My First Book Deal, Part I: Before Submission

Congratulations, fellow writer—you have an agent! (If you’re not there yet, you might want to check out my posts about how I got my agent and the questions I asked prospective agents before reading further.) In my case, “signing with my agent” meant signing a contract saying we agreed to work together, but I’ve read that some agencies have a looser verbal contract. To my knowledge, one isn’t better than the other. Personally, the contract-or-not question didn’t factor into my decision.

So what’s next?

Your agent will take your manuscript on submission, meaning they will send your polished word doc to a list of editors they think are a great match for your writing and who are likely to be interested.

Let me preface this by saying strategy and process differs agent to agent. The steps I delineate below may not be your agent’s style of working. There are many ways to approach the task of getting published; I’m sharing the one I experienced.

For me, getting ready to go on submission had three steps: 1) edits to the manuscript, 2) writing a hook and first chapter for book two, and 3) waiting.

Step 1: Edit the manuscript.

As I’ve referenced in other posts, the amount of editing required will vary widely. I’ve read that some agents won’t sign you unless you agree to make hefty changes to your work in progress. My agent Maddy didn’t think we needed substantial changes to the manuscript; she identified four minor issues she wanted me to smooth out. They all had to do with the twist/ending, so unfortunately I can’t share those here! Maddy also consulted a freelance editor to write a thorough editor’s report, which was nine pages. I realize nine pages sounds pretty substantial! But the last four pages were easy, sentence-level changes. I’ll share some examples of editorial suggestions below.

Bigger Issues

  • Dramatise Rose Gold’s present-day reason for allowing her convicted criminal mother to move in with her and her baby son.

  • Iron out the timeline problems in the opening chapters.

  • Dramatise Mrs Stone more.

Smaller Issues

  • Move the musings about the Thompsons’ house on page 30 to page 45. That way you won’t distract from Patty seeing her own childhood house for the first time. The world building could have been better here. This is the first time Patty is seeing her old road in years – is it treelined, potholed? What does the house look like from outside?

  • On page 146, Rose Gold is munching on beef and broccoli yet earlier in the story, we learn she doesn’t like broccoli.

  • Before Patty left prison, wouldn’t she have had to sort out where she was going to live on release? Is it believable that she and Rose Gold would only be discussing this in the car? You have enough tension here with Rose Gold springing on Patty the fact that she has bought her childhood home without having Patty persuading Rose Gold to let her move in.

  • Page 100. ‘He exhaled, relieved to be off the hook.’ Exposition. Just show the dad exhaling, nothing more. Trust the reader to draw their own conclusions from this.

  • Avoid repetition of phrases. On page 122 you say, ’I shook off the bad feeling’ and on page 121, ‘I shook the thought away.’ You also mention the verb shook again in this scene. Get rid of one of these phrases.

So on and so forth! You can see why getting this level of feedback is incredibly valuable. I received these notes on January 9, 2019. I sent a revised draft back on January 16. On January 28, Maddy had a couple more suggestions, which I turned around later that day. At that point, we were happy with the quality. The manuscript was ready for submission.

Step 2: Write book 2’s hook and first chapter.

Maddy’s plan was to aim for two-book deals in the US, UK, and wherever else possible. This was my preference too, as it ensured another couple years of career and income stability. Maddy told me from our first meeting together (in mid-December) that if I had an idea for book two and could write a first chapter, that would go a long way in getting editors even more excited upon submission. I’d had a vague idea floating around my head the past few months but hadn’t done any actual writing. I took the time in December and January to start writing blurbs (or hooks) for my idea. On February 6, 2019, I sent three hook options to Maddy. Below is the one we liked best:

Natalie Collins has ignored the queasy feeling in her gut for six months. That’s how long ago her sister Kit joined Wisewood, a wellness center in the northern woods of Maine, where contact with the outside world is forbidden. When Kit texts Natalie to tell her she plans to stay at Wisewood indefinitely, Natalie rushes to Maine to drag her sister home. Upon arrival, Natalie meets Rebecca, the famous mentalist turned owner of Wisewood. Kit and the others call Rebecca “Teacher” and believe deeply in her cause: eliminating fear from the brain. The longer Natalie stays at Wisewood, the more sinister secrets she uncovers, including Teacher’s psychological games and horrifying experiments. Then again, Teacher’s methods seem to be working. No one at Wisewood is afraid.

WISEWOOD is a psychological thriller told from three points of view: Natalie’s, Kit’s, and Rebecca’s.

I also wrote the first chapter of the book, which was seven pages. I can tell you now, 14 months later, that the first chapter has completely changed. The hook above still describes the general premise, but a few of the facts above have changed too. That’s okay. Don’t worry about being forced to commit to something when you haven’t thought through the entire story. I had no real sense of what was going to happen beyond the first chapter or two when I wrote this. Ideas change. No one has tried to hold me to these original sentences. The above paragraph and first chapter did, however, get editors excited about the prospect of not just Rose Gold, but the second book I was ready to start writing. I sent Maddy the first chapter of book two on February 8. She didn’t think it needed revisions. All that was left was step three.

Step 3: Wait.

Here was something I didn’t anticipate: having to wait until the timing is right! Maddy wanted to send the manuscript out to coincide with the London Book Fair in order to create a lot of international buzz. She ended up sending it to UK and US editors on February 27, which meant about three weeks of me sitting tight once the manuscripts (book 1 + chapter 1 of book 2) were ready to go. I’d like to tell you I took advantage of the down time and kept working on book 2. In reality, I’m sure I spent the majority of the time wringing my hands.

In Part II, I’ll discuss “During Submission” and Part III will be “After Submission.” Stay tuned!