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What happens after you get a literary agent? This question is important for two reasons: 1) If you don’t have an agent yet, this article will help you understand why it’s important to query The Best Literary Agents working at The Top Literary Agencies, and 2) If you get an agent, this article will help you understand what to expect and how to handle yourself with your literary agent–so you can get what you want and enjoy the journey.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

Before I share what happens after getting a literary agent, please note that this article is only about what happens after you get a literary agent. Click here if you want to see How to Write a Query Letter and click here to see my Literary Agent FAQ with answers to the 50 questions authors ask me most about book agents (and, of course, my answers).

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Top 10 – What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

The steps listed below regarding what happens after you get a literary agent are the same for authors of all Book Genres. However, literary agents handle each thing differently, sometimes with a lot of variation. Since that’s the case, I have explained the different possibilities regarding the range of things you might expect in each area.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

1. Share or discuss “housekeeping” information – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Some agents are more professional, organized, and thoughtful than others. The best agents set expectations at the start of each new author/agent relationship they form. In other words, they explain how the agenting process works in general (if an author needs that). Good agents also explain their approach to the process, if it’s unique, so their clients know what to expect and don’t have to wonder or be anxious about it.

For example, a good agent will walk an author through the various steps in the agent’s process, their expected timeline for everything, how (and how often) the agent will communicate with the author, and what to do if the author has an important question, issue, or update. This makes authors feel respected and cared for, but it also makes the agent’s job easier. That’s why I discuss these same things with my author coaching clients during our first call together in my long-term coaching program to help author get agents.

Some agents share this type of information in an email, or a physical document sent via postal mail, while many explain everything by phone. Not all agents share this type of information, however, so, if you have an agent who doesn’t, it’s in your best interest (and completely okay) to ask about these things. And the best time to ask about these things is early in the relationship, during the “honeymoon” period when your agent will be most available and willing to answer questions like this.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent

2. Suggest changes to your manuscript – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Your agent might say your manuscript needs copyediting or developmental editing before it’s ready to be reviewed by publishers. If that’s the case, your agent should tell you that before you  sign a contract and start working together. That way, if you have more than one agent interested in representing you, and one of them wants to do more work than the other one—or, one of them wants you to make changes to the manuscript you’re not sure about—you can make an educated decision before burning your bridge with the other agent(s).

Will your agent suggest changes?

It’s hard to say.

Some books need more editing, some literary agents are more skilled at editing, and some agents are more willing to provide editorial support. For those reasons, it’s hard to predict what your agent will say about your editorial needs or lack thereof. However, most literary agents who offer to represent authors don’t ask them to spend money on an editor without telling them they think that’s necessary before they offer representation. Again, if an agent is going to suggest you spend money with an editor, that’s something they should say in advance, since some authors can’t afford to hire editors.

Similar to literary agents, I don’t suggest author consider working with me in a coaching program to try and get an agent unless their writing is strong. If an author’s writing is strong but needs significant copyediting or developmental editing, I tell them that. Some authors have difficulty incorporating suggestions. Especially copyediting suggestions such as how to use commas, format dialogue, use tenses correctly, etc. If you struggle with those things, you should get someone you know, or hire someone, to help you clean up your manuscript before querying agents. Read this article called: How Important are Typos and Grammar to Literary Agents?

Equally important…

Click here to see my Book Editors FAQ
and/or learn more about editing.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

3. Improve or change your platform – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

This section applies mostly to nonfiction authors, but some agents who represent fiction and children’s book are also obsessed with the profile and platform of prospective authors. So, prepare yourself for this. If you don’t have a website or one or more social media accounts, a small number of agents might suggest you create them or require you set them up. Or, they might ask you to increase your social media following.

If you’re a nonfiction authors, agents might also suggest or require you do other things to improve your credibility, or to demonstrable your ability to get exposure and sell books. For example, your agent might ask you to get well-known people to provide blurbs for your book or ask you to get someone well-known to write a foreword. Or, your agent might ask you to get some articles published or book some speaking engagements.

If you want to learn about this topic, click here
to read my article about Author Platform.

And, of course, this is a topic I help
my author coaching clients with.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

4. Improve your query letter, synopsis, or book proposal – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Similar to author platform, literary agents sometimes ask authors to make changes to their pitch materials to improve their effectiveness. Most agents send editors and publishers a short note, a full-length query letter, or something in between when sending a book to an editor or publisher by email or postal mail, even if they’ve already pitched the book in person or by phone. Your agent might want or need more information from you to make that pitch stronger.

