An Agent’s Thoughts on Self-Publishing

Ten or so years ago self-publishing meant something very different from what it means today. It meant paying big bucks to a vanity press for printed copies of your book (usually not very nicely printed) and selling the book out of the back of your car because few bookstores would take it.

These days self-publishing means an ebook, instant sales through places like Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Apple and quite possibly really good money. This new world gives writers a lot of options and, probably, more to obsess and stress over. Like, what do agents really think of an author who has previously self-published? If an agent is debating between two manuscripts of similar genres will she be likely to gravitate toward the author with a self-publishing background or the author with no publishing background?

Of course the answer is, it depends (whenever I type those two words I hear all my blog readers shouting them along with me). Every agent is going to think differently, but for me, and I believe for most of us at BookEnds, even a moderately successful self-publishing career can help you. Either way, it tends not to hurt you. Keep in mind, this is when you’re coming to us with a brand new project and not the one you’ve already self-published. Those are two different things.

In the past, self-publishing could potentially hurt you because it impacted the kinds of orders bookstores might take. Bookstores base orders on your previous sales. These days however, there doesn’t seem to be that kind of cause and effect with ebook self-publishing so, frankly, I don’t worry about it either way. All I worry about is the quality of the book in your pitch..

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7 comments

  1. “Keep in mind, this is when you’re coming to us with a brand new project and not the one you’ve already self-published. Those are two different things.”
    Interesting blog but this comment of yours is a problem for me. I have self-published ten books on Amazon but because of my poor marketing skills have only sold a few dozen downloads. Why couldn’t I then go to an agent with one or more of these books? None of them have been “shopped,” that is, attracted many readers (although the few who read my books generally gave me five-star reviews.) So they’re not old stuff to the reading public. I just haven’t spent the money or time to publicize them. I’d like to hear more about this. Thanks.

  2. Mary,

    Here’s a good article that may answer part of your question here:
    http://annerallen.com/2015/01/why-self-published-ebook-is-no-longer.html

    I don’t know all the ins and outs of traditional publishing, but it seems to me that it’s way too much hassle for a publisher to change ISBNs, printing presses, and all the other legal contractual issues that go from moving a book from self-published to traditionally published if a book wasn’t doing well to begin with. So, from the publishers’ prospective, unless an author has stellar sales, it’s just not worth it. Plus, keep in mind that even if you get traditionally published, you still will have to do almost all of the legwork and promotion yourself. Gone are the days of book signings unless you’re already on the NYT bestseller list.

    I could be wrong though. Jessica?

    1. It’s not actually a hassle at all. It’s something publishers have been doing forever. Back in the day one publisher used to license rights from another even. It’s not worth it because finding readers is hard enough without having already sold to what may be the bulk of your readers.

  3. I suppose ability to be innovative and one’s persistence plays a big role any success–combined with timing and a bit of luck I suppose. I’ve seen so many authors only go so far and heard so many of the stories of getting essentially nowhere with a writing career that it can be a bit discouraging. What you’ve said hear provides a ray of light coming through a crack in the door that is not completely shut. There is hope for those who keep at what they’re doing and who learn from their own mistakes as well as those of others.

    Arlee Bird
    Wrote By Rote

  4. It’s amazing to think back on how far self-publishing has come. Unfortunately, the term itself still has somewhat of a stigma, but it’s because of how you just explained the industry started. It’s no longer selling books out of the back of your car, but it can actually be a very lucrative business, as you said.

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