Will Self-Pubbing Hurt My Chances?

Lock and ChainThis has to be the most common question I get these days, from all kinds of writers including my clients. To use the words of one of my authors:

Am I hurting my traditional career by self-pubbing? My pressing goal is to become a best-selling, traditionally published author.

First of all, if you’re agented, the right thing to do is discuss it with your agent, because that’s who knows you and what kind of books you write. The answers I give here are generalizations and each situation (as always) is unique.

But the answer is . . . NO.

Self-publishing probably will not hurt your chances of traditional publishing.

This is a 180 degree switch from just a few years ago! There was a stigma, as you know, attached to self publishing, and authors who went that route risked alienating those in traditional publishing. There were reasons for this; the self-pub author was perceived as someone who was impatient and didn’t want to wait for the process to take its course; they were someone who was unable to pass muster with agents and editors and were forced to go on their own; they didn’t care about excellence in editorial and design, and put out cheap-looking books that were poorly written and badly edited. That was the perception, although of course, it wasn’t always true.

But today it’s different. As you know, the choice to self-pub is now looked at as one of many legitimate options for getting your book out there. With the dearth of slots available for traditionally published books compared to the number of people writing them, many writers are choosing to go it alone.

Some books lend themselves extremely well to a self-publishing model, particularly those that are suited for a specific, niche audience that is easy to find online. If you’re a debut author and are having trouble getting a book deal, and your book is a popular genre of fiction or a very specific genre of non-fiction whose audience you know how to reach, then starting by self-pubbing can be a way for you to begin building a readership and a platform.

I caution you, however, to pay the utmost attention to putting out a quality product. Be ready to pay for help in editing, design, and e-book coding if you need to.

As an agent, I’ve been having this conversation with several of my clients, and I’m sure there will be more in the future. (Our agency is in the beginnings of setting up a model for helping our clients down this road, but we’re not quite ready to talk about it publically yet.)

In any case, the lightning-fast turnaround of the the “perception” of self-publishing is nothing short of astonishing. Most of us in “traditonal” publishing no longer think of it as a negative thing, and in fact, are doing our best to steer each writer to the path that will serve them best.

Will the changed perception of self-publishing change your attitude toward it?

 

  1. Jeff says:

    So a question, then. I queried several agents some time ago. After over 100 queries I received one request for more info, but it didn’t work out. After some time I self-published on amazon. I have considered pulling the book off Amazon and giving it another shot. Worth it? Or should I just move on?

  2. Alana Terry says:

    Hi Rachelle, I asked google this exact question and was pleased to find the answer from a blog I already follow! Thank you so much. It’s encouraging to ge an inside report from someone already so well established in the industry.

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  19. I’m’ curious whether, even back when there still was a stigma, it really mattered that much. I mean if an author self-pubbed erotica under a pseudonym, and then sought traditional publishing for an entirely different kind of book … as long as it was good …

    I mean obviously if you really want to find out who actually wrote a book, I’m sure there are ways to find out who owns the copyright, but would it really matter?

  20. Thanks, Rachelle. I’ve been sorting my way through the whole indie vs. legacy publishing debate the past few weeks, and I’m seeing differences in the attitude toward indie publishing even since I went to an agents panel at the state book festival in March. It’s helpful to get your take on this, as a professional in the field.

  21. In 2001, I won the RWA Golden Heart award. I had two agents try to sell the sweet historical western. It wouldn’t sell because it wasn’t sexy nor inspirational. 9 weeks ago, I self-published it and the next in the series. In that time I’ve sold 4200 books, without doing much marketing, and made several Amazon top 100 lists. It’s been a fun ride, and my current agent (not one of the ones who tried to sell it) is thrilled about my results. Last week, we discussed the plot I have for a contemporary historical western that she intends to market to NY.

    Last week, I talked to several editors at a writers conference. They all thought they’d love to see a proposal by an author with good self-published numbers–provided they acquire that kind of book.

    It’s important to have a well written and edited book and a good cover, though. It’s a wonderful new world in publishing and authors have choices that they didn’t before!

  22. Imbra says:

    I can accept that self-publishing is a good choice for many people and I can appreciate that the stigma has mostly vanished among publishing professionals. But when I pick up a self-published book, it is still ten times more likely than a traditionally published book to blow chunks.

  23. The main objection I’m seeing to self-publishing is the quality and people keep saying you need to hire an editor. The problem I have with that is that there is a MAJOR difference between hiring an editor independently and having one via your publishing house.

    The way I see it, an independent editor will NEVER be as rigorous on your book as an internal editor because, let’s face it, if you’re paying the bills, they’re not going to risk upsetting you by shredding your book. An internal editor doesn’t have to worry about whether or not they’re getting paid if you don’t like their recommendations – they’re employed by the publisher, not you.

    A lot of people can’t self-edit – those are the people who put out lower quality work because they think it’s absolutely fine. They are the ones who would probably benefit from a publishing house’s internal editor. However, they are also the ones who won’t get past the front door because the work isn’t good enough to start with. Catch-22, anyone?

    I’ve read many self-published books that were the equal to anything I have bought in a shop which was put out by a Big Six publisher. The quality does NOT depend absolutely on whether or not a traditional publisher is involved. In the end it depends on the writer and how honest they are with themselves.

    I’m going to self-publish, or rather, I suppose technically it’s vanity publishing, except that it’s free. It’s free to publish an e-book via Smashwords, and it’s free to publish a print book via Createspace. They make their money in a percentage of the profit from your books. No win, no fee.

    The only cost is professional covers, which I’ve had done and which also doesn’t have to be horribly expensive. To date I have three covers for a grand total of $340. (If you’re curious about the quality, they’re on my website.)

    Self-publishing does not have to be a back-up plan and it does not have to be expensive. You just need to do your research and ALWAYS be honest with yourself. Can it be better? When the answer is ‘No’, you’re ready.

