Writing Chain of Command

Question: I've heard a lot about writers having to work with agents, editors, publishers, the publisher's marketing teams and a lot of other things, but I never really understood how it all comes together. I mean, who exactly do you have to interact with, and in what order, to get something like a novel published? Say, if I were to try drawing up a chart that began with an author holding his/her manuscript and ended with that manuscript as a published book on shelves in a store, what would lie between and in what order?

Answer: Generally, the process goes like this...

1. Agents. You query agents, until you find one who wants to represent you, seems like a good fit, and is reputable. You sign a contract with the agent that governs your relationship. The agent then attempts to sell your manuscript to publishers. (This assumes your book has potential to be a commercial success. In certain niche genres, such as poetry, literary criticism, etc. no agent is required because there's not enough money in it. In such cases, you query publishers yourself.)

2. Publisher. If your agent is successful, he or she will get a publisher to offer you a contract. Your agent's job is to get you the best contract possible and to look out for your interests. The contract specifies your rights and obligations as well as the publisher's.

3. Editor. If you sign a contract with a publisher, you will then be assigned to work with an editor who will help you polish your work and fulfill the terms of the contract. You have certain rights over your work; the publisher has certain rights because they are paying you. The editor is your contact person with the publisher. You can also use your agent as a source of advice, if needed.

3. The marketing department. You don't have to worry about them so much. The editor will act as the go-between, when necessary. Ditto for the book designer. Bear in mind that they generally have the last word regarding the title of your book.

4. Proofreader. There will usually be a proofreader who combs through the book looking for last-minute typos etc. before it goes to press. You will do the same thing with a proof copy of the book (with all the pages designed and laid out the way they will appear in print). You want to catch anything the proofreader missed and to make sure the corrections fit with your intention.

5. Publicist. After the proofreading is complete, you have little to do with the content of your book. Your job is then to work with the publicist (if you are fortunate enough to have one) to promote the book. Promotion should begin before the book is launched. (Reviewers get advance review copies so reviews can be out ahead of the launch.) You should make yourself available and do as much promotion on your own as possible.

Be warned: this process can take several years.

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