Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 2”)

You’ll never guess who I met yesterday. Like seriously, YOU WILL NEVER GUESS. (Or you probably will, if you’ve liked my Facebook page. But whatevs.)


Oh yeah. That’s right. Erin Bowman, Sarah J. Maas, Kat Zhang, and Susan Dennard.

Yesterday, Mel and I attended the Young Authors Give Back tour’s Michigan stop, hitting up both the writing workshop and book signing, and let me just say: You should be jealous. Because it was such a great experience.

All four of the authors were totally nice and down-to-earth, and they were willing to talk about anything you asked (including favorite TV shows, which is obviously a VERY writing-related topic).

It was a fun, educational day, with more than just a sprinkling of inspirational also thrown in there. If you ever have the chance to meet one of these women, I highly recommend taking it.

Links to their books:

What’s Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Taken by Erin Bowman

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another post about the publishing industry. Last week I tackled the basic process for writing a book and getting an agent, which you can read here. This week I’m going to talk about what happens once you do have a literary agent (based on what I’ve learned from watching others go through the process, because–unlike querying–I’ve unfortunately never had the opportunity to learn what it’s like first-hand).

Here we go: The Publishing Industry for Non-writers, Part 2: From Agent to Book Deal



[Picture found here.]

All agents work a little (or a lot) differently from one another, but generally what goes down once a lit agent and you have signed on to work with one another is this: The agent edits the book, you edit the book, the agent edits the book, you edit the book–basically, you get that sucker as perfect as the two of you can make it. Some agents don’t like to edit with their writers, others are totally hands-on and won’t go on submission (hang on, I’m getting to what that means) without ripping the novels they represent to shreds a few times over. They’re all different, and part of what goes into making the decision of which agents to query, and which one to (hopefully) eventually sign with, is knowing how hands-on you want your agent to be in the editing process.

In general, here’s the difference between working with editors and agents on editing a novel: When agents are editing, they’re looking more for the “big issue” problems, like plot points that aren’t working or characters who fall flat. When editors are editing, they’ll also look for those things, but in general, they aren’t going to give out a contract for a book with these sorts of problems, because they expect them to already have been fixed before the manuscript hits their desk. Instead, they’re looking for the little things–make sure that the descriptions are stellar, the pacing is perfect, the dialogue rings true. That sort of stuff.

Once the agent thinks the book is as good as it can get, you move on to the next step in the publishing process:

Going On Submission

[Picture found here.]

Going on submission, or “on subs” (or any of the other thousand and one nicknames the process has), is very similar to querying–only, this time, the one doing the work is your agent, and the people you’re trying to make fall in love with your novel are editors at publishing houses.

This process can last anywhere from a day to several months. Generally, your agent will pick out a selection of editors they know at a selection of imprints* and then send them a pitch letter, which is basically a modified query letter (how is it modified? us non-agented folks may never know). If an editor is interested, they’ll request to read the manuscript. If they absolutely fall in love with it and want to publish the novel, one of several things can happen:

a) If the editor has enough leverage, they can offer on the book right away. This is the most no-fuss way of getting a book deal, but it’s not as likely to happen as:

b) The editor will prepare a proposal outlining why they think your book rocks and [insert name of cool publisher here] should write you a check, and then take it to a meeting with all the other bigwigs at their imprint and go to bat for you, trying to convince everybody else that your book is worth the risk. If they all agree to publish you, then boom: you’ve got a contract. Or, in the really incredibly nerve-wracking cases:

c) More than one editor (meaning: more than one imprint) can offer on your book, which leads to an auction of sorts. Having your book go to auction doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s particularly amazing or will sell a million copies or anything like that, but it does mean that, in general, you’ll get a better deal than if only one person offered on your book, because it means you can be choosy and push for getting more out of your contract.

… So, if everything goes really well and an editor loves your novel, that’s what happens. But, even with a kick-butt agent, the likelihood of landing a book deal is still pretty low. A good agent sells about one in every four projects they pitch to editors. That means that even if you beat the odds and sign with a lit agent, you’re still only looking at a 25% chance that your book will ever end up in stores (and that’s if you’re with a really. good. agent).

The nice part about your book not selling, though, is that your publishing dream doesn’t end there. Writers are always writing. We’re always working on new projects, spiffing up old ones, and dreaming about future ones. So your first book didn’t sell? Then your agent and you will get to work on your second one. That one doesn’t sell either? Then it’s on to the third. It can be a disheartening process, but seeing your book on shelves at the end of the day–I have never once heard someone say that it wasn’t worth all the struggle.

