Writing is hard. Revising is hard. The submission cycle is downright depressing. Querying agents? It sucks away your soul, email by email.
That means that it’s especially hard to contain yourself when good news comes at last. It’s tempting to scream to the world–in reality and in all caps–that the story finally sold! That an agent wants your full manuscript! That a publisher wants your book!
DON’T. Take your hands off the keyboard. Step away from your phone. Maybe tell a few select people, but don’t you dare announce your good news in the early stages. Speaking out too soon shows that you’re unprofessional and unable to keep a secret. You may very well sabotage the deal you’re so happy about. Google is the biggest tattle-tale in the world, you know. Editors and agents will follow your social media and blog, and not in a creepy way, either. If they are taking the time to look you up, that’s a great thing. They want to know you! You’re establishing an important business relationship.
You want that relationship, too. So here are the moments when you need to sit on your hands.
– A story acceptance
It’s awesome to get that initial acceptance email, but the deal isn’t real until there is a double-signed contract. That makes it legally binding. Even then, sometimes a publisher will ask you to refrain from public mention for a while; for example, this might happen if they are still sending out rejections for that particular issue. Respect that request.
– The contract is signed but the work hasn’t been published after months of wait OR you didn’t get paid when it was published OR your story was revised without your permission, etc.
Sometimes, even after a contract is signed, a deal might fall apart. Maybe the editor pulls a jerk move, or editors change and the new one doesn’t want your work, or the publication dies, or your reminders about payment get no reply. This puts you in a delicate position because you have a valid right to complain. Don’t do that in public as step one, though. You want to build your case. Query the editor, if you can. Query more than once over a period of time. Go onto password-protected writer forums and find out if there are other writers in the same position as you. You want allies! Maybe together, you can make yourselves heard, either through email or as a united front on social media. If you’re a member of SFWA, Griefcom is a valuable resource with professionals who will intercede on your behalf.
– An agent has rejected your manuscript OR requests a partial or full manuscript OR wants to call you
Querying agents is a long, difficult, demoralizing process, but it’s not one to be discussed in public. Why? Agents NEED to check you out online. You don’t want them to know they’re the 73rd agent you’ve queried, or that you’ve been querying this book for three years. More than likely, you’re querying a bunch of agents at the same time (as one should, unless you offered an exclusive; it would take forever to query one by one). You want all of those agents to think they are your top choice. You want to appear professional yet also personable. Throughout various stages of the publishing process, you need to be able to keep a secret. If you’re a blabbermouth, well, will they want to work with you?
You DO need a safe place to vent or celebrate through the querying process, though. Find a password-protected private place to do that. I used Agent Query back in the day, but there are various other writer forums or private Facebook groups where you can safely chronicle your journey.
– An agent offers representation
Again, this is a test of how you can keep a secret, but it’s also a show of respect for other agents who may be considering your work. You likely have queries out with multiple agencies. When you get an offer, don’t say ‘yes’ right away, no matter how tempting; ask for a period of time like a week or two so that you can send notice to other agents to give them a chance to respond. You suddenly look a lot more appealing once you have an offer on the table. Other agents will likely want to push your query/manuscript to the top of their pile so they can find out what the fuss is all about. You might get more requests for the full manuscript or other offers of rep.
Again, share this joy in a private setting online. Don’t liveblog it, or you’ll look tactless and rude to other agents. Again: until the contract is signed with an agent, it’s not a done deal. Don’t sabotage yourself.
– An editor makes an offer for your book
This is the most aggravating secret in the world, but you dare not say a thing until the proper time. And that proper time may be a long time coming. Contract negotiations may take months with a major publisher–maybe even six months or more. If you speak out before the deal is done, you will look very, very bad.
There’s an extra level of aggravation here, too. Even after the paperwork is signed, you still need to keep every mum for a little while longer. Most large-publisher book deals aren’t official-official until they are in Publishers’ Marketplace. Most writers don’t subscribe to that because it’s expensive, but a friend may scream the news to you online (that’s how I knew I could announce my first deal at long last–a friend told me on Twitter!) or your agent can give you the head’s up.
At that point, mash down the capslock and scream the news to the world. YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!!
Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.