So your manuscript has arrived in the mail, been logged and funneled to the appropriate editor, and maybe even sat through its first editorial meeting. What happens next?
In all likelyhood, it sits around through another editorial meeting or two while said editor hems and haws and checks the sales figures on your last book, and checks out similar books on the market and whether they're any good. There might be some chat as to whether or not there's room for your book on the already-tight publication schedule ("should we push back 'Feline Spies of the Dark Ages' to 11B and push this one through early?") and whether there are already too many books like yours in existence.
There will be phone calls. Sometimes, lots of phone calls. Editor A will call Marketing Person B over at the west coast office and ask if she thinks a book like this would sell. Marketing Person B will leave a message for The Guy at Borders and ask if he thinks he'd buy it for the store (sadly, his opinion matters a lot.) The Guy at Borders will fail to return her call, and the process will bog down even more. Your ms might be mentioned in a teleconference and opinions briefly cackled over the static.
Then there might be another meeting or two. If there are other publishers considering your book, and the editors at this one aren't totally sold, they'll sit back and wait for the other guys to make an offer. If this publisher wants your book, someone who's good with numbers will figure out how much advance $ to offer you.
Then, when they are good and ready, like a giant sloth in the sunshine, the publisher will slowly, slowly shift in the branches and make an offer on your book.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
But wait! You're not out of the woods yet. An offer is not a book deal. There's no deal until that contract comes in the mail, you sign it, they sign it, and it comes back to you again. And even then there might be a disaster like the publisher going bankrupt, or you coming down with meningitis, or the publisher deciding your completed manuscript is unacceptable. Nothing is truly frabjous until you're standing in a book store, pulling a copy of your beautifully-rendered book off the shelf. And before we get to that point, there are still several steps left to go in the Process.
Last publishing tip of the day, gleaned from an author-editor conversation INTERN overheard this morning:
When your uptight landlord asks what your book is about, "memoir of psychosis" is probably not what he wants to hear.