The Book Deal: Selling & Publishing Process

After you have acquired a literary agent, the next step in your writing career is to try to land a book deal. Your book idea will go through many steps and stages before it is finally sold and published. You will also need to successfully navigate your relationship with your agent to keep it healthy and productive.

Once the agency agreement is signed by both parties, the author-agent partnership is official and the process of selling your book to a publisher begins. The timeframe from when you first acquire an agent, through landing a book deal, to ultimately seeing your book in stores can vary dramatically and is based on numerous components. 

Following is a guideline of the steps involved with getting your book to market and a general timeline to help you understand the process.

Step 1: The agent will work with you to make edits to the manuscript or proposal.

Agents usually take on new projects they feel are strong enough to send out to publishers immediately. However, sometimes the agent will ask you to make edits and polish the manuscript or proposal further before pitching it to publishing house editors.

Your agent may provide you an editorial letter outlining the requested changes, insert comments directly on your manuscript or proposal, or - if the edits are minimal - simply discuss it with you in an informal telephone conversation. Depending on your agent’s schedule, you may receive this within a few days or within several weeks. You and your agent will then determine a timeframe for when you will deliver the edits. Based on the scope of the changes, your material may go through several rounds of edits and may require a few days or weeks to complete.

Step 2: The agent will pitch the project to a list of carefully selected publishers.

Once the material is strong enough to send out, the agent will write a pitch letter (similar to a query letter) and approach several publishers that she feels are good matches for your book. Most agents will pitch your project to more than one editor at the same time. Your agent may submit it to three editors or 40 editors simultaneously. Each individual agent has his or her own selling technique.

Do not expect your agent to share the list of the publishers she has approached, or is planning to pitch, until after the submission process is complete. An agent’s job is to sell your book and most agents prefer not to consult with authors about who they should be pitching (unless a specific publisher has expressed an interest). It is best to let your agent do her job and not interfere with her pitching process. The timing of the submission stage varies greatly depending on how widely the work is submitted.

Step 3: When an offer is received, the agent will negotiate with the publisher on your behalf.

It may take months or even years before you receive a publishing offer - or you may land a book deal the same day you acquire your agent. There is no way to know how long it will take between the submission stage and the offer stage. Once a publisher does make a verbal offer, your agent will negotiate the major terms of the agreement with the editor. The negotiation process usually takes only a few hours to a few days to complete.

Step 4: The publisher will create a formal agreement.

Once the terms have been negotiated, the publisher will construct a formal agreement. This may take two to 12 weeks.

Step 5: The agent may negotiate minor details of the agreement.

Once the agent receives the formal publishing contract, she will review the details and may ask the publisher’s legal department to make a few minor adjustments to the language contained in the agreement. This may add a few days to a few weeks to the timeline.

Step 6: The author and publisher sign the contract, after which an advance payment is issued.

Once the final contract is agreed and signed by the author, the publisher will countersign it and issue your agent the initial portion (usually 50%) of the negotiated advance payment. Your agent will take her commission from the payment and send you the remaining balance. This stage of the process may take four to six weeks. 

Step 7: The author completes and delivers the manuscript.

The average publishing contract gives the author six to 12 months to deliver the final manuscript. Most nonfiction authors will begin writing the manuscript as soon as they receive a verbal offer from the publisher.

Step 8: Final edits are requested and delivered.

Once you deliver the final manuscript, the editor will review the book and provide comments for final edits. The editor takes between two to 10 weeks to provide the editing notes to you. Then you will make the final changes and resubmit it to the editor. Sometimes there will be several rounds of edits necessary. 

Step 9: The book is put into production.

Once the editor receives your final changes and the manuscript is “approved”, the publisher will send the second half of the advance payment to your agent, who will then issue you the payment, less her commission. Now your book goes into the production process, which consists of copyediting, proofreading, design, and printing. The publication date of your book may be six to 18 months after the manuscript is delivered and accepted (approved with final edits).