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Posted on Aug 8, 2016 in Resources for Writers | 2 comments

How to explain signing with a literary agent to your friends and family

How to explain signing with a literary agent to your friends and family


Are you a writer who just landed an agent? Feel free to use this to explain what the hell that means to well intentioned friends and family who assume they can buy your book at Barnes and Noble next week. 

Have you ever seen a novel in a bookstore and wondered how it got there?

For most books, the process goes something like this:

Step 1: Author writes a book and makes it as perfect as possible (this can take years).

Step 2: Author then writes a query, which is basically a combination of a business letter and back copy of a book.

Step 3: Author sends the letter to literary agents. If the literary agent is interested, they will request to read the book. If they fall head over heels in love, they will ask to represent author for the book and, hopefully, author’s whole career.

Step 4: Author’s literary agent submits their book to editors in hopes they will buy and publish it. (These editors won’t accept query letters straight from writers – only through literary agents).

Step 5: Editor loves author’s book and convinces an acquisition group it will be profitable.

Step 6: If the acquisition group agrees, an offer is made to author to publish one or more books.

Step 7: Approximately 18 months to 2 years later, author’s friends and family can check out Barnes and Noble for that book they were asking about.

Signing with the agent is just the foot in the door. It’s an entrance slip, a ticket. It’s not a sure thing. It’s not a book deal.

Imagine a vast kingdom. In the center is a palace, and everyone wants to dance at the ball. There are tens of thousands of people in the kingdom vying for a few hundred admission tickets.

And you, lucky dancer, after years of practicing your moves, you get a ticket! But once you step inside the ballroom, it doesn’t mean you get to dance. Oh no, you squeeze into a crowded room and realize that only some people make it on the dance floor. Of those who do, some only get one dance, some get a few, some get asked and then stood up just before they make it to the floor. Making it on the floor and staying there to dance the night away forever after is extremely difficult.

Getting an agent is like finally, at long last, getting to attend the dance. You worked that hard simply to get in the door. If you want to dance, there is a lot of waiting and work ahead of you.

But remember this: the chance of an author signing with a literary agent, based on data I’ve seen about queries received and clients signed annually, seems to be around 2-3% at best and 0.001% at worst.

So tell your friends and family exactly how hard your worked. Explain the process. You deserve to celebrate every milestone, and this is a huge one.

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  1. This was funny.

    Hey, when your book sells, just you wait, the same questions continue. My book sold April 1, 2015. (yep, April Fool’s day) 19 months later (Oct 25th – eek) the book will be released. I’ve repeated my answer so many times about what takes so long,(answer being, “my book is only one in hundreds being published by Kensington) I thought about having it tattooed to my forehead so I could just point there.

    Fun stuff though, right? You love it. Come on, admit it!

    • Donnaeve,

      I do love it 🙂

      But you’re right, you do answer the question so many times you start to think “maybe I should print cards with an answer and just hand them out.”

      So excited for 10/25!

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