    Admittedly, that goes for traditional publishing too – either way, your work needs to be as good as it can possibly be before it wings its way into the ether.

  24. Alison Pensy says:

    Hi, Rachelle

    I just clicked through to your blog from Nathan Bransford’s. This is a very interesting topic and the comments have been very thoughtful. I am responding to the comment made by Lindsay Buroker.

    “I’ve seen authors who are doing *everything* right but who have dismal sales. Some of today’s big success stories owe much of that success to the fact that they got in early when there wasn’t much low-priced competition in the Kindle Store.”

    I decided to self-pub my YA urban fantasy in Sept 2009, after having racked up 50 rejections. I tried all the marketing strategies I read about, but nothing happened. For over a year I only sold a handful of e-books at 99c! I just couldn’t seem to get “out there”. All that changed when I released the 2nd book and decided to put the 1st one for free on Amazon. That was in May. In those 2 months the 1st book has been downloaded over 33,000 times and I’ve now sold over 1700 copies of the 2nd. The 1st went from #80,000 on the rankings to #22 (on the free bestseller list) literally overnight. Both books made it into the Children’s bestseller lists for free and paid books, here and in the UK, and the free one was #1 for 3 days. I could never possibly have afforded that kind of publicity.

    As more and more books become available authors may have to “give up” their 1st book (if it’s a series) for free. It seems like it’s going to become the only way readers will take a chance on reading a unknown author.

    Since I did this, hits on my facebook page, twitter followers, and hits on my website have increased significantly.

    It may seem like a lot to giveaway but in my case I’m so glad I did.

  25. This is because most don’t submit work that is commercially publishable. Which is an entirely separate subject from self-publishing, and doesn’t take away from that guy’s quote you posted here.

  26. Marni Derr says:

    Personally I am gratified that more ‘professionally’ well written and edited self-pubbed books are starting to get out there. As you say, spend the money on eBook covers and never skimp on editing, never.

    I have gone the opposite route. I have two traditionally published books, but my agent and the publishers know that I cater to a small niche. Thus, a few of the other books I want to do are too high-risk for them to see a true offset in cost vs. profit. So I am going to self-publish them.

    Along with the niche-numbers question, is the ability to update the books quicker than the publisher is able. This is a software market, and new versions and features are released every 6 months. This would be very hard on the publishers to keep up with. As an e-book, this isn’t as difficult.

    I’m glad self-publishing is no longer the black eye it once was. And if you do sell well, you can still sell it to a traditional publisher. This has become a win-win situation nowadays for author and publisher alike.

  27. LLKing says:

    It certainly did for me. My preference is still to go the traditional route, but I am also very open to self-publishing and am learning everything I can about it. It is good to know that agencies like yours are changing their perspective on self-publishing and even steering writers down that road.

  28. Yes, knowing the professionals have a higher perception of self-publication than they had in the past does open my mind to considering it as a viable option.

  29. Joe says:

    Thank you for this post, Rachelle!

    It confirms the conclusions I had drawn from other sources.

    I am working toward publishing my first book. It is a non-fiction book, which I believe has a potential market.

    However, since I lack both official credentials and platform, I really would not expect to be taken very seriously by a mainstream traditional publisher, at this point.

    In some ways, I don’t even take myself very seriously, as a writer. Though I do have a passion for the subject material, writing is not my profession.

    I realize that marketing will be slow going, with the independent publishing route, and I’m okay with that.

    However, it is nice to have confirmation that I’m not potentially ruining other future opportunities by choosing this route.

    Thanks!

  30. Peter DeHaan says:

    This topic at a writer’s conference I just attended. The speaker pointed out that since we would be doing our marketing regardless, why earn 90 cents per book from a traditional publisher when you can earn $9.00 a book if you self-publish.

    That put it into perspective for me.

    • Rachelle says:

      Peter, just fyi, hardly anyone’s making $9 a book anymore so whoever said that was misleading.

      The price of self-pubbed books has been going down because of the e-book revolution, so readers are not very willing to pay the high cover price that would allow you to make $9 a book. You must price the self-pub book lower to sell more copies.

      If you priced your book at, say, $5.99, then you’d sell a lot more than you would at 12.99, and your 70% royalty from Amazon would equal $4.20 a book. Certainly better than a buck a book.

      BUT, could a regular publisher sell four times as many copies as you could by self-pubbing? It’s likely, in which case you’d be better off going that route.

      Just food for thought.

  31. I have been traditionally published with big-name houses (4 media tie-in novels), small press (short story collection), and have now opted to self-publish my fantasy novel “Weathercock.” I tried for a long time to sell it via the usual channels. When that didn’t happen, I chose to self-publish because I believed in the novel. As in any endeavor worth doing, it’s hard work to put out a quality product. (Never think you’ve got it nailed in the first draft, or even the second. I did five before I was through.) I was fortunate to have a great copyeditor/reader, and a layout/cover designer who believed in me — sometimes more than I believed in myself — and sweated bullets over the final product. Hardest of all is shouldering the marketing aspect of self-publishing. It’s do-able, but it’s never-ending. I’m building my readership and am happy with the results so far (good reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads from a diverse population). Will I try traditional publishing again? Absolutely, but if that doesn’t work out, I will certainly consider self-publishing a second time. The watch-word is quality. Don’t rush the process.

