"I sold a book!"
"Cool! So can I buy it?"
"I got an agent!"
"So when is he going to publish your book?"
Both are verbatim conversations I've had with my friends and family in the last few months. I've had to explain to a lot of people what exactly getting an agent/book deal means. Why? Because, SURPRISE, life isn't my Twitter feed and I'm like, the only writer in my immediate circles.
If you love, know, or want to be a writer, this will be mandatory reading. If you hate the writer in your life, just take all the books off your shelves and throw them in the garbage right now.
1. Publishers, Agents, and Your Lonely Little Writer Friend
A. The Publishing Industry Food Chain
(see glossary at end of post for italicized words)
I hath devised a depressing device called The Publishing Industry Food Chain to show you the continuum of industry professions. Bare in mind that the title I've picked is more depressing than it is descriptive.
- What They Do: They are the company in charge of making and distributing your book. They have teams that do marketing. PR. Cover design. Formatting.
- Why They Are First In The PIFC: Because they are the ones that push your book into the world. Writers can self-publish which would, mostly, take this entire continuum and shove it, but the traditional publishing route ends with a book deal at a publisher. Also, if you're a writer and want to have your book considered by an editor at a big publisher, you should probably look into getting an agent. Big publishing houses will typically (there are exceptions) not look at what is referred to as an un-agented manuscript.
What They Do: They work for the publisher, acquiring and editing books on the companies behalf. If they acquire your book, they will work with you on the revisions, send you editorial letters. They are the central hub for your book. They work with the designers on the covers and jackets, they work with publicity on the events and reviews. They are the advocate for your book and also the main point of contact for the writer at the publishing house. They. Do. A. Lot. This is why they're always thanked in the acknowledgements.
- Why They Are Second In The PIFC: Because they work for the publisher.
A3. The Literary Agent
- What They Do: A lot. When a writer is signed by an agent, they are typically signing for the duration of that writer's career. The agent will flex their editorial knowledge and tap into their vast tomes of industry knowledge to work with that writer until the MS the writer is working on is at it's most perfect (most sellable) state, and then they will submit the writer's MS to acquiring editors. They also help the author with networking/career development. When a writer is offered a book deal by a publisher, the literary agent handles the legalese in writer's contract. They negotiate royalties and advances. They fight for the writer to get the best deal possible.
- Why They Are Third In The PIFC: Because they are helping writers get book deals with publishers. They only make money if they sell your book. They are incredibly connected, but without their relationships with editors, and without the publishing houses that staff those editors, they wouldn't really have a job.
A4. The Writer
- What They Do: Write the book. Cry about how bad it is. Sob in a corner. Don't go out to parties. Don't go out much. Change lives, and if they don't change lives, they might change their pants, but no one really knows.
- Why They Are Fourth In The PIFC: Because you have to fight for a career.
A5. Examples Of How To Use This Information:
Now, the above content should give you, the innocent bystander, a good understanding of the industry. However, just in case it hasn't, here are a few case studies just to solidify the information you've received.
- A Writer Says... "I finally got an agent!" This means...He got the middle man in the PIFC to agree to represent him and attempt to sell his/her books to publishers.
- A Writer Says... "I just got a book deal!" This means...The writer's book sold to an acquiring editor at a publishing house.
- A Writer Says... "My book sucks. Everything is meaningless. I'll never get an agent or a book deal." This means... You need to give them a hug and tell them to keep going.
An agent doesn't publish books, he sells them. An editor doesn't own the publisher, they work for them. The agent signs you as a client, the editor buys your book and works on it with you temporarily. The publisher releases the book into stores, not the editor. An editor isn't an agent. An agent isn't an editor. Getting an agent isn't the same as selling a book.
C. What Comes After/Final Thoughts
A debut book is typically released two years after the announcement of the sale. Let me say this again. When a first time writer announces they've signed a book deal, their book is not published. Their book is simply acquired by an editor and is in the process of being published.
Why does it take so long?
Because the writer and the editor have to work on the book, getting it as close to perfection as possible. After that, the cover has to be designed. The text has to be formatted. Marketing and PR has to put together a plan. The author has to work on promo as well. ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) are printed and then sent out. Final edits are made. The books have to be printed. All of this is going on for multiple books at the publisher at the same time. Then, once all of that is done.
The book is born.
And because you've read this post, you go out and buy eighty copies and tell the writer every day how much you love them. You don't stop telling people about their book because, after all, you know that their agent didn't publish it. You know that that writer wrote their heart out and fought to get to the point where they can actually hold their book.
I hope this answers all the basics. Let me know if I missed anything. Writers, I hope this helps you spend more time writing and less time explaining what's going on. If someone asks you, "So you need an editor? I thought you already had an agent?" just say "I'll send you something" and give them this.
Peace an Blessins,
Glossary of Writerly Terms
Un-Agented Manuscript: A finished word doc/novel sitting on someone's computer not represented by an agent.
Editorial Letter: A very long and intimidating letter written by an agent or editor telling you which ways your book sucks and needs to change. This will often go over plot development, character inconsistencies, and writing technique.
MS: Abbreviation of manuscript, NOT multiple sclerosis.
Acquiring Editor: Editors at publishing houses hired specifically to buy books and work on them with the writer. Sometimes, the acquiring editor assigns a non-acquiring editor to a book they recently bought.
ARC or Advance Reader Copy: The first physical form of the book. This is not the completed "published" book. It is a draft used for promotion, design and layout testing, and editorial purposes.