After the Offer: Publishing 101

This week, we’re continuing the series on Publishing 101 with a look at what happens after the author (and agent, if any) accept the publisher’s offer to publish a work.

Most authors think the step after “accepting the offer” is “sign the contract.” In one sense, that’s true, but other things often happen first. We’ll look at those intervening events this week, and take a look at the contract itself when this series returns two weeks from now.

The publisher’s offer doesn’t usually involve a finalized contract. The offer usually looks more like a set of “deal points” which include things like the format, advance, and desired rights. The agent (with the author’s input) and the editor hammer out those deal points first, and it’s the basic deal points that the author initially accepts. The contract itself comes later – in some cases, weeks or months after the initial deal is made.

After the author agrees to the publisher’s offer, the agent conveys that acceptance to the editor and the deal is firm, though not yet finalized or memorialized in writing. This is the point when the deal is usually announced in public and in Publishers’ Marketplace, the industry deal-tracker. Many agents counsel their author clients not to discuss an offer or a deal in public until it appears in Publisher’s Marketplace. From an attorney’s perspective (and that of a fellow author), I agree. It’s best to keep the deal under wraps, despite your excitement, until your agent or publisher makes the announcement. The key, and the reason for silence, is that sometimes authors aren’t sure when the deal is firm – and you don’t want to jump the gun.

Once the offer has been accepted, but often before the contract arrives, the editor will contact the author directly, to say hello and introduce himself or herself. This first conversation normally doesn’t last long, and may take place by email or by telephone (or both). The editor may discuss the editing process, or talk a little about the book. If the book is the start of a series, the editor may chat with the author about the author’s ideas for series progression. However, that first conversation exists mostly to make introductions and say hello. Remember to be friendly and polite!

The next steps in the process include an editorial letter, in which the editor sends the author a list of revisions, and review and signing of the actual contract. Sometimes one occurs before the other – and some agents prefer their clients not revise until the contract is signed and binding.

Have questions about this or any other step in the publishing process? Be sure to ask in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

Also: for those of you arriving here in search of the PitchWars mentor contest secret letter? The letter here is “E.”