Wednesday, October 24, 2012

some hard numbers

My query in-box has a new category these days: authors who've self published with the goal of a larger publisher noticing.  There have been some amazing stories in the news about authors who've done just that.

We watch those stories very carefully of course.  We're in this biz for money, not love, and if there's a place to find projects we can sell, you bet we're there.

If you're thinking of doing this, here's what to consider:

1. To get noticed, you have to sell a lot of books. By a lot I mean more than 20,000.

If this number doesn't daunt you, ask yourself this question: have you ever sold 20,000 units of anything?

If the answer is yes, ask this next question:

Have you sold something to 20,000 people, one by one?

If you self publish you are no longer just the author, you're the salesperson for your book. Do you have any experience selling?  Did you love selling Girl Scout cookies? Do you like calling people and asking for money (as in fund raising?)  Do you gladly spearhead the fundraising drive at your school, synagogue, church?


Be realistic. 20,000 units is a huge number of books. It's a hard number to reach even if you're published by a big publisher, with an accomplished sales force and established avenues to the retail market.

"But but but!" I can hear you sputtering--X did it, and Y too. And let's all pause for a moment and consider 50 Shades of Lovely Lolly.

Yes. All that is true.   And yes, some people win the lottery twice.  Your odds are worse.

This post is not to dissuade you from self-publishing. Have at it with all your might. BUT be realistic about what self-publishing is, and what it can accomplish. And more important what it can NOT accomplish.

First among the list for what it can't is launch a mystery series.  Publishers are not keen on picking up Book #2 if Book #1 sold fewer than a 100 copies. And yes, they look. They look at Bookscan, which is NOT your friend if you self-publish.  But mostly they don't look. Publishers love debut authors,  cause they're easier to pitch to retail accounts. It's easier to launch a career than revitalize one.

2. There is no number two.


Unknown said...

How about sales in the 10K-15K range?

How much weight is placed on a self-pubbed book making it to the Amazon Top 100?

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I am the Girl Scout cookie mom for my daughter's troop. Even with 16 highly motivated sellers with a concrete goal to reach, we have a hard time selling 3,000 boxes of cookies over a three month period. The market is saturated with EVERY OTHER TROOP in the area also selling at the same time. It's hard to get special notice for your similar offering among the sea of choices.

I believe that's part of the difficulty with selling a self-pub title. You are one tiny fish in a vast shoal of sardines. The likelihood that the shark will eat you is slim to none. :D

JeffO said...

First off, it's good to see an actual number in regards to this.

Second, I suspect a lot of authors (self-pubbed and traditional) fall prey to the thought that, with the vastness of the internet reaching billions of people, how can I NOT sell 20,000? Piece of cake! Not so easy. You're trying to convince 20,000 people to part with their money for what is a non-essential (well, *I* think books are essential, but not everyone does) item, and, as Laura says above, you're trying to shout down everyone else who's flogging their wares. Good luck.

Leah said...

So...a question then...

If you self-pub or publish with a smaller press, and the numbers of your first book aren't spectacular...will that dissuade an agent/big publisher from taking you on as a client if you come up with a new, different project?


Janet Reid said...

JeffO, I think you've hit the core of the argument: yes books are essential but is *this* book essential? Is it even desirable? I read a LOT. I buy more than I read in fact. And even I don't buy even 1% of the books I hear about, read about, see adverts for.

And sad to say, most people don't buy more books than they read. They buy fewer than 10 books a year.

Anonymous said...

I self-pubbed Reduced the end of August. I've sold over 100 paperback copies to date, plus e-books. I re-pubbed under our store imprint just this week, and the second book will be out in December.

It's not easy, at all. I work with a lot of self-pubbed authors in the store and the majority think "no problem." I had one author who used a vanity press and bought 30K copies of her book. Yes, 30 THOUSAND.

Sure, it's possible. Maybe. Probably not - in any sales position, you have to be realistic and sometimes that's asking a lot of authors.

Bill Plante said...

I have sold over 700,000 framed and matted photographs world wide. Eastman Kodak lauded my marketing techniques.

Bryon Quertermous said...

This kind of thinking by authors ignores one of self-publishing's greatest strengths: the ability to make money at much smaller sales volumes.

I tend to read and write in genres with very dedicated but small readerships. Until recently there was no money to be made because print publishing is designed for large scale selling and there was never a large enough audience for some great books to make anyone money. But now, with self-publishing, the overhead is small enough, and the electronic distribution channels are level enough that you can sell 1500 copies of a book and make a decent chunk of change.

