you’re keen on but haven’t had a chance to try yet, and put in your email subject header that you have an offer. Something like “PENDING OFFER: Query Submission for adult fantasy book” will do. If any other agents are interested in offering rep, or reading the full, they have 2 weeks to respond.

While that 2 weeks is happening, chase up the offering agent’s other clients, chat to them via email, find out what they’re like tow ork with, maybe do more research. Does this agent sell well? What’s their ranking on publisher’s marketplace, what’s their history, how experienced are they? A good agent will also answer these questions if you ask directly, and also should be providing you with contact details for their clients. If they’re relucant to do either of those things, that’s quite a concerning sign.

When the time is up, you pick between multiple offers if you have them, or accept/refuse the one offer if there is only one. A bad agent is worse than no agent so if you’re not happy with the offer, turn them down. They work for you, not the other way around.

Things that might make you happy or unhappy: their vision for your book, their sales record, their communication style and communication frequency, their work methods, things their clients have said, whether they feel too big or too small, etc.

After an agent has offered rep and youv’e accepted, you will work on any previously-agreed edits together, and then your agent will put you “on submission” to publishers. Usually this means they pitch publishers in batches or rounds, either by ringing or emailing, and publishers who are interested will request the full manuscript. Most publishers will request, at this stage.

After that, it’s a waiting game. Generally, positive news is faster than negative news in this industry, but not always. There is no normal, everything is it depends, but 4-8 months isnt’ unheard of for being on submission (so get writing your next book while you wait! It’ll give you practice for writing under tight deadlines.)

My first book on sub was there for 18 months, collecting only rejections; my second book was bought in under 5 days. I’ve had friends on sub for 18 months or more before getting picked up. It varies so, so much.

Best of luck, and I recommend either Courtney Maum’s “Before And After The Book Deal” book as it’s a great in-depth explanation the industry, moreso than my brief overview. If you want something free and quicker to read, try the First Draft: Track Changes podcast, which has a 9 episode podcast series that covers everything you need to know about publishing.

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