  32. In 2005 I self-published a book of humorous essays that look at life through menopausal eyes. I am a speaker who wanted a book as product and it has certainly enhanced that side of my business.
    I mentioned it at a writer’s conference two years ago and an agent told me I was very brave to admit I had self-pubbed. This year, at a conference, I experienced very different attitudes. I’ve sold 5000 copies and there is some real funny stuff in it. A production company from London even re-enacted 2 of my essays for a pilot called Ultimate Blunders. The pilot was never picked up, but that was fun.
    Here are 3 thing I learned:
    * Be willing to edit until (and make sure you have a competent editor). I suspected my first editor was doing a superficial job so I had to have her work redone and mistakes were found. My current editor is a copy editor. We both read and re-read until we could not find one thing that needed tweaking. The thing my editor did not do was encourage me to go deeper. I continue to use my copy editor for grammar and sentence structure, but I will be hiring an additional editor when my current manuscript is done.
    * I hired a graphic designer for the cover who refused to read the book. Should have fired her on day one. ‘Nuff said.
    * I should have gotten more feedback on my title choice.
    Attitudes and opportunities have changed and they will continue to change. That’s a good thing. I am not sure how my current manuscript will be published. My sole focus now is not putting words on paper, rather I am focusing on creating art. The rest will come.

  33. Melissia Griffith says:

    I love these informative blogs. Thank you so much!

    Melissia

  34. Jenny says:

    I can’t say this revelation (and revelation it was) changes my person opinion, but it does make me feel better about how it will be perceived and makes me less hesitant about any self-publishing project I might start in the future.

  35. God’s timing. PAWmazing.

    2 pallets of books arrived today. It’s a middle grade adventure in hardcover, with printed endleafs, and beautifully illustrated… Orders are coming in online.

    Time will tell whether this was a good route for us to take – or not. It WAS 28 dog years! ;D

    Thanks for the interesting post, as usual. I lurk a lot but today seemed like an auspicious one to stop being incognito.

  36. Terri C says:

    Last year I self-pubbed a small book for a very specific niche. If it sells 500 copies between release and forever, I will be thrilled. It was as much advertising for my company as anything else. I used Createspace and would go back there in a heartbeat. Avoid all the upsell attempts and just say, “make me a book please.” Cost is $39 and I buy my book for $2.15 a copy for resale.

    Mine is a special case. I have a built-in audience. I believe that in fiction, you live and die by pricepoint if you are an unknown. Me and my Kindle prowl the .99 cent aisle on Amazon looking for fun stuff that may surprise and amaze me. I often find it and go back for more.

    However, I don’t care how good your book is. If you are not a marquee author, I will not pay more than $4.99 for your book (and will balk at anything over $2.99) unless we are really and truly good friends and I believe in you and want to support you no matter what. Those instances are rare. Sorry, that is the way of things. When I download your book, I am taking a chance on a true unknown.

    “Yeah, but, you meanie, I put my heart and soul into that book. Why should I let you have it for 99 cents?”

    Would you rather I not read it at all? I have a thousand other books (all written with heart and soul) clamoring for my attention. If you hit one out of the park, you are going to get me blogging and tweeting and telling folks how I found a diamond in a field of rocks as well as me pre-ordering your next book. You will get the kind of publicity you can’t buy.

    With what the traditional house author’s take is in royalties (about $1 – $3 per copy if I remember Nathan Bransford’s calcs), then the 70 cents you’ll get on Amazon from a 99 cent sale isn’t that far out of the ballpark.

    I am talking about true self-pubbing here through Kindle. Vanity press books and (gak) Publish America books will likely fail in this new world order because of pricepoint. I will not, under any circumstances, pay full retail (or retail plus) for a book from PA, AuthorHouse, or any of the other vanity presses. They are too expensive. Again, why pay $15 – $25 for a trade paperback when I could get 15 – 25 books off of Kindle? Is not gonna happen.

    I plan on Kindle-izing an anthology of my short stories. All have been previously pubbed and all rights have reverted. They are mine and not doing a bit of good on my hard drive. Why not put them out there for 99 cents a copy and see what happens. All have been vetted one way or the other and most have been edited by the publication. Lightning could strike and one way or the other, I’ll have a blast of a good time.

    So, I’ll end this magnum opus with a question to Ms. Gardner:

    How would you like to see true self-pubbed (none vanity press) books handled in a query?

    Should I mention it with sales numbers, give you a link, or just assume you will Google me if my query strikes a chord with you?

    Thanks for the great blog and I love the new look.

    • Terri C says:

      Got a correct from a friend (thanks Aaron!). For prices under $2.99, the royalty is 35%, not 70%. Still worth it in my opinion to get your book into more hands.

    • Rachelle says:

      Whether you’re trying to get that self-pubbed book published, or a different book, go ahead and mention it with sales numbers and a link.

  37. Lisa Marie says:

    Can I have something in between the traditional model and self-pub?

    As a GINK, I favor the idea of working with an e-publisher who provides editors, cover design, coding, distribution, etc. with an option for the consumer to purchase hard copy, if he or she wants (because not everyone has an e-reader). I prefer to save trees, but I don’t want to cut anyone out, either. And yes, I want the name of a publishing house on my work. It doesn’t have to be one of the “Big Six.” I also prefer to not work through an intermediary; I never have in the (almost) twenty years I’ve been freelancing, and (no offense to Rachelle, who’s a great agent) I really don’t want an agent.

    I’m working with a professional editor who edits books in my genre by similar authors with an eye to entering my manuscript in a load of contests – and possibly winning or placing in even more. She’s my dream editor! (← Oh no! An “E”-mark! <– And more!) So this has been worth it for the learning experience alone; I took a look at my first two chapters last night after I made revisions. They were so … clean.

    But as for self-pubbing, I don’t know. I’ve no doubt that I have the talent and savvy. A part of me wants to take one of my older novels and toss it up on Amazon just to see what happens out of sheer curiosity. But I don’t feel this route is quite right for me at this particular juncture.

    • Carla Krae says:

      Lisa, there are a few places already set up as that mid-ground, the higher royalty but not going it alone. Summerhouse Publishing is one, and Entangled Publishing is a neat house with great covers. There are varying degrees of service depending on publisher, but they can be found.