Henry Baum said...

"We're in this biz for money, not love."

This is an embarrassment. It's not just what's wrong with publishing, but with capitalism itself. This is the BP and Wall St. of publishing - it doesn't matter what you do so long as you make money. Turning a profit is fine. Turning a profit at the expense of everything else is dangerous and unhealthy.

Elissa M said...

Mr. Baum, your comment made me laugh.

I'm and artist. My husband is a musician. We do what we do because we love it.


We gotta eat. I'm not painting your portrait for free.

Henry Baum said...


That's why I said "Turning a profit is fine." There's nothing in this post about if a book is good or not. It's all about the bottom line, based purely on numbers. This has actually destroyed industries in the past. It's nothing to aspire to.

SBJones said...

A time frame for these 20,000 sales might help. I know for book/chain stores a new book has a 30-90 day window to sell before it gets bumped to the bargin/donation/return bin. But a self published e-book pulling in 100 sales a month will. I will just take 16-17 years to do it.

If I had at most three months to reach 20,000 sales I wouldn't come close.

I don't quite understand the last bit about self publishing NOT being able to launch a mystery series. Is there an issue with the genera or only this genera with low sales? It's an odd paragraph when there is no number two.

Christwriter said...

Mr. Baum,

To jump industries for a second, my dad works at a rehab facility. A VERY high member of the board who literally does have more money than God came for a visit. After touring the facility, he looked my Dad in the eye and said, "You know, it really is wonderful that we can do so much good work while making money."

My Dad got the point.

Janet might shoot me for saying this, but in industry profit is the mark of quality. No profit=no quality, high profit=high quality. That's just the way it is with everything on the money making side of the business...and that's where publishers and the rest are. They're not here to make awesome books. They're here to MAKE MONEY by making awesome books.

If their goal were to make awesome books, they'd be the writers. And they're not. And we should be glad that they're not, because if they were, there wouldn't be a book industry and there wouldn't be awesome books at all. Or movies. Or music. Or anything.

(In an utterly non-related note: WHEN DID CAPTCHA PICTURES BECOME A BLEEPING IQ TEST? My god, I can't even READ some of these number pictures...)

Anonymous said...


That's so cute! Quality = Profit! You've not been to a Hollywood movie or browsed the Bestseller lists lately, I guess.

They're not here to make awesome books -- they could not CARE LESS whether the book is awesome or a giant barking dog, AS LONG AS IT SELLS. That's what being "in it for the money" gets you.

Do you think publishers LOVE Twilight, Fifty Shades, the Amanda Hocking books? Have you read them? They're total crap. Is this the "high quality" being in it for the money gets us?

Awesome books sell IN SPITE OF publishers and their marketing machinery, not because of them. This is why self-publishing is the way to go. So people like Janet and the publishers she represents can't take all your money, which is all they care about.

Sorry for the truth, but there you have it.

Cealarenne said...

This is always going to be a contentious issue. Especially when we're talking about something as personal and close to people's hearts as their writing. But publishing is a business. Just like any other business. They have shareholders to apease and profitlines to achieve. And they make those profits through books they think will be successful.
Are they always right? No. Is there a better model? Probably. Self-publishing is an avenue that wasn't available ten years ago. People who self-publish are fortunate to have that avenue. But, as Janet points out, it's a very hard road. There are ruts and stones and a lot of potholes on that path. Personally, I'd rather stand in line for the freeway. And if I still don't get to the onramp, it means either the book wasn't good enough, or I didn't try hard enough. End of.

Julie D said...

Well, I did write a book, queried agents, one bit (Thank God, forever grateful) and she couldn't sell the book, so I went with a small indie pub. In no way have I sold 20,000, yet my dreams for the sequel are that a big house will pick it up, it will do well, and revitalize book 1, since the indie pub isn't capable of the kind of publicity a big house is. So, no big house jumped, I went indie. I know it's not the same as self-pub but it's probably close. What's the answer here? Am I forever stuck in indie-ville because of the first book?

T.C. Miller said...

30,000 copies? That was not a business person. Yes, my book is a creative piece of work. However, if I took it to the gas station and tried to stuff it into the credit card slot, I doubt that it would work. Professional writers are like any other craftsmen, they need to make money, unless they want to live under a bridge.

The publishing industry is being turned on its head by the poor economy and the internet. Writers need to be creative in their approach to selling their books.

