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



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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

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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: [redacted] 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.

Write On Con 2012

The conference is coming! The conference is coming!

For anyone who doesn’t know, Write On Con is this super awesome annual writing conference that I adore. Wanna know why?

Okay, well I’m going to tell you anyway.

  1. It’s online. Which means that I don’t have to move my butt out of my chair to attend it.
  2. There’s this great workshopping element to the conference where you can get critique on your query letter and the opening scene of your novel and stuff.
  3. IT’S FREE. Oh my gosh it’s FREE.

As somebody who’s been blessed with the opportunity to attend more than a few writing conferences the past couple of years, I can guarantee you that it costs a lot of money to go to one. A LOT. So imagine the pure, five-year-old-on-Christmas joy I felt when I first found out about Write On Con. I swear: it was like getting a puppy.

Say hello to Sammy as a puppy. Even back then people were confusing her for a boy.

Write On Con was created a while back by some authors for the purpose of providing all the perks of attending a writing conference–sessions from publishing professionals, networking with other writers, etc–without all the cost, and they’ve stayed true to that ideal ever since. Plus, they’ve worked in ways for attendees to get lots of great feedback on the things that matter most when submitting your writing to literary agents and editors through their forums and forum events. You can even get feedback from literary agents, who snoop around during the conference as “ninja agents,” critiquing and requesting material based on what they find in the forums.

The one thing Write On Con lacks is the fun of being immersed the entire conference-straight in writing related things; eating, breathing, sleeping in the same space as other writers. But really, when it’s free, who cares?

So anyway, I’m super excited for Write On Con, and I hope you are too, because it’s a great event. Information for attending:

Who: You!

What: The biggest online writing conference ever (and it’s free!).

When: Monday, August 13th through Wednesday, August 15th

Where: http://writeoncon.com/

Why: Because really. If you’re a writer, and you’re breathing right now, why wouldn’t you attend?

See you at the conference! (Also: You can look me up on the forums, if you’d like.)