This blog was featured on 03/06/2019
After You Finish Your Book: Working with an Agent

During the last months of busily revising, revising, and revising—for books are not written, they are rewritten—I always make mental lists of all the pleasant tasks I’ll do once I’m finished, no longer driven to write every minute of the day and half the night. Sometimes I write these lists down, imagining my pleasure once I get the time for optional activities. Cleaning out a jammed coat closet, stuffed so full my arms ache trying to shove in another jacket. Organizing my study piled high with books I’ve pulled off the shelves doing research for the book, plus random newspaper clippings and old drafts. Then I’ll call old friends who’ve moved away, chatting on with no time constraints. I’ll visit an elderly friend who’s been ill. And I’ll read every page of the Times over breakfast. Take naps…My daydreams go on, helping lure me across the finish line.

Sending the Final Draft

But then the day comes. I send the final draft of the book I’ve labored over for five years to my agent. Oh no, the next day I’m tortured by a misplaced word—the adjective that would be so much better in the previous sentence—and, full of apology, send her a “This is really the final manuscript” email. Attaching it with the date on cover page so it doesn’t mix with the previous draft.

“Don’t put the date on the ms,” she emails right back. “We don’t want it to look stale if it doesn’t sell right away.”

OK. I send her a copy with no date.


But not really. Without so much as a twenty-four hour break, I’m mired in the next stage of book publishing, which I always forget until it’s time to face it.

Getting Blurbs

“Do you have blurbs yet?” my efficient agent asks.

Gulp. “Already?”

“Sure, they will help to sell the book. I want to make a strong package. Who do you know that might blurb it?”

Suddenly wishing I could return to the delicious solitude of playing with sentences, I spend a day writing a few emails to high-profile acquaintances, basically begging them to interrupt their busy schedules to read my four hundred-page manuscript and endorse it.

Surprisingly, most do.

“Anyone else?” my agent asks. “We need New York Times bestsellers.”

Regretting that I’ve been so solitary in recent years, never wanting to drag myself out from my comfortable writing studio to networking events (“It’s raining.” Or “It’s dark,” I excused myself.) I rack my brain and, swallowing my pride, spend a few hours constructing requests to best-selling authors I’ve barely met. Years ago. A few say “Sorry, deep in a new book,” but others agree. I get their addresses and email my agent, asking her to mail out hard copies.

Done! Tomorrow I’ll start on my fun, lazy, household activities.

Oh no. Now there’s the pitch letter my agent will send to editors. She sends me a draft to edit. I revise. Many times. We cross wires by email, finally talk, and complete our final drafts.

Publishing Preferences

“Which publishing houses are at the top of your list?” she asks.

I don’t know, I think. Isn’t that your job?

“I suggest you comb your shelves for books you think would line up nicely with yours, see what publishers might be a match.”

So I spend a day tearing apart my already messy house—forget sorting out closets, now I’ll have to clean up the new mess I’m making—and create a list of houses. Realizing that my agent was giving me a chance to weigh in before she tapped her own list.

Social Media

She thanks me and says, “What about social media?”

What about it? Between obsessively writing my book and trying to keep a modicum of social life, exercise, and religiously shopping at the farmer’s market to maintain my body with organic vegetables, I’d sworn off social media. A time waster, I swore, feeling virtuous. But I remember now: the pitch letter to publishers claimed I maintained an “active presence on social media.” Ha. Time to resume the blogs I used to do. Return to writing op-eds. In other words, writing.

So never mind my crammed closets, overflowing shoe bin, and overstuffed kitchen drawers. You’ll soon see me everywhere on social media! I’m going to be a star! And someday, when I’m very old, I’ll call far-flung friends--the woman in my writer’s group who moved away and people I knew in college, and I’ll alphabetize my books, and…

Until then, I’m a writer.


Dr. Joan Steinau Lester is the author of five published books, one which never sold, and the expectant author of a sixth.

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  • Nino Gugunishvili

    Such a wonderful, wonderful article!

  • Mary Stein

    Just read two of your articles, preparing to be a published writer myself. The need to be active on social media is the most troubling for me. I have a Facebook page which I haven't visited in years and a blog made for me by a young colleague when I was teaching in Taiwan. I guess my only consolation is that my 17-year-old grandson is staying with me and perhaps can be of some help. I also have Jane Friedman's Publishing 101, which gives lots of specific direction. Thanks for your help on what agents may ask for in the near future. Mary Charity K. Stein