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The Path #3: So You Signed With A Literary Agent. Then What Happened?

Before we begin…


When I started this website and blog in January 2020, I had every intention of posting monthly, or almost monthly. I’ve hit my goal a grand total of twice -- January and February -- because...2020. I hope to get back on a more regular schedule starting this month.


More importantly, I hope that anyone who might be reading this is doing well, staying well, and taking care of themselves as best they can.


With that said, let’s get into it.


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In this series, 'The Path', I'll discuss my journey, as it's happening, in going from manuscript to commercial publication for the first time.


In the last post (February 2020), I talked about how I got signed with a literary agent. In this month’s post, I’ll talk about what happened once I got signed. As always, I am speaking from my experience only, and paths to publication vary a lot from author to author.


Month 0 after signing - Nov 2018.

You signed with a literary agent -- great! Time to pitch to publishers, right?


Well, not necessarily. The days and weeks directly after signing can go many different ways depending on lots of things. I’ve read/heard/know about several authors in my genre who had their books pitched to publishers after some basic proofreading and light editing within one month (or less) of signing. Does that mean those books all sold? No, it does not. But some did.


In any case, Reader, a quick turnaround for pitching would not be how it worked out for me.




For me, the week after I signed was a time for my agent (Sarah) to hand off to me her first (yes, I said first) round of editorial notes. As my agent read the manuscript, she added questions, suggestions, and made points about clarity and plot cohesion in the margins electronically using the Comment function in Word. She also wrote a super detailed summary editorial “letter” in the body of an email and sent that to me to talk through some conceptual questions, suggestions, and thoughts.


All in all, she was incredibly thorough and put a TON of work into her reading of my book, for which I was (and remain) incredibly grateful. I found this particularly amazing in light of the fact that until such a time as the book WAS ready to be pitched and the book DID sell (if it ever did), there was no money in it for her. Ultimately, legit agents work on “spec”: optimism, hope, and the expectation that eventually it might all pay off for them (and for their authors). But there’s no guarantee in it. The faith, buy-in, and investment required on the part of a (good) agent is really quite miraculous.


And in my case, I had some substantial things to look at and revise -- not just basic proofreading stuff.


It was mid-November when I signed and got my editorial notes, and my agent assured me the holidays are kind of a slow time anyway in publishing, so I really shouldn’t feel any pressure to have the revised manuscript back to her before January.


At first I was maybe a little disappointed that my book wasn’t just Ready (I was like oh no -- maybe I suck?), but I got over that pretty fast and dove in because again, I was dazzled by how excited she was about the book and how much work and time she had already invested in it. It was hard to pout too long when you sign with someone so dedicated and jazzed about Your Thing.


So I worked away on the edits and revisions over the next few months on weekends and after work and sent it back to Sarah in mid-January.


Month 2 after signing - Jan 2019.

NOW it’s time to pitch to publishers, yes?





Nah. My agent has only just received it! She needs to read it in full again, see where it’s at, comment and provide more editorial feedback if need be (spoiler alert: it needed be).


Month 4 after signing - March 2019.

This is the time, I can feel it. Your agent pitched the book after you made those revisions?


Ah, no. So my agent got to my book and did a full re-read and provided comments, but it took about two months. Which seemed pretty reasonable to me considering it took me that long to do the revisions in the first place, and I’m not her only client. We stayed in contact during this period, though, to make sure we were both feeling good and on the same page. I never felt neglected or anything like that.


The manuscript, with a new round of editorial suggestions, came back to me in late-March. So, there would be more to do. Had I hoped that I had nailed it in round one? Of course! I wanted to move on to the next part, the fun part, the part where I sell my book and become rich and famous! But the manuscript just was not ready (and also it is lol-level hard to become rich and famous as a writer, but we all dream of this, don’t we??).





My agent put it to me this way: when we do put it on submission, we want to have already done the work to take away as many reasons as possible for them to say no. Which was really helpful and grounding. And she told me that most authors she had worked with over the years did substantial edits, and that I was “with the best of them” when it came to that. So this eased my spirit because I was starting to be like: no, really -- do I suck? You can tell me. And, being the great agent that she is, she was like OMG no you’re great! The work you’re putting in is normal! I love the book! That’s why we’re working it so hard!


So, I got back to work.


Month 8 after signing - July 2019.

I’m on to you. You didn’t pitch this time either.


