Eight Steps to an Agent, a Publisher, and a Two-Book Deal

Happy Monday, everyone! I know, I know…Mondays. Bleh. Luckily, Donna Galanti is here to cheer you up. When it comes to publishing, she’s done it all: her short story collection is self-published, her debut novel was published through a small press, and she’s recently acquired an agent for her children’s book series. Today, she’s here to share her journey to traditional publication—the lessons she learned and is still learning as a published author. So be encouraged, everyone. IT CAN BE DONE!

Over three years I traveled a writing road to become published. It was challenging, and every step (forward and backward) led me to an agent, a publisher, and a 2-book deal. If you want to become traditionally published, I hope my journey helps you realize that it really does all start with one step, and ALL these steps will benefit you once you get that book deal.

1 step to get out of the comfort zone
Three years ago I crawled out of my writer’s cave and met other writers. I attended workshops, conferences, and networking events. I challenged myself to take a class on how to write in a different genre. Writing is impulsive. Be impulsive and take risks to get outside your comfort zone.

Are you ready for discomfort? Once you have a book deal…you’ll be asked to sign at book expos, present at conferences, do author panels, write blog posts, or present at school assemblies.

2 years submitting to 189 agents
I spent years submitting to agents. Be ready for rejection and combat it with more submissions. Your query letter is your sales tool to get an agent to ask for the full manuscript. Keep getting rejected? It’s time to revise that letter. New agents are prime for querying as they all want to build their client lists. I recommend following the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. My friend and agent, Marie Lamba, has a great advice column on getting an agent here on her Agent Mondays.

Are you ready to keep pitching? Once you have a book deal…your agent may need to spend months pitching your book to publishers, and you await more rejection until it finds a home.

3 rounds with my developmental editor and 3 beta readers’ feedback
Spend the money and use a developmental editor. Frustrated that my manuscript was being rejected, I knew something wasn’t working. My editor at Writing Partner helped me see what I needed to do (three major rewrites over two years) and apply what I’ve learned. Here are 5 things I learned from my editor. Find the right beta readers who know how to decipher fiction and read the genre you write in. Give them a list of questions to help guide them.

Are you ready to take criticism and apply it to make your work better?  Once you have a book deal...you will work with an editor at the publishing house, or your agent as an editor. They will request changes – and expect you to know how to fix them. Will you know how? Be open to changes. Read my friend Kathryn Craft’s editing journey in regards to her book deal.

4 (and a half) months waiting for an offer
It takes a long time to hear back from agents and publishers who have your manuscript under consideration. While you wait, keep revising and submitting your work and getting feedback. Study the publishing market. Get free e-newsletters to Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace. Read in your genre. Purchase books on how to write. See my writing resource list here. And keep coming up with new book ideas. Why? Because an agent doesn’t just want you for a one book deal, they want you for a long term relationship. When you get a call from an agent, they will want to know what other projects you’re working on. Have those ideas shaped into short pitches. I had mine on hand to seal the deal.

Are you ready to think about agents the same way? Once you have a book deal…On your new career path you need to prove you are serious about being an author, that you know your genre, and youre self-motivated to create a portfolio of writing. You want an agent who will guide and champion you. Research them before querying and talking with them and have your own interview questions ready. Here’s a great article I referenced before talking with my agent.

5 writing conferences and 5 novels read in an internship
As a writer you need to learn the writing craft, the business of writing, and how to build relationships in a writing community. I’ve been lucky to have met many folks through the Philadelphia Liars Club and their Writer’s Coffeehouse. Through an agent friend there, I was offered an internship with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. In this role I evaluated manuscripts. I learned how to deconstruct a novel. And I learned to see similar problems in my own writing and how to avoid them. I’ve also befriended many bestselling authors, online and at conferences, who want to help new writers. They’ve advised me, allowed me to guest post on their blogs, and have written blurbs for my work. They pay it forward. Someday you will too.

Are you ready to keep learning from your peers and apply what you’ve learned? Once you have a book deal…you will be elevated as a writer in a new partnership that requires you to be professional and knowledgeable in your craft – and you need to continue networking to build those valuable relationships that will boost your career.

6 in-person agent pitches
I’ve pitched my book to agents at conferences and at social gatherings. Think of it as a conversation. Agents need writers as much as we need them. Always be ready to talk about your book. Always have a business card on hand and ask for theirs in return.

Are you ready to pitch at a moment’s notice? Once you have a book deal…you will be promoting your book everywhere, formally at signings and informally in the grocery store. Have your book’s one-line pitch ready to share with that potential customer. Remember, YOU are the one person most passionate about your book.

7 months to write the first draft
I almost gave up. Remember, I challenged myself to write in a new genre? It was hard. I didn’t always enjoy it. I felt outside my comfort zone, but I gave myself a deadline to finish, and I stuck to it. And here are six things I learned about writing a children’s book during this process.

