The Road to Publication by Emma Smith-Barton

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“I’ve got an agent! What now?”

Before I got my publishing deal, my focus was always on getting an agent. That was the goal, the dream, and I didn’t really think of much beyond that. Back then, in my mind, getting an agent meant getting a publishing deal. But now I know that signing with an agent – as wonderful as it is – is just the start of the process of getting your book out into the world. Here’s what I’ve leant along the way…

  1. What happens once you get an agent? 

Once you secure an agent you will sign a contract with them to say that they now represent you. Then, your agent will probably give you some editorial feedback on the manuscript so that you can make it as strong as possible before it’s sent out to publishers (I know, I know, you thought all that editing was over, didn’t you? But trust me, it will be worth it). If you’re VERY lucky, your manuscript might be ready to go out as it is. In any case, getting your book as polished as possible, with the help of your agent, is the very first step. 

Note: some agents are more hands on than others – whereas one might reject a book because it’s not quite ready, another might take it on based on the concept or the writing or their vision for the book, and then work on it with you. There’s no right or wrong. In my case I’d already been working with an editor and so it went straight to acquisitions. 

  1. The book is ready! What now?

After you have edited your book, your agent will send the book out to specific editors at various publishing houses. If an editor likes your book, they will usually share it with their team. This is the start of the acquisitions process. If the team agree they want to acquire the book they will take it to a meeting to get the sales team on board before making an offer. 

  1. How much input will I have? (For example, on deciding when and who to approach)

Your agent will take they lead. He/she knows the industry and so will know who to approach and when. They will have the latest information about trends and upcoming fairs. Trust your agent! However, if you have a dream publisher, or if you’ve already had interest from a certain editor, it’s worth mentioning this to your agent.

  1. How long does it take? 

This varies greatly – in the same way that being on submission to an agent can. Deals can be offered over night! But more usual is anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. There’s often a lot of waiting but this is completely normal. My acquisitions meeting got delayed by a couple of weeks for various reasons, but this is normal too! Once the meeting has actually happened, however, you’ll probably find out the outcome on the same day. 

  1. How much will I be kept informed?

Your agent should keep you informed at every stage of the process, usually either via email or over the phone. They will let you know when the book goes out. You can ask whom it’s gone out to. And the moment there’s ‘news’ – good or bad – they will be sure to let you know! 

  1. If and when a contract is offered, what happens next? 

LOTS of celebrating! After that, you will receive a contract, either in the post or via email (note: this can take a while, mine took a couple of months, which is completely normal but it can vary from one publisher to the next). You’ll then want to read over the contract carefully and also get it looked at by someone who specialises in contracts. I got mine looked at by The Society of Authors and they were brilliant. 

  1. What should I expect from my agent during the process? 

Whether a publisher wants to make an offer, or not, they will contact your agent. Your agent will then contact you and let you know. So you should expect clear communication at all stages, support if it’s a ‘no’ from a publisher, and guidance about whether a publisher is right for you if it’s a ‘yes’. Sometimes an offer might be made but the editor’s vision for the book is very different from yours and your agents – so your agent can advise what to do if that’s the case. Your agent will be looking for the best fit for you so it’s not necessarily about who makes the best offer! But, of course, once you do find a good fit your agent will also negotiate the best possible offer for you. 


Being on submission to publishers is both exciting and nerve-wracking. If you have any questions you can approach your agent – don’t be shy. I know that I’ve certainly leaned on mine for support and continue to do so whenever needed. They’re lovely people and won’t mind at all! 

Emma is the author of YA novel The Million Pieces of Neena Gill (July 2019, Penguin Random House). She is represented by Jo Unwin.

She has a BA in English and Creative Writing from Warwick University and a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University. 

Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Mslexia and The Bristol Short Story Prize 2016. 


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