When I was an agent, I always included a full-length pitch letter when sending a book to an editor or publisher by email or postal mail. That letter was identical to what I thought the author’s query letter should have looked like when they pitched me. However, during my last eight years as an author coach, I’ve discovered that some agents just include short notes with projects they’re pitching to editors and publishers. In my view, and in my experience, it’s better to thoughtfully and respectfully provide more information than that.

A short note feels lazy. I always wanted editors and publishers to have absolutely everything they might want or need to understand a book and its author, to help them make a more-educated decision—rather than just sending them a short note and risking the person’s assumptions, which might be incorrect, being the deciding factor that determined the outcome. In addition, a good pitch can get someone more excited about a project, as well as the person behind it.

Most literary agents won’t ask you to revise your query letter for them, but they might ask you for additional information about your book, your target market, your competition, the timeliness of your project, your platform, etc. to help them improve the pitch they’re going to give editors and publishers. In some rare cases, I’ve seen agents share the pitch letter they’re planning to send out, with a client, prior to sending it out to editors and publishers, to ask for their feedback.

Though your agent probably won’t ask you to revise your query letter, he or she might ask you to revise your synopsis. And, if you’re a nonfiction author, your agent might ask you to revise your book proposal. Literary agents often have different opinions about what a good book proposal should contain and how it should be formatted.

You can see my article about How to Write a Book Proposal here. Just remember, if an agent asks you to change your book proposal, it might be more about that agent’s personal preferences and nothing else. Meaning, there might be nothing wrong with your proposal, except that your agent wants it to be slightly (or a lot) different. For example, nearly all agents expect and require a “Competitive Titles” section in a proposal. However, I know of one famous agent who doesn’t include that section in his proposals.

My approach to query letters and book proposals, as an author coach, is to provide every bit of information an agent might expect—or not expect but appreciate—to help the agent better understand the project, see the value of the project, and see why the agent would be fortunate to work with the author. Since I leave no stone unturned in that regard, I’m not surprised when an agent asks one of my clients to organize their proposal differently (per their particular preferences). I’m also not surprised when an agent asks one of my coaching clients to remove something(s) from their proposal.

That’s okay.

What you don’t want is an agent passing on your project because you left something out that might have moved the needed. And, of course, if an agent reaches out to you and asks you to revise your pitch materials in a way that will make the agent more confident in your book—and, therefore, more committed to selling it—do it.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

5. Start pitching your project to publishers – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Unless you’re famous or your agent thinks he or she is going to get you a huge book deal, he or she probably isn’t going to set up in-person meetings to introduce you face-to-face to editors and publishers. They’re also not likely to a conference phone or video call with you on the line to pitch your project.

When I was an agent, I did face-to-face pitch meetings for some of my clients, but rarely. Most of the time, I simply called editors and publishers on the phone who I thought might be interested, to tell them about the book and “get permission” to send it for further consideration. As I got to know the editors and publishers I was pitching better, I continued calling them to pitch new projects, even after I’d established relationships with them. Why? For literary agents, calling editors and publishers is far more effective than just emailing pitches and projects, sending them via postal mail, or having a package couriered to someone’s office.

Calling an editor or publisher to pitch a project communicates an agent’s belief in a book, and it communicates the agent’s commitment to the book. Calling also communicates the agent’s confidence and belief in the agent’s ability. It communicates the agent’s interest in hearing what the editor or publisher has to say about the pitch. And it communicates the agent’s respect for the editor and publisher (as opposed to sending whatever the agents want, whenever he or she wants).

Pitching agents by phone is also nice because, though phone calls aren’t always necessary, it’s nice to connect with people through real conversations, not just email. Good agents develop relationships with editors and publishers over time, and, in many cases, they enjoy those relationships. Editors and publishers will buy books from any agent—even those who are nor narcissistic or clueless about the industry—but they prefer working with agents they like and respect who are competent and get to know them.

