You’ve submitted your manuscript, and you’re waiting for the agent, or agents, to make an offer on it. But how long can you expect to wait?

It can take a literary agent a few months to a few years to make an offer. But this can vary dramatically and is one of the most drawn-out processes in the publishing journey. The waiting time causes many to give up.

This article will explore the behind-the-scenes of the publishing process and why it takes so long to get an offer for a book deal.

Why Agents Take So Long To Make Book Deal Offers

Agents get sent countless manuscripts on a weekly basis, so they can only get to a fraction of these manuscripts when they have time away from working with their active clients, whose manuscripts they have worked on for months. 

Naturally, active clients take preference, and publishing a book can take years from manuscript to production. So, a newly submitted manuscript will understandably be at the bottom of their to-do list. 

Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do to speed this process up. 

Sometimes agents set out guidelines for how and when authors should follow up on work if they haven’t received any feedback. However, these guidelines will sometimes specify that if you don’t get a response, they’re not interested. That’s if they get a response at all.

Don’t let this dishearten you, as it doesn’t necessarily mean that your manuscript isn’t good or won’t ever be picked up. The reality is that, of the thousands of manuscripts agents receive yearly, only about 3 to 10 get accepted. The odds are pretty slim but never zero. 

How To Get a Literary Agent’s Attention 

The best and most immediate way to make an impression on an agent is to write an excellent cover letter.

When scouting for a literary agent, you must “approach” them with a cover letter, a book synopsis, and a chapter of your manuscript. Depending on the agent, you may need to submit more than one chapter or even the entire manuscript. 

Curtis Brown Creative lays down the best format and etiquette for writing a query and cover letters to literary agents. Here’s a synopsis of how to do that:

  • Pick an agent you feel will feel as passionately about your work as you do. Chances are, an agent won’t want to represent your work if it doesn’t resonate with them. 
  • Write an honest and succinct cover letter. Don’t make it too plain, but don’t overdo the theatrics either. The synopsis of your manuscript should have the same tone. 
  • It should be evident in your letter to the agent that you’re passionate about your work and have confidence in your own abilities while not being overly cocky. 
  • Ensure you follow all of the guidelines that an agent has set for submissions. For example, don’t send in your biography if the agent is only looking for fiction, and only send in as many chapters as the agent specifies. 

What a Book Deal Looks Like

Let’s say your manuscript has been picked by an agent, they’ve read through it, and they love it. The next step is for them to offer you a publishing deal, which will work differently depending on the agent or the publisher you publish through. 

However, there is a typical structure to this process.

The agent will contact you and discuss why they loved the book and their vision for how it will evolve from that moment to publication. They’ll also get to know you better, so you’ll work closely until distribution. 

They’ll then make some suggestions for publishers that they think will be a good fit for your book. You can, of course, make suggestions for publishers, edits, and other changes you might want to make.

You’ll discuss the financial aspects of the deal, which includes a breakdown of expected editing and production costs and the advance the agent or publisher will pay you.

Once you sign a book deal, you’re in it for the long haul, especially money-wise. Agent Kate McKean breaks down literary terms like “royalties” and “advance” and how they really work, so read her explanation to get an idea of what to expect.  

Signing a Book Deal

After you’ve discussed and negotiated the terms of the deal, you or the agent can decide to back out of the agreement. You’re not obligated to follow through on anything until you’ve actually signed a legal contract. 

So, if you find the agent’s communication style doesn’t appeal to you, or if the agent thinks you lack direction, then there’s no obligation to continue negotiations. 

However, if you’re happy with your agreement, you’ll sign the contract you negotiated with the agent. Always read the fine print in your contract, and ensure you’re happy with the terms you agree to. 

Many agents and publishers require you to sign over the copyright to your book, amongst other conditions, so if you aren’t comfortable with that, look elsewhere. 

Finally, you and the publishing team you’ve agreed to work with will begin the process of editing, proofreading, marketing, production, and sales. Learn more about the production process after the manuscript is finalized on The Balance Careers blog. 

Finding the Right Literary Agent for You

Every agent is different, so you must research to find someone with knowledge in the field you’re writing for. For example, an agent specializing in romance novels won’t be well-aligned with your crime thriller. 

Some authors think that the more agents they query, the better, but this is a waste of time and a setup for disappointment. 

Only query agents that you really want to work with. An excellent place to start is The Directory of Literary Agents, which contains a database of agents open to queries in 2022 and 2023. 

Publishers will most likely not even consider you if you don’t come to them through an agent, so finding someone with good connections and a decent reputation is crucial to succeeding in your writing career if you pursue traditional publishing.

Self-publishing is growing as the more prominent form of publishing today and has many perks that traditional publishing doesn’t. Most authors only publish through agents and publishers for prestige or if they have already established a rapport in the writing industry. 

So, if you’re not up for the complex gymnastics of traditional publishing, you can always opt to be your own agent. 

Key Takeaways 

Getting a book deal is arduous and can be the longest part of the entire publishing process. However, if you’re determined to publish the traditional way, it’s a necessary evil. The best thing you can do in this situation is to choose an agent carefully, make a brilliant impression on them, and have patience.

Categories: Publishing

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.