  38. Layla Fiske says:

    Rachelle,
    Thanks so much for this post. Obviously self-pubbing/e-pubbing is a very timely topic and will continue to be in the future as the e-book industry evolves. I always appreciate hearing your opinion and those of your readers.
    Thanks to all.
    L

  39. Tammy Kirkland says:

    Rachelle,

    I love this blog!! I’ve been considering self-publishing myself, but I do have a question. Sorry, if this is a bad question, but you’re the only person I know that could possibly answer it.

    If you self-publish (by this I am specifically referring
    to electonic format only) a book, is it acceptable to still
    query that book to agents in the hope for or pursuit
    of traditonal publishing?

    Thanks, Tammy

  40. I decided to publish the first novel that I wrote because I didn’t believe it would be a good seller with an agent because it was a little controversial for a Christian book since the main character commits suicide. Within five months, I had sold over 700 copies. Wow. When contacting agents, I actually wrote a book proposal and included that information. My agent was actually pleased that I had included that.

    I don’t think that self-publishing will have so much of a negative stigma if we find those good published books! 🙂

    Great blog post! Thanks!!

  41. Larry Carney says:

    Who do you want to reach?

    That is a question which I can see as determining the self-pub versus traditional route debate for authors in the coming years.

    For writers who aim to reach the Y.A. and twentysomething demographics, self-pub might be more attractive: you can reach your audience directly, as they have already adopted (and in coming years, even more intensely) the technology which serves as the portal to your writing. The only downside is the current lack of the solid infrastructure needed for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff regarding the glut of books on the e-book market. This is where it is up to us writers as a community to develop aggregate sites which offer crucial reviews and info on the other bright lights and new voices in our respective genres (think of the linked blogosphere as the first manifestation of this).

    Furthermore, while the infrastructure in place may be a loose “cloud” of different blogs and social media sites, but how is that any different from the traditional method of trying to get a review at separate, independent newspapers? Both routes require legwork, tenacity, and a belief in yourself and what you have to offer the public.

    Of course, maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned and just like the feel of a book in my hands. 🙂

  42. Cyndi Tefft says:

    Rachelle- The changing perception is great news for writers! After going the self-publish route, I completely agree with Lindsay above. It is definitely not easy! Still, it is sometimes the right avenue for a writer and shouldn’t reflect negatively on that person’s future potential.

    Thinking ahead, I wonder if agents won’t be seeking out self-pub authors who are making it onto bestsellers lists and approaching them to offer representation. Certainly agents have value to add even after the book has been self-published (especially on foreign sales and movie rights).

    The model could flip on its head in the years to come!

    P.S. Nice job on the blog remodel!

  43. proofreaders_without_borders says:

    Last paragraph, second line, ”Most of us in “traditonal” publishing…” Traditional has an i between the t and o.
    🙂

  44. Short answer: Yes, absolutely it has changed my opinion. My nonfiction is very much keyed to a niche market, and I know exactly how to reach it. I also know editors, illustrators/ graphic artists, and even book designers. I even know geeks who can ninja all sorts of uploads and file conversions.

    But do I want to herd these cats? Oh man. Even though I love cats… No.

    Was excited for the D&G announcement yesterday. Excited to see what you all will come up with. Glad you are moving that direction.

  45. Jan Cline says:

    Yes, it has changed my mind about it and I would consider it for my non-fiction works in progress. Im so glad that the tide is turning for many authors who need to have their books available. Even though there might be more poorly written books out there now, it’s still a good change.
    jancline.net

  46. Mike says:

    Thanks for writing this. I was wondering about the self-pub route myself and don’t want people to look down on me if I went that route. I get enough people that do that in my everyday life. I’m so happy I found your website Rachelle oh and I love the new look btw. It’s very stylish.

  47. Hello,

    Surfed in via Twitter. 😉

    I chose to self-publish without ever going through the querying/submissions process, and I know there are a lot of folks taking this route today. The traditional model isn’t exactly a speedy process. 😉 Later, as I started selling books, I realized the money was also a lot better (for e-publishing) since there aren’t any middlemen and royalties are high (70% at Amazon).

    That said, what many folks choosing this path don’t realize (until they get a reality check down the road), is that it’s a *lot* of work to promote your work and develop a fan base. I’m sure that’s true for traditionally published authors, too, but if you go it on your own you don’t have anyone to help and nobody’s going to stumble over your books at the local Barnes & Noble.

    I’ve seen authors who are doing *everything* right but who have dismal sales. Some of today’s big success stories owe much of that success to the fact that they got in early when there wasn’t much low-priced competition in the Kindle Store.

    I’m not saying authors can’t do well today (I started in December and I’m making a decent part-time income that I could see growing into a full-time income in a couple of years), but it’s certainly not a short cut.

    ~Lindsay

    • Rachelle says:

      Great to get your perspective, Lindsay, thanks!

    • Lisa Marie says:

      Lindsay,

      I’m a freelance writer — there’s a “super-secret” forum where we discuss things other than our current work, to include website building (monetization), writing fiction, etc. Some people who focus on building websites put a bunch of these up — 10 to 15 — and they notice that some sites do very well while others languish. Just for grins, one gal built a website about how to make frozen casseroles that can be cooked later, monetized it with cookbooks and cookware, and the site took off. She can’t explain it. No one can. Obviously, there was a niche market for websites addressing pre-made casseroles. Who knew –?

      I think the same applies to ebooks. Some writers may have metatagged their personal websites with just the right keyword or phrase, e.g., “books like twilight,” and captured a good segment of readers that way. Unfortunately, there are also a slew of nefarious black hat techniques that some “writers” use that I won’t even go into. I’m almost sure those have been employed as well, given what I’ve read in underground forums.