Are you challenging yourself to finish your book on a deadline? Once you have a book deal…you will be expected to meet many deadlines. You will be given an editorial calendar and go a few editing rounds on the manuscript, each time with a deadline. Got a two-book deal? You will be given deadlines to deliver a manuscript proposal and the manuscript on book two. You will have deadlines to meet for blog tours and other events. Keep a good reputation and make deadlines.

8 agents who had the full manuscript and rejected it
The biggest reason agents rejected my book? They didn’t like the voice—and that’s a personal choice. Your voice is your natural, unique expression. Wait for that someone who will love your voice. It can be the agent that helps you launch a career, like my agent, Bill Contardi with Brandt & Hochman. It can be the publisher, like Month9Books, who fell in love with my middle grade novel. If they love your voice in one book, they most likely will love it in others you write.

Are you ready to take rejection and keep persevering? Once you have a book deal…your changes to the story may be rejected. Your title may be rejected. Your next book idea for the second book in the deal may be rejected. Get used to rejection and think of it as positive traction.

And now it all comes down to one. One agent. One publisher. One deal.

I spent years preparing to publish my book and when it happened, it happened fast. Within a month I had an agent, a publisher, and a two-book deal. But look at the number of steps (and missteps) I took along the way to get to that ONE. Going through all these steps may be disheartening at times, but doing so prepares you to step into the authorial role and work with your agent to build a career. Because you will encounter these same steps as a published author.

Are you ready to take these steps again? And again?

What’s my next step? The challenge of transitioning my brand from an author of dark adult fiction to children’s fiction. That may be a post here for another time–once I figure it out. ☺

Galanti,DonnaABOUT DONNA:
Donna Galanti writes suspense, young adult, and middle grade fiction and is represented by Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc. She is an International Thriller Writers (ITW) Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A HUMAN ELEMENT (Echelon Press) and its sequel, A HIDDEN ELEMENT (Imajin Books), which releases summer 2014. Book one and two of her middle grade series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, debuts in 2015 (Month9Books). She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse that has lots of writing nooks, fireplaces, and stink bugs but sadly no ghosts.

Visit her at:


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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62 Responses to Eight Steps to an Agent, a Publisher, and a Two-Book Deal

  1. Pingback: #AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Resources RoundUp - Donna Galanti - mystery, magic and mayhem for all ages

  2. Great post, Donna. It’s very encouraging. The same thing happened to me when I finally signed with a publisher. It was all very fast and exciting. I spent years leading up to it, but it was worth it.

  3. Pingback: Build the Author Life You Seek & Empower Kids! - Donna Galanti - mystery, magic and mayhem for all ages

  4. Rae says:

    This is the most helpful and encouraging piece I’ve read on the agent and editing process, including listening to zillions of podcasts on the topic as well. I’ve recently entered four writing competitions, didn’t make the long list on two of them, still waiting to hear from one, and the other one helped me to choose an editor. I was told my cover letter was the funniest she’d ever read, which suggested my book would be as well. However, she noticed a major flaw which 20 beta-readers and a 3 chapter professional edit did not pick up. The editor was absolutely correct I needed a rewrite, but I was encouraged to re-enter because it was a ‘worthy submission.’ I’m halfway through my third draft, before I kiss it on the cheek and send it off for a full developmental and line edit.

    Thank you for telling us you queried 189 agents plus endured 3 rounds of developmental edits. If I’d read this when I started, I might never have started, but now, hearing your journey, encourages me to continue. Thank you. I’ll be passing this article on. Peace. Rae

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  10. Ron Prichard says:

    Wonderful piece. Only up to, oh, 30 agents in 1 year, so you inspired me to keep going.

    • donnagalanti says:

      You’ve got plenty to go, Ron! Plus querying in small batches is a good way to test your query letter to see if you get requests for more information. If not, it’s always a good thing to pull back your query and re-vamp it.

  11. Pingback: Is a Literary Agent the Pot of Gold for Writers? -

  12. Rosi says:

    This is chock full of great information. Thanks for the post.

  13. Elizabeth Foster says:

    Thanks for the article. It makes me feel better about how much prep I am doing before even sending out the query letter. I am working on the premise that not only does the query letter have to be enticing but the manuscript has to live up to the promise of what you say your book will deliver. Great to hear of your persistence. These sort of stories from people who have been through it all really spur me on!

    • donnagalanti says:

      Elizabeth, you strike a great issue here: the manuscript following thru on the query. My friend, and agent, Marie Lamba, has referred to this many times to me when I was a first-reader for her and her agency, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (reference Marie’s blog Agent Mondays for more info, listed in the article above too http://marielamba.wordpress.com/).