Ding ding ding!


According to my records, I received round two notes from Sarah in late-March and sent her back the round two manuscript in early July. So, this time it took me a little longer -- about three months -- to do the work I needed to do to feel like it was ready to go back to Sarah. And to be clear, the revisions we’re talking about were tens of thousands of words’ worth, not just tweaks.


When people hear this, they ask me with concern: with all of these edits and suggestions and changes, is it even the same book? Do you still feel like it’s yours? Are you happy with where it’s at? And the answer is...





Sarah helped me to take my good book and turn it into a great version of that same book. All the same basic things happen in mostly the same basic ways with mostly the same basic characters, but Sarah helped me to emphasize what deserved to be emphasized and cut back on what just didn’t work or wasn’t important. It helped make the book more cohesive, more propulsive, more fully formed.


(History repeats itself when I hook up with my editor from Sourcebooks in several months’ time -- but that’s for another post!)


Also, side note: as a person who has a BA, an MA, and an MFA in English/Fiction Writing and has been through graduate-level workshops and done a fiction thesis project for each of those three degrees, the process Sarah, and later my editor, put me through was far more rigorous and work-intensive and in-depth than anything I did in school. Like, for real. They’re not fucking around. But in a loving, excited way.


Pictured below: me.





Month 9 after signing - Aug 2019.

Still not biting. This isn’t when you pitch. Nice try.


You got me. True enough.


About a month after I sent Sarah round two, she sent back round three -- yes three! -- notes. It happened to come in three days before my wedding, so as you can imagine, I didn’t do much more than read the email. I mentally couldn't handle digging into any more than that at that point. Weddings, even in the happiest of times, are A LOT!





But what I saw in even that brief email glimpse was that things were definitely moving along -- each round was getting less and less substantial in terms of what I had to do. I was definitely making progress!


Month 10 after signing - Sept 2019.

So how did the revisions go?


That’s the spirit!


They went well. In looking back at my records, it’s sort of insane that I turned in draft three to Sarah on September 8, considering I had gotten her latest feedback on August 14, been married on August 17, and was out of the country until August 25.


How did I do that? I literally do not know. Way to go, past me.





Month 11 after signing - Oct 2019.

What did Sarah say when she got back to you?


October 9: She was like -- this is SO close! Final edit round! I was like yay awesome let me get down to it!


October 15: I sent the “final” edit round back to Sarah for review.


October 22: Sarah sent just a teeny tiny polish round back to me -- final final round!


(This is also when she shared with me the draft of what she would be using as my “pitch letter” to publishers. I will talk all about the pitch process in the next post).


October 23: I sent Sarah the tiny tiny final final edits.


October 23: Sarah sent me tinier tinier tinier final final final polish (proof-reading-type) edits.


October 23: I sent Sarah the tinier tinier tinier final final final polish draft.


(This is also when Sarah shared with me the list of publishers/editors she planned to send the book on pitch to. I will talk about the pitch process in the next post).


October 24: BOOK GOES OUT TO PUBLISHERS/EDITORS ON PITCH


In Summary

Dang. That was quite the goddamned process, Katie.


Yep.


Did it take me 11 months to get from signing with an agent to pitching my book to publishers?

Yes.


Am I glad I put all that work in before pitching?

YES.


Will it take YOU that long to go out on pitch after you sign with an agent?

Like, probably not? But who knows. It really varies. You could very well be a person who does it in wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am fashion (industry term, what a pro I am) -- it happens all the time. And if that does happen, gahbless, for real. That’s so awesome!


I guess just keep in mind that it COULD take up to a year or so. The long road to pitch doesn’t mean you suck or your book sucks or anything like that. As with most things in life, it just takes the time it takes. And I completely trusted my agent in this process, and I was right to do so. They know what they’re talking about. Is every agent very editorially gifted and patient? No. But that’s something to ask about up front before you sign with them -- if that attention is important to you.


And the way I figured, I kinda get just one chance at this pitch with this book, so I’d rather put in a lot of work ahead of time and know I gave myself every shot at being successful in the pitch process than rush to get to the exciting part but actually not land my book anywhere.


Patience and fortitude, my pets, patience and fortitude.


In next month’s post, I’ll talk about the process of taking my book out on pitch with publishers.


Until next time...


Wear a mask.

Make your plan to vote.

Black lives matter.


And happy reading,

KL


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