      One thing I repeatedly hear over and over is that to successfully sell a product — any product — on the Internet, you have to be brilliant in marketing, and this includes understanding niche demographics. If you know who’s spending the money, you know what types of books to write and what subject matter appeals. 🙂

    • Paul says:

      Yes, I’m seeing something of a change in the self-publish scene. Competition is increasing and it is getting harder to compete without a hugh workload in marketing and branding your work.

  48. Kaitlyne says:

    Rachelle, I just wanted to ask for clarification on something. I see this question pop up a lot, so I’d love to refer back to this post when it comes up.

    Are you referring to a person who has previously self-published and has now written a new book, or are you referring inclusively to any self-published book? In other words, if a particular book had been previously self-published, are the odds for that one just as good as one that has never been published? Or is this just saying that an author who has self-published in the past will not have the stigma from that?

    • Rachelle says:

      Kaitlyne, I can’t speak to whether a specific self-published book would go on to get a traditional book deal. That’s less likely (but it does happen). Mainly I’m saying that if you’ve self-published one or more books, it’s no longer going to stigmatize you and keep you from getting a publishing contract on a future book.

  49. Tom Honea says:

    rachael … thanks for this discussion. that is an ongoing issue for many of us.
    also … thanks to all the people who wrote comments.
    .
    TEH … asheville, nc

  50. Lynn Rush says:

    Great article. It has been interesting to see how the view on Self Publishing has changed. I think it’s a great option for some authors. And if done right (editing, cover art) I’m sure it can be a great experience. 🙂

  51. Jen says:

    This is good to know. I wrote a short novel, “No Accounting for Reality,” about Norse gods and stranger things in downtown Dallas. I self-pubbed through Lulu to raise money for Children’s Hospital along with a bigger fundraiser my swim team did last summer. I still have the ad up on my blog, and I’ve wondered ever since if the literary agents to whom I’m writing about my “real” book see that sucker and scurry away as fast as they can. Well, I hope not. Norse gods need readers, too.

  52. I have a rather different situation, when I finish a book and send it out there to agents and publishers the small, commercial publishing houses fight over it – I actually had 3 houses that wanted the last book – but I can’t get the time of day from an agent. Is this because my genre is Absurdist Fiction/Dark Humor and not Romance or a diet book?

    • Rachelle says:

      It’s because everyone knows their own market and what they can be successful selling. Sounds like the indie pubs who are competing for your books have experience selling that kind of book and already know how to reach that audience. It may be to small of an audience for one of the majors to take a risk on.

      Everyone should keep in mind that an indie publisher may need to sell far fewer copies of a book (say 3,000 to 5,000) in order to consider it a success. But an agent who is selling to the major publishers needs to see potential for much higher sales in order to make a sound business decision by taking it on.

      It’s easy to simply chalk it up to agents/publishers being narrow-minded or something, like when you suggest it’s because your book isn’t romance or a diet book. But that ignores the fact that we’re all trying to run businesses and make a living here, and we need to sell what people will buy. If what you’re selling has a smaller potential audience, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell it, it just means you have to figure out how. It sounds like you’ve done that by working with the indie publishers. Don’t waste energy on negativity towards the major publishers and/or agents just because they’re not fallling over themselves to get your book; go make a success of yourself in any way you can!

      • Rachelle, it’s so nice to see an agent come out and say clearly there IS an alternative.

        Hopefully a time will come soon where forward thinking agencies offer direct e-publishing services to all, not just their backlisters as currently seems the trend.

        With 70% royalties available on Amazon I could see self-published authors happily paying an agent more than the old 15% to acquire an agent’s services, and still make a better return than with a Big Six publisher.

        Once the bookstores vanish and the Big Six lose their leverage with print, distribution and retail it seems to be forward thinking agents will be in an even stronger position to serve their writers’ interests than they are now.

  53. Joanne Huspek says:

    Love your posts, but I really love the new look! 🙂

  54. April says:

    It does make me consider self-pubbing…but where my reservations lie is the dedication and time to marketing your own, self-published book. I don’t have it. I barely have it to finish my WIPs and try to query. I don’t know. I’d like to do it, but I’d need to know I could dedicate the time…and, well, dedication…to do it right.

  55. Rowenna says:

    This was a great post! I have to say, my trepidation of self-pub more hits in the sales issue–could I sell a respectable number of books, say, self-pubbing an ebook to not hold me back from finding an agent or traditional publisher. Which is completley a personal fear, not one that should be applied to everyone! Still–I see a lot of people jumping on the self-pub e-book bandwagon who haven’t considered that they are making a career move–one that they can’t erase if it doesn’t go well. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this, Rachelle–how an agent or publisher assesses if a previously published writer was successful enough to invest in–and whether this is changing with the changing face of self-pubbing and e-book pubbing.

  56. Pam Butler says:

    Rachelle,

    Thank you for publishing this article. I found it to be informative and encouraging. I am certain you have relieved many writers today.

    Sincerely,
    Pam

  57. Abel Keogh says:

    After having two books published the traditional route I turned down a publishing contract for my third book and opted to self publish it. As was pointed out in the article, it was directed at a niche audience that I already reach online so I opted to go the self publishing route. It’s been a lot of work but the final product that comes out in August is going to be great.

  58. Kat Gilraine says:

    This is definite food for thought. I went the self-publishing route after getting frustrated by the usual, “I’m intrigued by the story, however…” – you get the gist. I write urban fantasy, and it’s difficult enough to find an agent who is willing to dip into that genre. Self-publishing, after about a year of querying, became the best option, and to this day, I’m glad I’ve chosen it.

    Since then, however, I’ve encountered many people who are steadfastly under the impression that I forever ruined my chances on traditional publishing because I have, so far, released the entire first arc of my series on my own. I always thought it was a very, very viable option, and if anything, a very hands-on learning process about the book publishing world. That has not changed, and your post certainly alleviated any lingering concerns I may have had about future endeavors.