      Marie would be excited to request a manuscript based on the query, and then pass it on to me to vette. In reading I would often find the MS just fell apart. Many issues had to do with: all telling not showing, taking us out of the story, wrong voice for age, hard to suspend disbelief, too much back story, issues with where the story really should start, head hopping, character motives, repetition, mixed tenses, overall needing major editing, story started out great but didnt follow through on its promise, not enough action, TOO much action (making me dizzy), long, unnecessary passages and unimportant details/information.

      And, boy, in deconstructing these manuscripts did it help me see the same issues in my own work! (and hope I continue to root out).

      • Elizabeth Foster says:

        Thanks – interesting. I have a 20 year old son who is a stickler for all of the above (he writes too) and won’t let me send the ms out until its sparkling. I am lucky in that respect. One thing I have also learned is to avoid skipping over things during early drafts that need extra effort. That “later” pile still has to be dealt with in that last draft and makes it more painful than it needs to be!

      • :Donna Marie says:

        Donna, your second paragraph makes a GREAT checklist of “DON’T DOs!” 😀

  14. P.S. Joshi says:

    I found this article very interesting and helpful. I pinned it on Pinterest as suggested above. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

    • donnagalanti says:

      Joshi, I’m glad I can share my experiences. It’s the experiences of others that have helped me tremendously. We can write alone, but we can’t get published alone. And thanks so much for thinking to spread this on Pinterest as well!

  15. Donna, I found your arduous journey was actually encouraging. This is one post I’ll be saving in my “Inspiration” folder.

    • donnagalanti says:

      Tracy – great word: arduous! I hope you can glean some useful info here to keep you inspired when you need some inspiration. When I’m stuck in my writing I often find that taking a break and reading books help to boost my creativity. And then later, I realize I was actually doing homework in that reading. 🙂

  16. Thanks for this post. Lots of really good resources and information.

  17. Donna Marie, Jemi, Zybayda, Traci – thanks for the kind words. Any other questions you may have just let me know. I have the feeling after this upcoming year I will certainly have more to add more to my writer’s toolbox and would love to share.

  18. Very insightful!! The road to publication and beyond is definitely a journey it seems. One I’ll gladly continue to walk.

  19. Zubayda says:

    Great work Donna! Persistence pays off. Thanks for the information.

  20. :Donna Marie says:

    Donna, this kind of information is absolutely invaluable. Thank you SO much for taking the time to pass it on. And CONGRATS! on the book deals! 😀

  21. Jemi Fraser says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey! Congrats on getting to this latest stage in your journey! And good luck with those next steps! 🙂

  22. You’ve been firing on all cylinders, Donna! Hard to believe you’ve done all that and more in only three years. It will take most much longer so working hard and not giving up is key!

  23. Stephanie Byard says:

    Wow, this was just a wealth of information. Loved hearing about your journey and all that went with it. Thank you for sharing such a great blog! For someone just getting her bearings in the industry and honing her craft, this was a treasure trove. Grateful!

  24. Angela Brown says:

    Sometimes, it does seem that the road to publication seems easier for others, but your story is a reminder that the road is one that differs for each person. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

    • donnagalanti says:

      Angela, you are so right! And this was something I had to take to heart along the way myself. That everyone’s path to publication is different – and no one’s will be the same. And when it can be easy to be downhearted at watching others rise up following a certain path it’s also comforting knowing that perhaps their path would not have been the right one for you, or me.

      • :Donna Marie says:

        Both you ladies are right, and it’s probably the most important thing to keep in mind during the pursuit. I’ve come to see (easier in retrospect) that God knows better than I do, which path is best for me. Doesn’t mean I don’t keep doing what I must and what I think is best, but I know not to EXPECT things 🙂

  25. Tori Bond says:

    Great blog! I especially like your advice to get out of your comfort zone. Writing wise that’s where great writing happens. If you’re not a little uncomfortable with what’s on the page, it’s probably too safe. Then the idea of getting uncomfortable with more revision and marketing…we as writers work so hard to get the deal, that we often don’t think about what happens next. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • donnagalanti says:

      Tori, yes! And as writers who want to be published I truly believe we will be continually be called on to get out of our comfort zone – and not just socially and publicly, but in our writing as well. Maybe we should just embrace getting out of our comfort zone as our “new normal”. It’s a heck of a career to choose – one with constant challenges! 🙂

  26. Congratulations Donna! Thanks for sharing your path with us. It may sound disheartening, but it is truly inspirational.

  27. Renee says:

    Thank you. I’m in the midst of my rejections and feeling a bit blue. This post reminded me how very un-alone I am in this struggle. Thanks!

    • donnagalanti says:

      Renee, I can empathize with that blue feeling – and feeling alone in trying to succeed in our writing. And trying to find the oomph to reach out and connect with other writers is hard but can make all the difference – and give us that extra piece of hope and motivation we need to keep moving forward. Good luck!

