If the hook was great enough, someone will start reading the synopsis. If not, your manuscript is tossed onto the slush pile. Assistants browse this pile, digging for gems. Editors grab random copies off the pile for entertainment during the train ride home.
Receiving a reply
Expect rejection – and don’t take it personally.
Getting a rejection, doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like your work. Liking your work also doesn’t necessarily mean they can publish it. Like in all jobs, the agents and publishers have quotas. The work might not be the type of story they’re looking for. They might already have similar stories in the pipelines already.
The more elaborate the rejection letter – the better.
The critique they provide tells you the reasons it didn’t make it past that point in the publishing process. This tells you what you can change to improve it, after which you can try again. Do not confuse rejection letters with revision proposals though. Only revise based on specific feedback when explicitly stated the publisher/agent would like to receive the revised work. If this request isn’t made, consider the feedback, revise your work as you see fit and send it to others instead.
If the story is solid all the way through, it will get read till the end and you will be offered one of two things:
On ‘Spec’ (Speculation): This is a sales opportunity, not a guaranteed buy.
Getting commissioned: the editor promises to pay, this is a guaranteed buy. A letter confirms the agreement black on white with subject, deadline and price.
If you received more than one acceptance, tell #2 that you’re currently in talks with #1 and will be in touch when a decision has been made. This way you keep both in play without making anyone angry and maintaining interest in your work.
If you did not go through an agent first, now is the time to get one. The publisher will offer you a contract, which probably won’t mean much to you as a writer. Now you can jump for joy and blindly accept whatever they offer, but no publisher will be offended (or retract their offer) when you explain you’re new to this and want an agent to check the contract for you. Luckily, it is much easier getting a good agent, when you’ve already poked by a publisher.
The book is prepped for publication
The editing process exists to strengthen the book with the aim of making sales. The editor helps you catch mistakes and inconsistencies. An editor that provides a lot of feedback is truly invested.
Your last chance to find the fuck ups. The copy-editor checks spelling, grammar and contradictory details.
The design process provides visual aids to assist the text in reaching its goal.
The marketing process lets the public know that this book is worth reading.
The book hits the stores
Part of the promoting might involve book signings. During this time, people write reviews and the publisher produces promotion material. At a certain point, sales drop and the books take up more space than they provides sales. The books then go onto the sales pile, as a last ditch effort to push sales on the book before the shop gives up on it all together.
Grab a box and toss the old drafts in it. Collect the reviews and promo materials and toss those in there too. They may come in handy some day. The stores usually offer the unsold copies to the author with a heavy discount. Buy them. Buy them all. Box them up safely and put them aside. You can sell them yourself on your personal website, on e-bay or save a few copies for a future day. When you’ve become better known as a writer, people will regain interest in earlier books written by you. These left-overs suddenly become quite valuable, collector’s items (first editions especially). You can sell them for a pretty profit then.
You receive quarterly reports on the sales and your cut of the money made. In the eyes of the tax man, this income is self-employed income. Do your taxes accordingly. Keep in mind that any expenses to do with writing (buying a computer for example) can be tax deductible if you saved the receipt.