Some agents (usually low-level agents who are new and don’t know better, as well as agents who’ve been agents for years but aren’t successful) won’t call editors and publishers because they’re not confident enough to introduce themselves or pitch projects that way. Instead, they merely send projects via email or postal mail—then hope and pray for replies. They often don’t get replies. As you can imagine, editors and publishers who get projects “cold” via email or postal mail aren’t as likely to give those projects the same consideration as one that’s been pitched to them by phone first—a project they expressed interest in, to an agent they know, trust, and respect…and agent they may have possibly bought a book(s) from in the past.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

6. Start pitching your project to more publishers – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Some agents send as many as 2-3 dozen submissions (or more, in rare cases) to editors and publishers to try and sell a book before giving up on it. Agents rarely send more than that because there aren’t that many major or decent-size publishing houses agents can submit a book to. However, most agents will only send 10-20 submissions to editors and publishers before giving up on a book. And, some agents will only submit a book to a few editors or publishers—or, in some extreme cases, just one editor or publisher—before deciding they can’t sell it.

Don’t worry. If an agent is planning to send your book to just one—or a few—editors or publishers, they’ll probably tell you that up front. That’s because you might want to hold out and see if you can get another agent willing and able to send it to more publishers instead. Why will some agents say they’re planning to send your book to just one—or a few—editors or publishers?

Two reasons.

First, and, most likely, they don’t have enough connections for your type of book and they’re not willing to do the research required to find more. Or, second, they think your book is quirky and/or not very likely to sell. They may be willing to “take a chance on it” and “float it out to one person or a small number of people,” but, no more. This isn’t common, but it happens, so, if you’re smart, and a prospective agent doesn’t tell you how many publishers he or she is planning to submit your book to before giving up, you should ask.

Just remember, despite what I said above, an agent’s plans can change. If an agent gets good feedback from the first editors and publishers to review your work, but none of them offer to buy your book, the agent, bolstered by the positive comments, will be more likely to keep shopping the book. If, on the other hand, the agent gets early feedback about your book indicating it has serious issues and/or for some reason isn’t likely to sell, the agent might decide to stop trying to sell your book.

Agents typically try to sell a book in the same way authors try to get agents—in rounds. In other words, they choose one person at each top publishing house where they think an acquisition editor or publisher might be interested. Similar to authors submitting to agents, agents can only submit to one person per company at a time. No simultaneous submissions. Some agents send out a small first round, to see if they can get a “quick and easy” sale and/or feedback about the project before showing it to more people.

Other agents send out a big first round.

Whether it’s a small or big first round, most agents wait 2-4 months before going out with a second round (if they decide to go out with a second round, most will). The reason for waiting in between rounds is to give the first group of editors and publishers time to respond before the agent moves on to another round of submissions. There’s no point in an agent doing the extra work of sending out an additional round(s) of submissions unless and until the previous round(s) has proven unfruitful.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

7. Communicate status updates – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Most agents are very communicative or fairly communicative; others aren’t. There are several reasons for this. Part of it has to do with agents being human beings, while another part of it has to do with agents have different views regarding what’s important or necessary.

First, some agents are more organized than others. Agents who are more organized will have an easier time supplying you with status updates. Agents who are well-organized are also more likely to feel they can send you status updates.

Second, some agents are overcommitted. This doesn’t mean those agents aren’t well-intentioned, good at selling books, or that they won’t come through for you. It just means they might try your patience and they might not share as much information with you about their progress as you’d like. One of my coaching clients, for example, recently received an offer from an agent via email, with a request to set up a phone call with the agent to talk about it. That agent has now rescheduled the call three times.

Don’t worry, this isn’t typical. But, for weeks, my client has been on pins and needles with this agent. To say he’s feeling disrespected by the agent at this point is an understatement. I’m helping him get through it. He’s skeptical about whether he should sign with this agent, as am I. But, it’s a top agent, so I’m trying to stay open-minded. Maybe the agent is going through a personal crisis because his cat has cancer or something. We’ll see, if he ever shows up for one of his scheduled calls.

The third reason some agents aren’t as communicative as they should be (or we’d like them to be) is that some agents are more considerate and compassionate than others. Technically, the only thing your agent needs to tell you after you’ve signed with the agent are: 1) If the agent has an offer for your book, 2) If the agent no longer believes you’re going to get an offer for your book, or 3) If the agent has received valuable feedback from a publisher regarding how you might improve the book, and, that, if you apply that feedback, the publisher is willing to reconsider it.

There are many other things you might like to know, which I understand completely (and I don’t disagree with you), but the bottom line is comprised of the three items listed above. That’s why many months might go by without you hearing from your agent, and, if that happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong.

