This Whole Crazy Process, Explained

Hill: I have a request
for l’esprit d’escalier

me: What’s up?

Hill: that you outline what the process IS we’re going through,
from writing to editing to query letter to partials to fulls and to representation
so I can link it to people
and go

Ask and ye shall receive.

Note: this is the third time I’ve tried writing this post. I keep veering off into tangents that, while they’re pretty relevant, take their sweet-ass time actually answering the above request.  So let’s see if I can stop trying to explain the whole of the book industry and just, y’know, explain what we’re up to over here.

As you know, Bob, Hill and I wrote a book. It’s a young adult fantasy novel.  It doesn’t suck. We went back and forth over the course of about a year and a half, writing 1,000-2,000 words before passing it back to the other.  Every now and then we’d get together and rehash what was left to write.  We wrote until it was done.

We had what I call our zero draft. It was a completed manuscript, yes, but it wasn’t ready to go out into the world.  We handed it over to a few people for a read-through, to help us catch inconsistencies and glaring errors, and then we edited the hell out of it. We took a look and got rid of scenes that didn’t advance the plot, cliches that didn’t spice up the writing, and put that bad cat into standard manuscript format.

Then it was time to find an agent. There are several steps to this, so let’s break out the bullet points:

  • First, we did our research. Would you ask  your vegetarian friend to taste your bacon-wrapped-in-bacon recipe and recommend it to other people?  Nope.  For that same reason, you need to find agents that represent the genre in which you’re writing.  You don’t submit, say, contemporary YA fantasy to someone who only represents non-fiction.
  • Then, we worked on our query letter. Queries are nerve-wracking.  You have about a page — really just a few paragraphs — to explain why your book kicks ass, and why that particular agent would be right for you.  I’ve spent a lot of time at Query Shark, looking to see what other people got right and wrong, learning how to write something that should stand out.  In addition to the query letter, a lot of agencies ask to see the first 5-10 pages.  So, we have dual nail-biting going on there: the query is mostly me; the first few pages are mostly Hill.  Fortunately, the combination of the two seem to have garnered us some interest. Win!
  • If an agent likes the query and sample pages, he or she requests a partial. “Partials” are pretty much exactly what they sound like: part of the manuscript.  The amount an agent will want to see varies.  For the most part, it’s been a request for the first 30 pages or first 3 chapters.  Others have asked for 50 pages/first 5 chapters.  It depends on how much of the story that particular agent needs to get a good feel for the story.
  • If an agent likes the partial, he or she requests the full. “Full” is just like it sounds, too:  someone wants to see the whole gorram thing.  Hill and I have had a few requests for fulls so far.   If queries and partials were nerve-wracking, waiting on responses for fulls are even more so.  Because…
  • If an agent likes the full, he or she offers representation. This is where, when it finally happens, we will run around in circles screaming and generally embarrassing ourselves.

Of course, having representation doesn’t mean we’re published yet, does it?

Once we have an agent, that agent will show the books to editors. And we start the whole damned process over again, only this time, we have someone who has the trust of editors and publishers on our side, being enthusiastic about our work and getting it on publishers’ desks.

If an editor likes our book, they will make an offer.  At that point, the agent would present the offer to us, go over the contract with us, and advocate for us so we get the best deal we can.  (Those two sentences alone could spiral into so many digressions.  Understand I’m oversimplifying here.  I’ll eventually post a little more in-depth about how offers get made — it’s not just “Hey, I like your book, have a wad of cash” — and why agents are so damned essential to the process.)

Once we’ve signed with a publisher (which is when you’d say our book has been aquired), we’ll go through rounds of revisions.  Editors make your book better.  They help with plot and pacing and turn your book from pretty awesome into wicked awesome.

When the revisions are done, and probably a thousand other things I’m glossing over, the book will be scheduled for release. It’s honestly probably about a year-long process, maybe even two, from when the book is bought to when it hits bookstore shelves.

