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Monday, November 28, 2011

What To Do When Your Book Is Accepted

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer with any experience in publishing at all will know what a rejection letter looks like...

I have yet to run across an author who hasn't either tried querying a manuscript, or at least peeked into the wide world of query posts on blogs (usually followed by a scream of horror and the a solemn oath to only self-publish) during the course of their career. Rejection letters are like bug bites in the summertime, obnoxious, but expected. Acceptance letters are rather like stepping out into a fine summer morning and finding a pot of gold sitting on the front porch. Sure, you see the sparkly pot, but a sane person will walk away, convinced that they are either dreaming or hallucinating.

And while rejection letters rarely garner more than a glance and a shrug from me, an acceptance letter can lead me to question my sanity. When the letter came for SEVENTY I walked away from the computer. I would wander back every hour or so to see if the email was still there, but I didn't actually believe there was an acceptance letter in my inbox. I kept waiting for it to vanish.

Now that I have EVFiL making the rounds, and have plans to kick JANE DOE out of the nest in the near future, a little more forethought is required. These are the battle plans for querying a publishing house directly, literary agents are a topic for another day.

Step 1: Do Your Research Before Querying
You shouldn't be asking yourself if you want to publish with this editor/house *after* they've accepted you. It's your book, weed out all the trash before you send out a submission. Check the credentials. Check the sample contracts. Read books from the houses. Look at the covers they offer.

Step 2: Make Sure You Read the Email Right
Are they offering a contract, or are they asking for an R&R? There's a significant difference there. If it's a Revise & Resubmit you need to decide if the edits are right for you. If the edits are something you are willing to do, edit and resubmit. No other steps are required.

Step 3: Acknowledge Receipt of Offer
Once you've established that, yes, this is a contract offer it is considered polite to send the editor on the other end of the contract and email letting them know you are considering their offer. You don't need to sign anything yet, but let them know you are considering the contract and will contact them within the next five business days (or slightly longer if the contract shows up over a major holiday or when you're scheduled to have a baby... if the editor can't understand why you won't read contracts while having contractions you don't want to work with them anyway).

Step 4: Ask the Pertinent Questions
- How long are you signing the rights over for?
- What rights are being signed?
- How often will you have contact with an editor?
- Does the editor expect to see all your other work?
- When will a publishing date be set?
- When will you get paid?

With any luck you've seen a sample contract, talked to authors from the publishing house, communicated with the editor, or read an FAQ before you sent out your work. If you haven't, now is the time to ask. Most the acceptance letters I've seen (which isn't many but it's the data I have to go on) have an FAQ pasted in the email that will answer these questions.

Depending on what you're selling (short story, novella, novel, part of an anthology, poetry...) the answers will vary. I think anything over three years for rights is extreme and I expect payment monthly or quarterly for novellas and novels.

Step 5: Withdraw Your Submission (it only sounds kinky)
Most acceptance letters will come while you still have submissions with other houses/editors. This is normal. Ideally you will have sent the query in waves with your first pick houses getting the first shot at publishing your material, but we don't live in an ideal world and response times can be anywhere between a few weeks to a few months.

The polite thing to do is send a quick letter to everyone else who has your submission withdrawing the work from consideration. If another editor/house has a partial or full that they are reading let them know you have an offer and ask for a response within the next few days. There will be a post on this tomorrow.

Step 6: Dot your is and cross your ts

Read the contract thoroughly. Ask questions, get clarification, double-check with your writing mentors (friends, beta-readers, writing group, or any other author who has been in this boat before and can offer advice), negotiate anything that needs to be negotiated, be aware of what you're legally obligating yourself to, and sign the contract. Know what the escape clause is in case you need it, but go forward with a firm hope that everything will work out wonderfully.

Step 7: Have a Small Party
You can't announce much until the contract is official and the person on the other end gives to go ahead (saving face all the way around if one of you gets cold-feet at the last minute), but once the contract is signed it's time to celebrate your good fortune in a small way. The big party comes later.

Step 8: WORK
This comes as a surprise sometimes, but unless you've just sold a short story you are going to wind up editing again. Probably more than once. There's promoting to plan, cover art to pick, formatting to be done, and a hundred niggly fine editing details that will turn your pretty polished novel into a stunning beauty that grabs a reader's attention and doesn't let them go.

Step 9: Release Your Book, Throw a Bigger Party, Keep Working
These three all get wrapped up in each other. To start, if you've made it this far and your work has been released into the wild CONGRATULATIONS! That's quite an accomplishment. Second, throw that book launch party and revel in the glory of your finished work. Third, keep working because your new fans will be expecting another book about two days after this one hits the shelves. I know, I'm that kind of reader.

Now grab a writing cookie and get back to work!


  1. My jaw dropped to the ground when I got the offer for publication. Good post. I wish I read this back then! :D

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  3. I must have read it half a dozen times before it even started to sink in. Then I alternated between crying and laughing. The hardest thing was trying to settle down long enough to read through the contract and see what it all entailed. Wish I'd had this post then. :)

  4. Larissa- With SEVENTY I had to send the email to my crit partner before I believed it.

    Pippa Jay- Everyone talk about rejection, acceptance is just as daunting. My fingers are crossed that I'll adjust and start seeing more acceptance letters in my future. :o)

  5. Just one minor change I'd suggest in the order. Most agents/publishers would like to know that you've received an offer BEFORE you officially accept the offer so they can counter offer if they're inclined. So, if you've still got the submission out there with someone who you really think might equal the current acceptance, let them know while you're still considering the first offer. It might not change anything, but options are always good.

  6. MarieDees - Acknowledging the email and asking questions isn't the same as signing the contract. I should have clarified. A polite, "Email received, let me look at the details please. Talk to you soon..." type of email keeps editors from spazzing about whether or not you check your inbox (at least that's my experience from the editorial end in newspaper - I want to know you check your email!).