Once you make a decision on the agent you want to represent your book, your agent will work through your proposal and develop a list of publishers to query. Be sure you understand why certain publishers are on the list and why others are not. Expect prompt turn-around and availability from your agent and don't be afraid to ask questions. It's your book and you deserve to be one of your agent's priorities. At the same time, realize that you are one of many clients under management so you need to be patient as well as expectant.
When the proposal is completed to your satisfaction, the agent will submit it to the list of selected editors. Generally speaking, you should expect to hear initial responses from publishers within 4 weeks, longer if you are an unpublished author. Once received, this initial indication of interest expressed by an editor is step one in a long review process that is likely to take a couple of months while the publishers work through their various committees before a final decision is made to offer you a contract. No problem touching base with your agent every couple of weeks but you can expect your representative to keep you posted with every response, negative as well as positive.
When the contract proposal is received, it's usually in two phases: first a deal sheet that outlines the business terms of the offer (including advance, royalty rates, final manuscript word count, manuscript delivery date and proposed publication schedule); and, then a draft publishing agreement. The agent's responsibility is to be sure you understand every detail of both the deal point memo and the publishing agreement. It's your book so be sure you can explain the deal you are making! If you can't, ask your agent to go through it again. The contract process can easily take a couple of months, and the advance check another few weeks from you signing the agreement, so time to be patient again!
Once the contract is signed, the fun work begins!
Your agent will take a step back as you and your editor work through the manuscript process. If you have concerns over editing issues, get your agent back involved. It's the agent's role to facilitate discussions over disagreements. That's what you are paying for so don't be afraid to ask him/her to step in on your behalf.
Another thing you are paying for is to hear the publisher's side of the argument in terms you understand. Listen to your agent's counsel and be flexible on things like editorial comments, title, and cover design.
While there are a ton of other steps in the process, this is a good overview of why you need an agent and how the agent works for you.
All the best and may God bless the work of your hands.
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