And when it's finally done, you show the finished book to your bookseller. (Who admits privately that people hand her manuscripts all the time - BAD manuscripts.)
Only the bookseller loves it, and she talks to the HarperCollins rep, who says give it to big-time editor Carolyn Marino, who makes an offer a week later.
That's just what happened to Gordon Campbell with his first legal thriller.
Read more here.
[Full disclosure: Carolyn used to be my editor at HC, back in the day. She bought three books from me, including my first. And she must be a fast decider. She had my first, Circles of Confusion, for just three days before she made an offer. Now that I've been around the block a few more times, I know that's like lightening.]