  59. Neil Ansell says:

    Personally I would never have contemplated self-publishing. It is only because publishers were willing to pay a large wedge of dosh upfront (sorry, I’m english)that I believed I had written something that people would like to read. I would never have had the self-belief and self-confidence to pay for publication out of my own pocket in the hope of recouping that investment later. Doubting your own ability is surely what makes you strive to keep going and get better and better.

  60. Karen Walker says:

    I am so relieved to hear you say this, Rachelle. I spent a great deal of money to make my book professional – editor, designer, etc. I only chose to self-publish my memoir because I was unable to get an agent to even read my manuscript. Perhaps my query letter wasn’t effective – I don’t know.I tried for almost two years. It’s nice to know I can still try for traditionally publishing when I finish the novel I am writing. Thank you.
    Karen

  61. With the success of debut authors in the self-publish ebook market now getting book contracts, I’m worried that publishers will start to expect an author coming to them to already have readership and sales numbers in hand. Do you foresee a “prove yourself” before we’ll look at you for our publishing house attitude happening in the traditional book publisher market?

  62. David Todd says:

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle.

    “Will the changed perception of self-publishing change your attitude toward it?”

    That changing attitude was one of the reasons I chose to self-publish electronically. The ease of creating the e-book, the lack of up front costs (it helped to have an accomplished son who did my covers for no charge to offset money he owes me), and the satisfaction of having a book-length something out there for people to purchase all make me feel good about my decision. Sales are slow, but I haven’t begun any marketing yet; maybe in a week or two.

    Of course, I haven’t given up the dream of placing something with a traditional publisher. I’ll make post-conference submittals over the next month. But at least I approach those submittals with less stress. If the agents and editors say no, I’ll just eSP.

  63. I cut my teeth with a small press and I’ve since grown into enough confidence to wing it with some self-pubbed projects. Then again, I’m also employed in the media industry as both newspaper sub-editor and edit fiction in my spare time. I’m pretty sure I can deliver a high-quality product that’s had some vetting from my peers.

    My feeling is that self-pubbing should be seen as supplementary to small press and traditional publishing methods.

    All models have their strengths and weaknesses.

  64. Kristy Bryan says:

    Coming from a journalism profession, I’m not keen on the idea of self-publishing in general. Copy changes drastically during the editing process, and the end product is infinitely better when a rigorous set of edits occur by skilled, experienced editors. In our business, the mantra is an article that looks like it has been well written has been well edited. However, I liked your point about the platform being beneficial to those with a niche audience that can be reached online. In addition, I could see a writer whose story line is untraditional and untested in a genre using this platform to “test” the idea. If successful in self-publishing, then traditional publishing houses would take notice. Thank you for the thought provoking, discussion generating post.

    • As a fellow newspaper professional, I have to disagree a bit. Yes, rigorous editing definitely makes copy better. But to assume that self-published means that rigorous editing hasn’t taken place might be one step too far. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of e-pubbed books out there that haven’t gone through that process. But some authors will. The ones who take it seriously, either as their method of publication or as a step toward convincing a legacy publisher to buy their books, will go through that process because they want the quality.

      I’ve been posting rough stories on my site for the Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge that started last month. But the ones I think have actual publication potential? Those versions are getting four, five, six rounds of editing, both by myself and by my usual fiction editor. You’re right – the quality of those is miles better than the stuff that’s written to meet the weekly SCC deadline. The writers will to put in that revision time will – hopefully – be the ones who rise to the top in the indie publishing world.

  65. This is such an interesting twist going on in the publishing industry. I like it. I like the flexitbility and business choices it lends authors and their agents.

    As I was reading, I kept wondering what this would mean for the author-agent relationship. How can the author involve her agent in the process, or will she?(other than a short discussion) So, I’m super curious about the “model” your agency is working on.

    Very interesting post, Rachelle. Definitely a trend all authors/writers should at least be aware of.

  66. Wendy says:

    I’m excited to discuss my options with my agent someday. I’m open-minded so I haven’t entirely shut down all thoughts of self-publishing, but I still gravitate toward wanting to go traditional even with the changing opinions.
    It’s fascinating your agency is brainstorming models to help clients in this.
    I’m encouraged by that kind of innovation.
    Once again, for me it all comes down to establishing that trust relationship with my agent, knowing they have a keen vision for my future as an author.
    ~ Wendy

  67. GREAT little article! This was the question I was asking myself this morning as I stumbled about making coffee and looked for my Bible to spend a little time with God. Apparently, God knows my questions and Twitter knows my answers because here I am!

  68. I am paranoid about having a poorly edited book published.

  69. otin says:

    I have three partials out on my book. If no one picks it up I will eventually self publish. I feel like I need to get it out there.

    I saw where you slipped that ! in. hehe

  70. For now, self-publishing is still down the list on my options. I know that I can’t do it alone right now. I’m just not in a position where I’d be able to do self-publishing justice, to do it the right way so that I’m giving readers a quality and polished product. Maybe someday. I’ve seen what a help it’s been in friends’ careers so I’m definitely not opposed to it. Just, right now, it’s third on my list of options for getting read.

    First is the traditional model. Second is an indie press.

    Very thought-provoking post. Thanks, Rachelle!

  71. Tana Adams says:

    I have my thoughts and opinions here. 😉 But really I don’t see why a writer can’t do both, especially if different genres are involved. And who knows, maybe they can work backwards and get a traditional deal from their self published books.

