Finishing up the Debuting 101 series I planned on finishing in, oh, February (oops), here are the final three questions about what happens after you sell a book:
What's the process after the sale and before the book comes out?
You would think the first thing that happens after the sale of a book is a contract. But oh, you patient writer, you'll be waiting for that for months yet. You're much more likely to received your edit letter in that time, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after the deal is finalized. When you receive said edits, you'll be given a deadline to return them. Then you might go through another round of edits, depending on your editor, or your editor might send you this magical little file called [your book title]_FINAL.doc and fireworks will go off, birds will sing your name and stars will align in the shape of your title as you realize this thing you wrote is done. For reals. Forever.
After a small panic attack caused by said realization, the next thing that happens is a cover, which is basically the most amazing part of the whole process, because a complete stranger is about to mash 60,000+ words you wrote into a picture. Your publisher will likely ask if you had anything specific in mind - a symbol used in the book or a certain scene that was really important - as well as asking what you don't like to see on other book covers. They they'll come up with something magical (or potentially devastating, in which case you should share your thoughts with your agent asap), and in my case, I was asked for feedback. Once you, your editor, and the publisher are happy with the cover, it's considered final, and it's on to the next step - copy edits!
Copy edits give you a chance to make small changes to the text in case you've been having anxiety nightmares about a misspelled word you missed on page 106. But any big changes like new scenes or deleting scenes: ship has sailed on that one. Copy edits are meant to catch all the grammatical errors in the text. Proper use of commas, names, sentence structure, etc. Most copy editors will respect stylistic choices you've made that attribute to voice, but don't be afraid to decline a suggested edit if it's not right for the book.
After copy edits, the sun breaks through the clouds and you get these fantastic things called first pass pages. This is the first time you'll get to see your book laid out as an actual book with the right fonts, chapter headings, bold/italics, page numbers, etc. This is your last chance to catch any typos, weird spacing, missing pages, or other errors that might have been introduced in copy edits. After you approve these and send them back, that's all, that's it, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul, because the next step is a BOOK.
I'm realizing as I type this that I could write a whole essay on what happen after the book sale, so I'll try to paraphrase the rest: After first pass pages come advanced reader copies, which will be sent to trade reviews like Booklist and Kirkus, and also any bloggers who are interested in reviewing your book. Marketing and publicity efforts will also start now, and you'll likely be posting prearranged messages to your social media accounts to build up hype, while your publisher pulls their strings with Barnes and Noble and Amazon, etc, to get your book in stores. I also used this time to set up some local events, plan my launch party, order bookmarks, and all that good promo stuff. See my post on marketing here if you want more about that.
What kinds of interactions you have with your agent after the process: where edits go to, etc?
After I sold Duplicity, I was fortunate enough to have only a minor revision letter, so I passed my edits directly to my editor. If I'd done more substantial changes, I'd have sent the book back to my agent for review as long as I could still meet the deadline. Really, it depends on your working relationship with your agent, and how comfortable you are sending raw edits directly to your editor.
Beyond Duplicity, my superhero agent has remained my writing cheerleader, helping me pursue additional marketing opportunities with my publisher and working with me on new books.
What was the biggest surprise?
Aside from a publisher actually wanting and buying something I made up out of my own wacky brain, I'd say the biggest surprise was the awesome outpour of support from local libraries and bookstores. Places I spent my childhood were suddenly eager to host me for an event that they even invited other people to! AND PEOPLE SHOWED UP, not just my parents and friends! Also, I got to sign a shirt on a person. As in, someone wearing a shirt asked me to sign their back. I don't know if that has anything to do with this question, but there you go.