If an editor does offer on your book, then:

Negotiating the Deal

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This is where, more than anything, it’s important to have a good literary agent. They understand all the legal mumbo jumbo going on in your contract, and they’ll fight for getting you the best deal possible from the publisher. A contract can be for a single stand-alone book (aka: a book that is not a part of a series), or for all three books in a trilogy, or for five books, or ten, or two, or whatever else happens to go down while you’re negotiating everything. The contract dictates the size of your advance (basically, the money you get paid right out of the gate, just for choosing to publish with them), your royalties (how much money you get paid for every copy of your book sold), and a whole lot more.

(If you want to know exactly what goes into a contract, this page has a lot of great info.)

Something to know about advances and royalties, and how much authors get paid for their books in general: Most advances aren’t very large. Every once in a while, you’ll hear about the Wonder Writer who got a 6-figure advance, but that hardly ever happens, and getting a 6-figure advance doesn’t mean squat about how successful the book is going to be in the long run. In general, authors make less than minimum wage off their writing. Once you figure in how many hundreds of hours go into putting a novel together, that kind of stings.

The majority of authors aren’t just authors, but also doctors and librarians and mechanics. It is next-to-impossible to make a living off of writing. It’s something that you really do have to do out of pure, unadulterated love, rather than a yearning for fame and/or fortune. Because neither of those things happen very often.

It’s worth it, though, if you are that writer who’s in it purely for the sake of writing.

Once you’ve signed the contract, it’s a life of stressed-out deadlines, and outlines, and manuscripts bleeding red ink for you. But it’s also one where you get to walk into Barnes and Noble and see your book sitting on a shelf, right there next to all the authors you admire and adore. And how great is that?


Want to know more about the publishing industry? Vote for the “writing process” option in the poll below, and the next time I’m around for a Wordy Wednesday (which, mind you, won’t be for another couple of weeks), I’ll talk about what happens after you’ve signed on the dotted line.

In the meantime, my vacation begins next week, so starting with the next Wordy Wednesday, the posts going up on this blog will be guest posts, written by fantastic readers just like you. How awesome is that? If you’re interested in writing a guest post, there’s always space to add someone more to the roster, so just email me your post (on basically anything you want, as long as it isn’t Fifty Shades of Anything), at: jbyerswriting@aol.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can! I just need all guest posts in my inbox by Sunday night.



*What is an imprint, you ask? It’s sort of like a college within a university. For instance, you can go to the University of Michigan (so that’s your university), but your specific college can be Literature, Science, and the Arts; or Music, Theatre, and Dance; or Engineering. Your publisher might be HarperCollins, but within HarperCollins you could be with any one of their 30+ imprints, from Avon Romance, to Zondervan, to Katherine Tegen Books.

9 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 2”)

  1. Pingback: Should You Quit Your Day Job When You Get a Book Deal? | First Second Books

  2. Pingback: Happy 2nd Blogiversary!! (+GIVEAWAY) | Julia the Writer Girl

  3. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 3″) | Julia the Writer Girl

  4. This is all really solid, helpful info, Julia! One more thing you can add is that your agent might let you see the sub list and then you can spend your days stalking editors. Definitely didn’t do that… 😉 I’m gonna get the sub list soon for my current novel — super exciting.


    • Oh gosh, I feel like I might scare some people if I mentioned something like that. 😉 Good luck with going on subs! I’ve really got my fingers crossed for this one–it sounded great when you described it to me!


  5. I need to catch up on your blog (school’s out for me in 2 days!!!). Even though I’m not a non-writer, I loved reading this (anything about publishing never gets old!). Hopefully someday I’ll come back to this post and be like, been there, done that! For now, though, still writing and querying 🙂 Have a great vacation and let me know how it’s going with Candence 😀


    • I know, right? Someday I want to be like, “Look at all this neat stuff I learned before I was published!” (But yeah. Like that’s ever going to happen.)

      I’m trying to keep querying pretty under-wraps with Cadence, because I’ve heard you’re not supposed to talk about it too much in public (it annoys agents), but if you email me, I’d love to hear how your querying is going as well! 🙂

      HAPPY SUMMER!!!!!


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