  72. Well, frankly, I’m still getting over whiplash at the turnaround on people’s outlook on the subject. I personally have a hard time picking up certain books that are self-pubd. When I pick up a book with such-n-such publishing company behind it, I know that a lot of people have worked hard to make it what it is. That’s not to say that every traditionally published book is a masterpiece. Far from it. But the quality is definitely lower when you have a self published book in hand. Unless the author has gone traditional already, jumped through the hoops, had the experience of a terrifying editing experience, I’m not sure they understand what level their book needs to be in before they let it loose on the world. And if they ARE willing to pay for an editor (which IS needed), why not go the traditional route and have an editor take a percentage anyway?

    Now, having said that, I have been talked into (by a colleague of mine) to self pub a children’s PB. She figured we would be split up if we went traditionally and she also did some research that showed that PBs do better than YA or Adult novels when self-pubd. What do you think about that? Is there a difference? I’m going along with her on this little adventure just for experience and because I have nothing to lose in this particular case, but I’m wondering, now that I read a previous comment on this post, how hard this will really be.

    • Rachelle says:

      Kathryn, I have zero experience in what you’re talking about and I’m not an expert in children’s publishing, so I can’t answer, sorry.

  73. I think that as long as the book is good, especially if it’s the type of book I can enjoy even after I’ve reread it a bunch of times, it doesn’t matter to me if it was self-published or traditionally published. I’m not sure yet if I’ll pursue self-publishing, because I don’t really have the money to do that at this point.

  74. Sherri says:

    I submitted a book proposal to the Writer’s Edge last September and immediately started hearing from self-publishing companies. It was very exciting at first, but then I realized that interest from a self-publishing company is not the same as interest from a traditional publishing house. That has been more than a little discouraging. I am not opposed to self-publishing but it’s not something we’re able to do right now. Can you elaborate on the difference in perspectives between traditional and self-publishing businesses? Should we approach them differently? Sorry of this is a dumb question. I’m still new here. Thanks.

    • Rachelle says:

      Sherri, you’re right, there’s a huge difference. “Regular” publishers only publish a limited number of books a year, and they are pitched many times that number, so their business model involves choosing the best ones from a large pool (however they define “best”). Books come to them, they don’t have to “go after” books. Since there is status and prestige involved in publishing traditionally, there is competition to get those slots. There are many advantages, including placement in bookstores and the ability to become a bestseller, so these publishers have a lot to offer writers.

      Self pub companies operate on a completely different model. Their goal is to publish as many books as year as possible, and since they lack most of the advantages of traditional pubs, they have to compete with each other to get your business. This is why they advertise to writers through exactly the means you mentioned. There’s a world of difference.

      I noticed you said “I am not opposed to self-publishing but it’s not something we’re able to do right now.” But if you choose to start with e-book only, it requires an investment of time, but a relatively small investment of money (such as the cost of an editor).

  75. Marji Laine says:

    Have you been reading my mind? This issue has been plaguing me for some time. I actually love the idea of e-books, and it seems like the industry is racing toward them. I’ve been torn, though, by the very question you posed. Thanks so much for your insight.

  76. Katie says:

    I’m very pleased at the change in attitude I’m seeing in the industry. A year ago, I would have been totally against self-publishing. But now I’ve got one book out and another one on the way. My goal is still to be a traditionally published author, but I am enjoying this addition to my journey as a writer. Indie authorship has been a total blast so far, and a tremendous learning experience.

  77. I am a self-published children’s picture book author who is struggling with this same exact thing. I’ve spent months marketing and marketing but because I am self-published (well, I used a vanity publisher), door after door has been closed. Sure, I’m on Amazon and the barnes and Noble website but can I get in stores? No! It is without a doubt the most frustrating thing.

    So now, my question is what to do? PR reps are VERY expensive and the best advice I received was to shelf my book until I find an agent who will know what to do with it and attempt to re-sell it to a traditional pub house. Oy!

    I am so glad you addressed this on your blog. I love the way that my book turned out, love it’s message and had full control over every detail, but the marketing of it has been beyond difficult and extremely disheartening.

    Jenny Lee Sulpizio
    Author of “Mommy Whispers”

    • Rachelle says:

      Jenny, you’re talking about a completely different question than the one I addressed (and I apologize for not being more clear).

      As a self-published author, you probably won’t get your book in retail storefronts no matter how hard you try, so it’s a waste of time and energy trying to make it happen. Focus your energies on selling your book online and other ways.

      I was addressing the question of whether self-pubbing hurts your chances of getting future “traditional” book contracts, and while the answer used to be yes, that has changed.

      • Hi Rachel. Re. your answer to Jenny Lee Sulpizio, above.
        Not always.
        I set out to self-pub, formed own company publ. trad (print) way. Have sold so far 7,000 of first illustrated (80 in 176pp.) children’s nonsense story at £15, taking 42.5% of list undiscounted (through Gardners). 2nd book, gothic ghost tale a400pp. at £10 sold 1,300 so far. Took 2 days to get 32 Waterstone’s on board for summer signing tour. Member IPG and PA. Receive UKTI grants to exhibit. Sold Transl. rights to S. Korea and Israel so far. Have Bid Apple, Ilustrata, Amo agencies for language zones. Anne Louise Fisher Assocs Children’s scout showing to their customers. Hit Entertainment of first book: “We really enjoyed the inventive witty narrative and surreal humour in the book. We think that it might work very well as a family feature film.”
        So it can work if you go about it professionally, researching first, taking step by step. But, yes, e-publishing is so much easier to do but not necessarily to succeed in doing.
        Blog: http://alangililand.blogspot.com

        • For Bid Apple read Big Apple (doesn’t seem to update my amendments).
          I am operating in UK. Hence Waterstone’s chain. Interested in any interest from US.