Think of it this way:  right now, people here are working on books that will be in bookstores in the spring/summer of 2011.  They were probably acquired in the fall of 2009 or very early in 2010.  So, even if an agent were to offer us representation tomorrow and we had a deal by the end of the summer, chances are, Nin wouldn’t be on bookshelves until the fall of 2011 at the earliest.  More likely, spring of 2012.

Couple of things about all of the above, as if I haven’t thrown enough at you:

–Every agent is different.  Some have requested fulls right off of the query letter.  Some have online forms to fill out instead of the queries.  Some of them want a synopsis, too, which makes me weep copious tears.**

–Agents’ response times vary.  Some get back to us in a day or less.  Others take weeks.  Still others take months.  There are more than a few who state that if we don’t receive a response, we can assume they’re passing on the work.  That gets pretty frustrating, figuring out at what point we move the agent off of the “query response pending” part of the spreadsheet and stick it on the page I’ve named “Rejections :(

–BEA was about three weeks ago.  It’s the big publishing industry trade show, where publishers, editors, agents, authors and booksellers go and gorge themselves on books for three days.  It also means everyone falls behind on what comes into their inboxes.  Some agents receive hundreds of queries a day, so imagine the overflow they came back to.  Which means when we’re going, “But Agent Awesome’s website says she’ll get back to us in three weeks and it’s been four,” we have to sigh at the calendar and remind ourselves she’s probably still clawing her way out of everything that came in during BEA.

Anyway. The TL;DR version of the post is this:

  1. Write book
  2. Revise manuscript
  3. Query agents
  4. Get partial requests
  5. Get full requests
  6. Get agent OMFG YAY!
  7. Agent sends manuscript to editors
  8. Editor makes offer
  9. Happydance
  10. A year-ish later, see our book on actual bookstore shelves.

So.  Questions?  Comments?  Anything I can clarify?  Any parts of this process you want me to go into in further detail?  Have at it!



**A synopsis is a two or three page outline of your book, from start to finish.  Where a query letter presents the central problem without revealing the resolution, the synopsis wants the spoilers.  Query letters let you inject a little humor and your own voice.  A synopsis is just the facts, ma’am, or, as I put it to Hill: “It’s like watching the boring dude in the office explain the plot of last night’s Awesome TV Show.  It’s hard not to go, ‘but funny shit happens in here, I SWEAR!’


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5 Responses to This Whole Crazy Process, Explained

  1. Shad says:

    THANK YOU. I’ve been hoping for something like this every time Hill’s status message changes to something book related.

    I do have one question. Where do you do your agent research? Primarily on the web, or is there some secret coven of agents that you have to know a particular handshake to get to observe?

  2. TedTheThird says:

    This was very helpful, even for someone still at step #1.

  3. Useful stuff — thanks! My own path to publication’s been /so/ far off the normal track, this’ll be great to point to when people ask how-to questions.

    If you’re doing more in this vein, I’d love to hear more about the collaborative writing process, how much of an outline you had at the beginning, how much give and take you had about ideas changing in the middle of each section, that sort of thing.

  4. falconesse says:

    Shad, we do most of our agent research on the web, via sites like QueryTracker. There are also some great industry blogs out there, from agents, editors, authors and booksellers, and they tend to mention when someone’s done something awesome. (This industry really is tiny.) Other names I’ve seen a lot through newsletters I’m on for work, so I get to cheat a little there, but honestly, most of those guys are people we’d have found through regular searching anyway.

    Ted, thankee! Hope it continues to be of help.

    Ian, your path to publication is filled with awesome. (And, on a sidenote, I still owe you a review! Trying to time it closer to your pub date. :) ) I’ll definitely do more posts on the writing process — the first two attempts at this post spiralled into “how we wrote the book” tangents, among others, and I had to start all over to keep on topic.

  5. Hillary says:

    “How we wrote the book” – snorting cocaine off of a basset hound’s back while typing.

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