Here is a cheat sheet for anyone who is (understandably) baffled by this strange and complicated world of publishing:
TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING (vs. self-publishing or indie publishing) means selling the rights to your book to a publishing house (You’ve probably heard of the Big Five: Simon and Schuster, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Hatchette, and MacMillan.) Generally, these are the books you find in brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes and Noble.
QUERY: A pitch for a book, often accompanied by the first few pages of the manuscript.
MANUSCRIPT: In this case, a fully written, novel-length work of fiction, which for me is usually around 80,000-90,000 words, or approximately 300-350 pages.
AGENT: A literary agent represents writers, pitches their work to publishers, and handles contracts and paperwork involved in making book deals and/or selling foreign rights, tv/movie rights, etc. Many agents also work with clients to develop and revise their work before going on submission.
SUBMISSION: The process during which an agent tries to sell a manuscript to publishing houses.
YOUNG ADULT/YA: Books with main characters in their teens or (sometimes) early 20s. Fun fact: a large chunk of YA readers are actually women in their 30s!
(Someday I’ll write about the role sexism and how the old boys club of adult SciFi/Fantasy helped create the YA category we know today, but in the meantime, head to the YA section of the bookstore and skim a few–you might be surprised to realize it’s not what you think!)
HOW TO (try and) GET A BOOK TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED:
Step 1: Write, revise, and polish an entire manuscript. Yes, for fiction, you have to write the entire book first.
Step 2: Send a query and the first few pages of your novel to literary agents.
Step 3: Hope some of those agents are intrigued enough to request to read the full manuscript. Agents get thousands of queries a year (Some over 20,000) and it’s typical for an agent to ask to read a small fraction of those, say 5-10% Note-Writers are often told that getting requests from 10-15% of the agents they query is good, so getting rejected outright 85% of the time is a win! Fun, huh?!
Step 4: An agent reads the full manuscript, loves it, knows how to sell it, and calls to offers to represent it/you.
Again, agents can only offer on a small fraction of the manuscripts they read (say 5-10%) so now we’re talking 5-10% OF 5-10%. Sorry for all the math—the point is, this industry is HARD, the odds are ALWAYS long, and writers are gluttons for punishment.
Step 5: After signing an agreement to work together, agent and writer often revise the manuscript again, then the agent takes the book out on submission.
Step 6: If an editor loves it, the editor tries to convince the money people and the publicity people to make a deal.
Step 7: Book Deal!
Step 8: A bajillion years later (okay, 1-2), after a whole team of people work on marketing, a cover, publicity, copy-editing, etc etc etc, it becomes a real, actual book.
Step 9: All your friends and family pre-order your book and/or run to the store in the first week to buy multiple copies because they love you and want your book to succeed! ? Do they have to actually read it? Nah. No author wants anyone to read anything they don’t want to–seriously! But please, if you can afford to, buy books! (in general, not just my hypothetical future books) and if you cannot afford to, request them at your local library! That really helps!
TIMELINE or (WHEN CAN I BUY YOUR BOOK?)
Short answer: I have no idea! At the moment, it lives on my computer, but if it DOES get published (fingers crossed), it still won’t hit bookshelves for a few YEARS. Publishing. Is. Slow.
Long answer: Just as querying can take many years and most books never succeed, it’s not uncommon for an agented writer to spend months or years on submission with multiple manuscripts before they get a book deal. AFTER a book deal, it still generally takes 1-2 years for a book to go to print.
If you read all that, GOLD STAR!