But let's talk best case scenario: an editor loves your book!
There are some variations, but typically the next step is second reads–someone else at the imprint reads your book as well–and then if all goes well, you go to acquisitions/committee. Second reads can be someone else in editorial, or someone in sales and marketing, publicity, etc. Ideally, when the second read also loves your project, that's another voice on your side in the acquisitions meeting. Not all editors need second reads to make a case, however–executive editors/heads of imprints typically don't.
Acquisitions works differently at every publisher/imprint but generally it is a meeting where everyone discusses whether or not to buy your book. Editorial, Sales & Marketing, Publicity, and in some cases the publisher (head of the imprint, etc.) are present, and everyone says their piece. In this meeting, the nitty gritty of sales and numbers matter. You, as a debut, of course don't have sales/numbers behind you, so the publisher will consider similar books in the market/on their list. When you are not a debut–and especially if you've self-published or small press published in the past–this is where middling sales can hurt you (and this is why agents urge writers to seriously consider how they choose to debut).
If all goes well: acquisitions says yes! The editor can offer! *throws confetti*
If not: sometimes you can get all the way to acquisitions and get a "no." It is DEVASTATING. On the one hand, you should be proud/happy: you made it that far! And if you can get to acquisitions once, usually you can get there again. Buttttttt in the moment, that consolation feels pretty meaningless. I am here, offering you a hug, and a glass of your preferred beverage. It sucks.
But, bringing it back to the happy place: what happens when they want to buy your book? The editor will make an offer via your agent. Then your agent will CALL. When that phone rings and you see your agent's name, it is the most magical moment. Agents typically only call with good news (and almost ALL agents call in this case).
Now sometimes, you'll get a series of calls from your agent. The first may be the good news that you are going to second reads, or acquisitions. Then finally, the offer call. Your agent will tell you the terms and let you ask questions. Often, they'll tell you the terms and say "I plan on negotiating that," at which point you fist pump the air and start building a shrine to your amazing agent. This is where agents shine. Their job is to negotiate and get you the best possible deal.
There are a few variations of special deal situations:
A pre-empt is when a house offers you a usually generous offer with favorable terms and says "accept our offer now and pull your book from every other editor who has it." If you're happy with the terms (which your agent CAN negotiate)/house, you can say YES and it's a done deal! Or, you can turn it down. Sometimes turning down a pre-empt is the best choice. Sometimes, accepting a pre-empt is the best choice. Ask your agent questions! They are here to guide you.
An auction is when multiple houses all want the book and they engage in a bidding war for it. You'll hear auction thrown around as a splashy term for big books that everyone wanted. Sometimes there are a bunch of houses involved, sometimes only two. Typically, an auction will drive up the offer amount and will give your agent leverage to negotiate favorable terms. Usually your agent will set up calls so you can talk to each of the offering editors to help make your decision. Caveat: some agents leave the decision to you.
Others manage the auction process themselves and will let you know who won–usually the highest bidder/most favorable contract terms. Like not sharing editor names on submission, this is a style/fit thing: ASK ON YOUR OFFER CALL how the agent prefers to handle auctions, or if you have a choice.
But! Usually, you just get an offer. They say it only takes one, and that is TRUE and you don't need a fancy deal situation to get an amazing offer from an amazing house with an editor who loves your book.
Want to know more about what happens when you get a book deal? Stayed tuned for Book Deals & Marketing, which will start publishing soon!
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#HowToAuthor: Agents & SubmissionNon-Fiction
Advice for writing book-shaped things and getting them traditionally published. This series will cover everything from querying to agent fit, to building a platform and marketing yourself.