Fourth, many agents won’t share as much information as authors would like because it has hurt them in the past. In other words, some agents, who haven’t yet been burned, share the names of the editors they’ve pitched their authors’ books to with their clients. Most agents don’t do this. Instead, agents usually just tell their authors the names of the publishing houses where those editors work. That’s because some authors, if they know which editors are considering their work, or if they know which editors have passed on their work, will go behind the backs of their agents and contact one or more those editors directly. They’ll sometimes try to convince them to reconsider the book or sell them on it, or bother them in some other way.

Don’t do it.

Your agent will almost definitely drop you.

The fifth reason some agents aren’t as communicative as they should be is that agents essentially “work for free,” meaning they don’t get paid unless they sell your book. So, they don’t always feel obligated to provide updates. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s important you understand this. Most agents are going to feel you’re just as fortunate to be working with them as they are fortunate to be working with you. And, this is a fact, if they don’t sell your book, they will have essentially wasted their time reading it and pitching it.

That doesn’t mean you should tiptoe around your agent; it does mean you should think of your agent as a valued partner. An equal. Not someone you hire or fire but a partner, someone you team up with, someone who brings as much to the table as you do. Think of it the same way most people view a good marriage.

Similarly, once you’re “in bed” with an agent, the best thing you can do is hope and pray that your partner is going to be kind, committed, and communicative. Nagging the other person, not trusting them, bossing them around, being negative, getting aggressive, etc. is going to create a wedge and/or ultimately lead to a separation or divorce.

This is something I help my longtime coaching clients with as well. When should you say something if your agent has gone silent or you think or know something is wrong? And, how should you say it?

The short of it is this…

Say what you need to say, but remember the aphorism, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It’s true with most people, including literary agents.

Don’t overplay your hand.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

8. Let you know if there’s an offer(s) – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

If your agent gets an offer from a publisher, he or she should let you know immediately. The agent should not accept the offer for you. Rather, the agent should let you know if it’s possible, or likely, you’ll get any additional offers from other publishers. And, your agent should tell you the pros and cons of accepting or refusing any offer(s) you receive (most authors will only get one offer).

Whether you get offers from one or more publishers, it’s important you decide which offer is best for you since it’s your book(s) and your life. Meaning, you should ask your agent which publisher is best, but the best agents won’t tell you what to do. They’ll simply tell you the pros and cons of each situation and support your decision.

The same rules apply if you have an offer from a publisher and you’re considering negotiating some of the terms in the contract such as the amount of the advance or royalties, or the publication format such as whether the book is going to be published in hardcover, paperback, eBook. However, when it comes to negotiating terms like that, a good agent will know whether they might be able to get the publisher to budge—and, how much.

Unless you really know what you’re doing and/or you want to take great risk, follow your agent’s advice closely when negotiating terms. Just because you want something from a publisher, and you believe they should give it to you, doesn’t mean they should give it to you—or that they will. Don’t blow your deal with a publisher. If you’re worried or unsure, consider hiring a literary lawyer or attorney to help. Read this article which talks about The Difference Between a Literary Agents, Literary Lawyer, and Literary Attorney.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

9. Let you know if there are no offers, no expected offers, and/or let you know if the agent no longer believes he or she can sell your book – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Not all authors who try to get agents are successful. Similarly, agents don’t sell every book they represent. It’s important for you to know this because you also need to know that if your agent doesn’t sell your book, you probably won’t be able to get another agent for that book. The only exception would be if your agent only showed the book to a couple or a few editors and publishers, or if it’s been a couple years or more since your agent shopped the book.

As an author coach, I’ve helped authors in these situations get agents interested. But, if your book has already been shopped around, especially recently and/or to a lot of editors and publishers—who’ve all rejected it—it’s harder to get another agent to take a chance on the project. After all, it’s difficult to get agents interested in a book that hasn’t already been rejected by editors and publishers. The last thing you want is to be in a position of trying to attract a prospective agent with that kind of baggage. It’s like being single and searching, and telling someone you just met, “Yeah, I’ve been divorced twelve times, but it was their fault and they were idiots…I know, when I meet the right one, everything will be perfect.”

