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

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: I went to my neighborhood bookstore today and they didn't have my book. Isn't that the publisher's fault?

A: Remember that the publisher ultimately has no control over who does or does not choose to stock your book.

Their sales rep has pitched your book, but if the store chooses not to order it, there isn't really anything they can do.

If you find a store that doesn't carry your book, don't call your editor. Instead, ask to meet the store's manager.

Tell him or her that you are a local author and show him a copy of your book or a flyer that you have made up with reviews, etc.

Ask him or her politely to consider carrying it. Then, if you want to be really cunning, have one or two of your friends go in the next day and ask for it. Chances are, they will reconsider their decision.

Also, keep in mind that the publisher doesn't control how many copies of your book a bookstore will order.

If you see only one or two of your books on the shelf, keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's far better to have the bookstore sell out and re-order more books, than to have too many and have to send them back.

No matter how many books the store is carrying, remember to offer to sign stock. Hopefully, this will get you more prominent placement in the store, if you don't have it already.

Q: Why hasn't the publisher released a paperback edition of my book?

A: It means that either they tried to sell paperback rights to another house and no one wanted to buy them, or that hardcover sales have been too low to justify the publisher printing their own paperback edition.

Another possible reason is that sometimes if a hardcover book is selling phenomenally well, the publisher waits longer than is traditional (usually about a year) to release the paperback.

The idea is if readers are still willing to pay $23.95 for your book, why give them the opportunity to get it at a much lower price?

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 FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."