1. Completion of your novel. Congratulations! You’ve written an entire novel (~60,000 – 100,000 words)! Now go edit it. No, don’t tweet about how awesome your book is (yet). Edit.
2. Six months later… congratulations again! Between your critique group, your trusted first-readers, and your biggest editor/critic (i.e. you, at least at this point), you’ve polished your novel to a high lustre. Such a high lustre, fact, that you’ve begun using British spelling and grammar without even realising it. Ace! (Apparently you are also stuck in the 1980s.)
Have you written a truly smashing query letter yet? You have? Ace again. All mod cons, as they say. (British slang, incidentally, is weird.) Anyway—time to start querying Nathan, Janet, Kristin, Jessica, and all the rest. Cast a wide net, and remember: no exclusives!
3. Three months later… you’re still querying? Of course you are, unless you’re luckier than Malachi Constant. What, did you think this was going to be easy? Keep at it.
4. Three months after that… Hooray! After several form rejections, a few polite refusals on partials, and one or two fulls, you’ve gotten an offer of representation. (To make this as simple a scenario as possible, let’s say this is one of your dream agents and you accept the offer immediately.) Don’t start the party just yet, though. Now you’ve got real work to do.
I finished the first full draft of Volve in about 2001. I have been going back and forth between steps 2 and 3 since then. It’s been through three rewrites and three separate phases of queries. I’ve received three requests for partials and one request for a full, which was then followed by a rejection with a request to revise and resubmit. Unfortunately in the two years it took me to revise the publisher went through a major upheaval and the editor who liked my book left.
I’m still on the path, though. As of now I have a polished query letter and a long-form synopsis, as well as a rewritten manuscript that should be in final, fully-polished form sometime late this month or early next. By then I’ll also have a polished one-page synopsis and we’ll go back to the querying process.
Maybe this time I can proceed on to step four.