Many authors don’t understand this, but it’s common sense when you think about. I mentioned a moment ago that agents don’t get paid unless they sell a book—they work entirely on commission. So, considering there are only a handful to a few dozen large publishers that might acquire a book in any given genre (less for categories like Sci-Fi or Christian Fiction), why would an agent take a chance on a book that’s already been shopped around to publishers without success? It’s hard enough to get agents to take a chance on a book that hasn’t been shopped around.

In general, the most successful literary agents sell the majority of the books they represent. The newest agents and the least successful agents sell the minority of the books they represent. Don’t ask your agent about, or get hung up on, their exact percentages. Your agent probably won’t tell you what those percentages are. Plus, it doesn’t matter. Every book is different. And, as long as an author queries really good agents before pretty good agents, and pretty good agents before not-so-good agents, that author will end up with the best agent possible. And, as a result, that author will end up with the best odds of getting a book deal with the best publisher and book deal.

If you’re one of my long-term coaching clients and the @#$% hits the fan with your agent in one way or another, let me know and I’ll let you know what your options are tell you what I would do in your situation. Think of me as the proverbial fire extinguisher behind the glass at that point. Emergency only. In other words, if and when you get an agent, I think of myself as the father walked the bride (you) down the aisle to hand you off to your soon-to-be husband (agent).

Once that happens,
you need to trust your agent.

But…

If when things get bad,
I will be there.

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What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

10. You’ll have a hard time waiting – What happens after you get a literary agent? 

Be patient. It will take your agent anywhere from thirty days to a year (or more) to sell your book. Most of the time, if it happens, it happens in 3-9 months. It usually takes a while because editors and publishers—like literary agents and everyone else—take time to read books. Especially long books. And, when it comes to editors and publishers, they usually need to present any book they’re interested in “at committee” and get other people working for the publisher to approve the book before they can acquire it. Those people will need time to review your work as well.

Don’t obsess. Whatever you do while waiting to hear from agent, do something. The worst thing you can do is think of your life as entirely contingent on what happens with your literary agent. Should your writing be important to you? Absolutely. Just don’t put too much pressure on it. If you do, that pressure can directly or indirectly sabotage your success.

Don’t get negative. Your agent will probably try hard—very hard—to sell your book. Remember, literary agents work on commission. That means they don’t get paid unless they sell your book. Remind yourself of that if you get impatient or unappreciative while your agent is trying to sell your book.

Don’t be your agent’s most high-maintenance client. Don’t call your agent unless it’s extremely important or unless you’ve emailed your agent a couple times, a couple weeks have gone by, and you haven’t heard back. Don’t email your agent either—unless you really need to. In other words, don’t come up with creative reasons to reach out to your agent like sharing an article you read that’s related to the topics or themes in your book, some small thing that just happened related to your platform, etc.

Save your ideas, questions, and minor updates until your agent contacts you. When you reply, share the information you’ve been saving. Of course, if it’s been 2-3 months and you haven’t heard from your agent, send a positive and polite email to say hello, thank your agent for what he or she is doing on your behalf, and ask if he or she has any news or updates…and to find out if there’s anything you can do that might be helpful.

Work on your next book (the right book). That way, if your agent isn’t able to sell your first book, instead of you and your agent parting ways, there’s a good chance your agent might try to sell your new book. That is, of course, unless you want to try to get a different agent. And, this should be obvious, but I know it’s not, so I’ll tell you…if the book your agent is the first book in a duology, trilogy, or longer series, don’t work on the next book in that series. If your agent isn’t able to sell the first book, they won’t be able to sell the second one, either. Instead, work on a completely different book. Then, if an agent is able to sell that book, it’s likely your other book(s) will be acquired by a publisher as well.

Do things to stay sane. As the result of me helping approximately 150 authors get agents during the last eight years, I’ve learned a few things that will help you stay positive and productive. To that end, read (and re-read, many times) this article: Nine Mental Traps to Avoid for Writers and Mental Illness. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written for authors, and, if you apply it, it can give you a tremendous edge as a writer.

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Question or Comment about What Happens After You Get a Literary Agent?

Click here to see The 50 Questions Authors Ask Most (along with answers to the questions) and/or post your question or comment. Click here to see our Guide to Literary Agents. And, click here to see some of our best tips to help you Find a Literary Agent and/or Get a Literary Agent.

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Author Coaching/Consulting

Want help to make your pitch materials for literary agents as good as they can be? Click here to learn how you can get 1-on-1 feedback to improve your pitch material and/or first fifty pages during an Introductory Coaching Call.

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