Writers often want to know what, exactly, happens AFTER an agent signs them. Then they go on submission with their agent, and they want to know what, exactly, happens AFTER they get an offer. Then they get a contract and want to know what, exactly, happens AFTER their book is published.... and on, and on. Well, I've got good news and bad news, kids.
Good news: That's what this post is about!
Bad news: There is no single answer to these questions, and you'll have to accept the fact that I could have answered "it depends!" to all of them, and "who in hell knows" to many of them.
You've been querying agents, and you get a call or an email -- one of them wants to sign you! NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
You take a deep breath. You schedule a phone call for a time that is good for you. Plan for this call to take at least an hour (though it could obviously be much shorter, you want to have the time dedicated.)
If the agent suggests a time that is NOT good for you, don't be afraid to say so. You are the one being wooed here.
Let the other agents who are considering your work know that you have an offer. Give them a few days or a week to read and respond. Something like "I have an offer of representation. If this manuscript interests you, can you let me know by ____x-day____? And if you need more time, let me know. Thanks so much"
During the call: You have questions that you want to ask. Ask them! You might make a list of questions ahead of time so you don't forget if you get nervous. Ask if they will let you look at the agency agreement, and if you can talk to some of their other clients.
If you get more than one offer: It is cool (but it can be sickening!) to be confronted with multiple offers from agents. Talk to each one, see whose vision most resonates with you, talk to their clients, and use your gut instinct.
You signed! Congratulations. NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
Depends on the agent, and the project. What happens with ME is, usually I send notes (or have already sent notes) and I want you to do a revision or clean up the manuscript in some way. The amount of work to do here will vary. Meantime, I may want you to send me other material (possibly a bio, series overview, or similar) -- all of which I will discuss with you.
You send the revision and it is AWESOME! Yay you! NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
I've crafted a list of likely editors, based on my contacts, the agency database, getting input from my colleagues, and your input. I show you the list, and you can feel free to give your feedback (like if there is somebody you met at a conference and didn't like, for example). I usually approach 8-10 editors at a time, sometimes fewer if the book is more of a specialized topic (nonfiction picture book about fire ants, for example).
Then we go on submission. I usually call or email first, or occasionally pitch in person, and about 95% of the editors I pitch ask to see the material. The ones who don't, it is usually because it sounds too close to something they already acquired, or something like that. I think that this is pretty standard, most editors WANT to see great stuff from agents they like, so they'll say yes to taking a look.
Then we wait. YOU start writing another book. I go about my business. Editors take time - sometimes a couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of months. I usually give them about 4-6 weeks before I start gently nudging, though I would nudge much sooner than that if there'd been quick opening reads and interest off the bat, and I might hold off nudging a bit if there'd been conferences or holidays. Of course... nudging doesn't always work; like agents, editors are often reading in whatever spare time they can grab, and I don't want them to get irritated with me and just give me a quick no to get me off their back, so I use my discretion about this.
I have gotten offers as quickly as the day after submitting something. I have had offers take as long as two years and multiple rounds of revision & submission to come through. (And some things just don't sell, and you will sell the next book, or the next, first.) Have I said BE PATIENT yet in this post? No? WELL BE PATIENT.
You have a publisher interested! OMG YAY! NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
I tell you about the offer. Then I inform all the other editors who are still reading. I give them a few days to decide to fish or cut bait. If multiple people decide they are interested, you may have an auction, and have to decide which editor to choose. Let's say for the purposes of this post, though, that only one editor wants to make an offer, and you want to accept it.
I negotiate the main deal points with the editor. These points include advance, royalty (including escalation on royalty, in other words, after you sell x-number of copies, your royalty improves) and what rights we are keeping. These go on a "deal memo." If everything is kosher for all parties on those main points, we accept the offer. Huzzah!
So you are going to be published. Holy crap that is awesome. But um... NOW WHAT HAPPENS?
Sometimes your agent and publisher will tell you it is OK to spill the beans and talk about your deal. Sometimes they won't. If the negotiation is still pending, or if the publisher wants to make a special splashy announcement at a later date, or something, they may ask you to wait until the contract is finalized.
But even if you get to talk about your deal, a lot of the time, now is the worst part of the process, especially for a newbie. Not because anything terrible happens... but because nothing happens.
Weeks, sometimes months, may go by. Sometimes MANY months. Sometimes MANY MANY months. You may not hear from your agent, because there is nothing new to say. You won't hear from your editor -- and can you even call this person your editor? After all you've had only the one phone call, and sure they SEEMED excited, but now so many months have passed and holy freaking hell what if they forgot about you??! There's no contract yet -- what if they decided they hate your book now??!? What if it was all IMAGINARY???! AHHHHH!!!!
You may get the urge to throw your entire book away, or find a way to just melt into the ground, or write lengthy angry blogs post about how terrible publishers are, or write a lengthy angry letter to the editor, ccing the president of the company, about how terrible they are, or fly to Mexico and become a dance instructor, or similar. RESIST THESE URGES.
Eventually, your contract will work its way from the bowels of the publishing house and into your agent's hands. This can take anywhere from two weeks (though that is truly VERY unusual and fast) to... well, I have one that I've been waiting six months for, and counting. Fingers crossed for January!
Once the contract comes, it will be read by your agent. Very often, the contract will be based on boilerplate that the agency has already established with that publisher, so it will be made up of language that was negotiated long ago, with changes made to reflect the terms in your deal memo. There are still always things to change, ranging from a simple typo to a mistaken deal point.
SOMETIMES the publisher is establishing a new boilerplate with an agency (either because the agency has never worked with that publisher before, or, more likely, because the publisher has recently changed its contracts for everyone.) IF that is the case, it will take even longer, as the agency may have to do heavy negotiating and/or bring in lawyers to work out the fine details.
In either case, the agent will negotiate until the contract is satisfactory. Then the contracts department will crank out another copy of the document. Good news, this wait on this is usually much faster than the first wait was. Now you get your copies (sometimes via snail mail, sometimes via email) - you sign them, and send them in for countersignature. 4-8 weeks later, G-d willing, you get your first check.
YAY YOU ARE A PAID WRITER! Errr... now what happens?
That, my friends, is fodder for another post.