  28. Sara says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Donna! I like how it informs and reminds us of how tough the writing and querying processes can be, but also inspires and motivates us to not give up. Will print this out and add this to my reference article binder tonight. And congratulations on your book deal – good luck with the new book(s) and all others in the future!

    • donnagalanti says:

      Thanks Sara – and glad it’s an inspiration for you! Writers Digest magazine can have some great articles each month and also resources. My friend and agent, Marie Lamba, has one in the current May/June issue on the differences between writing middle grade and young adult – and for fun my friend Janice Gable Bashman has an article in there on the most unusual things an author ever signed. I highly recommend getting the current issue as well if you’re seeking writer resources, because it has their annual 101 great websites for writers. Highly recommend!

      • Sara L. says:

        Already have a subscription to Writer’s Digest, Donna. Just got that issue in the mail the other day! 😉 Thanks for the recommendation, though.

        • Sara, awesome!! Also, I dont know if you write for middle grade or young adult and are a member (or thinking of becoming a member of SCBWI) but they just started a new special for members. You can get a year’s subscription to Publishers Weekly for only $99 – it’s a $250 value. Includes full print/online/digital access inc. their weekly magazine. Just FYI.

          And you may also already be aware of Jane Friedman’s blog – but a fantastic resource for writers as well!

          Happy Writing!

  29. donnagalanti says:

    Angela, C.Lee, Julie, Southpaw, and Kelly – you all eluded to the same thing: perseverance. And that is the major key. The words of J.A. Konrath always ring in my head about this: There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published. (this comforted me, many a time!)

    For what J.A. says is true. And if we truly believe we are story tellers and have stories to tell, then we must strive to do what is necessary to make that happen regardless of the path. This means: learning the craft (and keep learning), understanding the industry (and keep understanding as it changes), building a support community around us (we are all in this together and can, and should, help each other out. There’s no competition here – there is ALWAYS room for more writers! And if a reader loves your friend’s book, he may loves yours too when it comes out).

    Best of luck in your paths everyone, whatever that may be!

  30. Great story, Donna–I really am so happy for you, and it’s so great to see the reinforcement of passion, hard work and the willingness to learn all come together to bring this about. 🙂 Great lesson for all of us! 🙂


  31. C. Lee McKenzie says:

    So glad your persistence paid off! Enjoyed reading about all that you did and learned during your submissions.

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  33. You are one determined writer, and that’s what it takes!

  34. Lori Schafer says:

    Well, I must say you’ve inspired me, Donna. 189 agent queries? I would have given up after fifty! Which just goes to show that it only takes one – and no one knows how many you might have to go through before you find her.

    • donnagalanti says:

      Lori, and that 189 doesn’t even include the ones I contacted twice. Over a period of years, many agents (especially newer ones) can move on to other agencies. If I didn’t get a response from them with an initial query, I did query them again at their new agency and did get some requests this way as well. Some times agents actually have interns that are vetting their email, so where you may not get through to an agent at one agency – you may get through at another. Keep on submitting! As one agent friend told me when I was feeling a bit down – “There are ALWAYS more agents to query!”

  35. Julie Musil says:

    I love hearing stories like this…about authors who keep learning and growing and pushing their way toward a deal. Nice job!

  36. Southpaw says:

    Very interesting and a long road. Congratulations on persevering and succeeding!

  37. Kelly Miller says:

    Perseverence is the name of the game! Thanks for this wonderful article rich with advice for those of us looking to land a big deal.

  38. SA Larsen says:

    Wow, Donna. You go, girl! I love your story, as well as your honesty about it. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • donnagalanti says:

      Thanks SA. And I feel exhausted just reading this article again – LOL. I know it seems like so many steps (and so much time) but it doesn’t happen all at once – it happens day after day over time. I bet if many writers sat back and looked at all they’ve learned and accomplished over their past 3 years, they would be amazed and more intent to pat them themselves on the back, instead of beat themselves up (as we know we writers can do!) . 🙂

  39. donnagalanti says:

    Angela and Becca, thanks so much for having me on again! I’m so glad to share my experiences and hope they inspire and help others on the publication road! Never give up – no matter which path you decide to follow to find your dream. 🙂

  40. Great tips, Donna. The theme I’m seeing is that you have to persist and really be willing to work on your manuscript and get professional help when you need it. Good luck with your books.

    • donnagalanti says:

      Thanks Natalie! Yes, persistence is key. If you want to be published through any track, you have to simply keep trying. That’s not to say that at times it’s also good to take a break from trying to land a deal with one project and focus more on writing new projects. Doing this does help rejuvenate you when you get burnt out on the submission (and rejection process) – and it helps build your book pitch ideas to an agent when you “get the call”.

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