      • Hi Rachel. Re. your answer to Jenny Lee Sulpizio, above.
        Not always.
        I set out to self-pub, formed own company publ. trad (print) way. Have sold so far 7,000 of first illustrated (80 in 176pp.) children’s nonsense story at £15, taking 42.5% of list undiscounted (through Gardners). 2nd book, gothic ghost tale 400pp. at £10 sold 1,300 so far. Took 2 days to get 32 Waterstone’s on board for summer signing tour. Member IPG and PA. Receive UKTI grants to exhibit. Sold Transl. rights to S. Korea and Israel so far. Have Bid Apple, Ilustrata, Amo agencies for language zones. Anne Louise Fisher Assocs Children’s scout showing to their customers. Hit Entertainment of first book: “We really enjoyed the inventive witty narrative and surreal humour in the book. We think that it might work very well as a family feature film.”
        So it can work if you go about it professionally, researching first, taking step by step. But, yes, e-publishing is so much easier to do but not necessarily to succeed in doing.
        Blog: http://alangililand.blogspot.com

      • Hi Rachel. Re. your answer to Jenny Lee Sulpizio, above.
        Not always.
        I set out to self-pub, formed own company publ. trad (print) way. Have sold so far 7,000 of first illustrated (80 in 176pp.) children’s nonsense story at £15, taking 42.5% of list undiscounted (through Gardners). 2nd book, gothic ghost tale 400pp. at £10 sold 1,300 so far. Took 2 days to get 32 Waterstone’s on board for summer signing tour. Member IPG and PA. Receive UKTI grants to exhibit. Sold Transl. rights to S. Korea and Israel so far. Have Big Apple, Ilustrata, Amo agencies for language zones. Anne Louise Fisher Assocs Children’s scout showing to their customers. Hit Entertainment of first book: “We really enjoyed the inventive witty narrative and surreal humour in the book. We think that it might work very well as a family feature film.”
        So it can work if you go about it professionally, researching first, taking step by step. But, yes, e-publishing is so much easier to do but not necessarily to succeed in doing.
        Storefronts? NO. Publishers pay a lot of money to be there.
        Blog: http://alangililand.blogspot.com

      • Hi Rachel. Re. your answer to Jenny Lee Sulpizio, above.
        Not always.
        I set out to self-pub, formed own company publ. trad (print) way in UK. Have sold so far 7,000 of first illustrated (80 in 176pp.) children’s nonsense story at £15, taking 42.5% of list undiscounted (through Gardners). 2nd book, gothic ghost tale 400pp. at £10 sold 1,300 so far. Took 2 days to get 32 Waterstone’s on board for summer signing tour. Member IPG and PA. Receive UKTI grants to exhibit. Sold Transl. rights to S. Korea and Israel so far. Have Big Apple, Ilustrata, Amo agencies for language zones. Anne Louise Fisher Assocs Children’s scout showing to their customers. Hit Entertainment of first book: “We really enjoyed the inventive witty narrative and surreal humour in the book. We think that it might work very well as a family feature film.”
        So it can work if you go about it professionally, researching first, taking step by step. But, yes, e-publishing is so much easier to do but not necessarily to succeed in doing.
        Storefronts? NO. Publishers pay a lot of money to be there.
        Blog: http://alangililand.blogspot.com

      • Rachelle, you were totally clear…I just got carried away with it. I think I saw the blog post and wanted to get an agent’s viewpoint on this. Thank you.

        For those that have had success on self-publishing, what is the secret?

        • Hi, Jenny, I’m self-pubbed too (a YA paranormal/historical romance/self-search)…such an unusual book that I couldn’t get an agent interested, but it was published in Italy by a traditional publisher and was very successful locally. So I rewrote it for the American market in English (the original is in Italian) and put it on the Kindle (and elsewhere) in June. I don’t know yet how it’ll go, but there are quite clearly 4 known secrets to successful self-publishing:
          1. adopt a price that is a promotional ploy and triggers impulse buying: 99 cents is preferred (look at how John Locke has been successful: he’s sold 1,000,000 books in 5 months!)
          2. pick a “niche” or “genre” that is currently fashionable and known to sell: eg. YA paranormal like Amanda Hocking or sexy thrillers like John Locke
          3. put up more than one title for sale: Amanda Hocking started with a trilogy, John Locke has a series. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s a number of books: that makes you look like a professional writer
          4. market your book everywhere on Internet (FB, Twitter, on your blog) but don’t kill yourself doing it:the key to success here is to have lots of readers reviews…
          I don’t know whether this will work for me, but that’s what I’ve learned about self-publishing (and blogged about on my blog – visit me!)

    • Vera Soroka says:

      Jenny, it is too bad that stores won’t put your book on their shelves. In my home province in Canada, Chapters and Mcnally Robonson are more than happy to have self pub books in their store. They will even help you with a launch party.

  78. Out of curiosity – how many books would a self-pubbed author have to sell to be taken seriously by a traditional publisher (in your opinion)?

    • Rachelle says:

      I don’t even want to touch that question, Aimee. The number 5000 is nice and round and sounds good, but this question will have many answers depending on many variables.

      • Anonymous says:

        After years of trying the traditional route, getting an agent and then losing an agent, I decided to go the self-publishing route in April of this year. I write historical romance. In just over two months, I’ve sold over 11,000 copies of three books (5,000+ of one, 4,000+ of another, and almost 2,000 of the third).

        My question is are these the kind of numbers that will make an agent or editor take notice, should I decide to try the traditional route again at some point? I still want to see my books in print. I still have the dream of having an agent and publishing team believe in me, and I’m not ready to give that up. And I suppose I have one more question–if these numbers are the sort which might gain notice from an agent/editor, is there any chance that I could be offered a contract that is lucrative enough to forgo continuing to self publish?

        • K.L. Brady says:

          @Aimee When a major publisher acquired my self published number, I was not asked for any sales numbers until after the offer was already made. Sometimes, it’s really just about the book, whether it’s marketable and whether they believe it will be profitable.

  79. Without a doubt. If traditional Publishers began (as a general rule) taking self-published author seriously, I’d be on that track fast.

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