The Agent series
Featured columnist: Jenny Bent
“First Year Out”

Getting published for the first times is at turns exhilarating, frightening, exciting, nerve-wracking, and sometimes extremely disappointing. Remember the old saying, "be careful what you wish for?" Having your book published offers much potential for happiness, but also carries the possibility of a fair amount of disappointment.

There can be nothing so exciting for a writer as holding your finished book in your hands for the first time. And while there is no way to comprehend the experience of being published before the actual event, it can helpful to know a little bit about what you're getting into as soon as you get that momentous call from your agent: "We have an offer!"

The following questions and answers are my attempt to prepare you for the joys and the sorrows of being published. Hopefully, forewarned will become forearmed, and you'll be able to better enjoy the experience if you're prepared for some of the potential pitfalls. Reasonable expectations are the key to being happily published for the first time.

Q: Yahoo! My book was accepted. Now how long will it take before I can see it in the bookstore?

A: Usually nine to twelve months after they have accepted your manuscript. This may seem like a very long time, especially in this age of electronic media, but the long delay is actually in your favor. Your publisher needs time to copy edit and proof read your manuscript, and also to publicize your book.

Publishing your book quickly means that they have less time to get advance quotes and reviews, and less time to try to place articles or excerpts in magazines, which often have six month lead-times.

Q: How much editing can I expect from my editor?

A: This varies wildly from editor to editor. Your agent will try to place you with an editor who really will edit your book, but this can't always be accomplished because many editors simply don't have the time or the desire to actually edit.

If your editor isn't doing the kind of editing job you feel you need, sometimes your agent can pick up the slack, but it can also be necessary to hire an outside editor.

Additionally, if your book arrives and the editor feels it still needs an enormous amount of work, they will advise you to hire an outside editor. They're actually doing you a favor if they suggest this, because the other alternative they legally have is just to cancel your book and demand that you repay your advance.

Also, your editor does not generally line-edit or proof read your book. Your editor does what is called a substantive edit. Then, once your book has been modified according to these notes, and officially accepted, it goes to a copyeditor and then a proofreader.

At each stage you will be given the opportunity to read the changes and make necessary corrections.

Q: How much marketing and publicity can I expect from my publisher? Can we put something in the contract about this? And what is my agent's role in publicizing my book?

A: I don't know any authors -- and this includes multi-published authors with million dollar deals -- that are happy with the amount of publicity and marketing they receive from their publisher.

Please be prepared to do as much as you possibly can in terms of your own publicity and marketing. Hiring your own publicist is always a good idea, and if handled correctly, will be welcomed by your publisher.

If you look at the “New York Times” bestseller list, at least half of the writers on it will have worked or are still working with independent publicists. The big names in particular always use an outside publicist in addition to the publicity their publisher provides.

Your agent should also be able to help you with ideas, but do keep in mind that your agent is not your publicist. Publicists are highly trained individuals with different skill sets and contacts than agents. Agents sell your book, negotiate your contract, and manage your career. They do not publicize your book.

The answer to the second question, about putting a publicity and promotion budget in your contract, depends on how much clout you have as an author. The more money the publisher is paying for your book, and the more copies they expect to sell, the easier it is to get them to commit to a certain ad/promo budget.

If this is your first book, and you are receiving a reasonable advance, it will generally be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get anything about this in the contract.

Keep in mind that even if you get the publisher to commit to spend a certain amount of money, they will always reserve the right to conduct publicity and marketing campaigns in the way they think best.

Bio: Jenny Bent has ten years of experience working in the publishing industry. She is currently a literary agent with the firm of Trident Media Group, LLC in New York City. Prior to becoming an agent, she worked at "Rolling Stone". She was also an editor at Cader Books, where she was responsible for books on pop culture.

NB: Lit agent Jenny Bent is providing this information as a courtesy to readers. She is not accepting new work. Unsolicited materials will not be read or returned.

About this series: The Agent is an ongoing series of columns or Q/A sessions with literary agents, providing practical advice for writers.

Find additional books/writers content in the DEC/JAN issue of "Arte Six."
Original post date: "Arte Six," OCT/NOV 2004