I do agree that I can make more money by self-publishing, but it is with the realization that one third of my time comes in writing the book. One third of my time is involved in producing it, (editing, design work, printing, etc.), and one third is tied up in marketing it. The advantage is that I keep a much large piece of the pie.

Gary Ponzo said...

Here's the dilemma. As the Indie author of a genre series, I consistantly sell 4-6,ooo books each month, much of that is at $2.99, where I receive $2.00 a book. I have the 4th book in the series due out before the end of the year. Without doing too much math, I should be making around $8,000 a month from book sales within a couple of months. As much as I would enjoy the prospect of seeing my book at Barnes and Noble, what can a tradional publisher offer me? A fifty thousand dollar advance? A hundred thousand dollar advance? That's simply not enough to give up my ebook rights for eternity and NY publishers aren't going to offer that anyway.

Please, understand, I spend well over a thousand dollars per book having it professionally edited and formatted--the book cover is also done professionally, and I realize most Indies can't afford that expense, so maybe that's a factor as well.

I applaud anyone who can navigate the publishing world and get published in the traditional manner. I think it's a fantastic honor and I support as many authors as possible. Writers routinely support fellow writers and that's something I really enjoy about the industry.

But the point is, by the time you've developed a fan base of readers on your own, chances are you've already surpassed the need to have a traditional publisher.

Just my two cents.

Elissa M said...

See, what I don't get is the people who complain that the publishing industry is only in it for the money, and then they either are upset that their self-published book doesn't sell, or say that they make more money through self-publishing than they would through traditional publishing.

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Elissa M said...

P.S. I'm not saying every self-published author is like this, or even a lot of them. But it makes no sense to me to complain about anyone who wants to make money if you want to make some, too.

Mark Terry said...

Here's my take, which is not necessarily different.

I went the traditional route for 5 books, 3 different publishers, all small to medium publishers. Got either no advances or tiny advances. Got dropped by publisher #2 despite multi-book contracts. Got series picked up by another publisher. (These are not big 6. The 2nd publisher was Midnight Ink, the 3rd publisher was Oceanview).

Promoted. Did all the stuff I was asked to do. Won an award. Got reviews. Website, blog, booksignings, conferences, library talks, Rotary Club talks, blah, blah, blah.

Did not make much money. Did not sell-through.

Finally got some of my e-rights back and self-published. Self-published some other books.

Am now making about 10 times more money than I was through the traditional publishers.

Is that a lot?

No. But it pays my visa bills. It's a growing number. And I can tell you that my e-book royalties were 8% from my last publisher, but by doing it myself it's 70%.

Have I given up on traditional publishing?

Not exactly. But the right project would have to come along and I would have to gauge how miserable the market for agents and/or publishers is at that point (currently it seems abysmal verging on hellacious; granted, over the last 25 years when I've been involved at various levels it's always been self-described as lousy or awful, so who's to say?). And I would have to decide if the potential upside (and it's only potential) outweighed the headaches.

Decided to say goodbye to

Christwriter said...

Nanobitches: What I mean by sales=quality is not "Good books sell"

I mean that the industry's quality standard is "sales".

It's not artistic quality. It's industrial quality. Artistic quality cannot be quantified. It's instinctual and it varies from person to person.

Artistically, for example, I think Robin McKinley is superior to Stephenie Meyer.

From a money making POV though, Stephenie Meyer is superior to Robin McKinley. S. Meyer makes more money. You cannot quantify the artistic quality, but you CAN quantify the financial.

I'm saying this as a self published author. I accepted that I do not, and probably never will, have the chops to make it as a professional, and that I just don't give a fuck. But self publishing and professional publishing are two different animals and what works for one is not, and SHOULD not work for the other.

I can afford to take the time to build my own fan base from zero, to make mistakes, to build on those mistakes, to figure out what my streingths and weaknesses are. A publisher can't. Because if I fuck up? The only person who gets hurt is me. If a publisher fucks up, the staff get hurt, the authors on their contract get cascades out of control.

I don't think self publishing is "the way to go" for everyone. It was for me, but my standards are "feel happy" and not "make a gazillion dollars'

If your goal isn't to make money, you've got no business being a professional anything.

Anonymous said...

Good points all, christwiter, I feel ya.

As for pots calling kettles green -- how dare I impugn someone for wanting to make money when I also want to make money -- that's the distinction right there.

I am not in it for the money. I am in it for originality, purity of expression entertainment, discovery, thrilling text.

I would LIKE to make money from it but had the sense to get a day job while I pursue my aims.

Sam Mills said...

And don't forget-- those big bucks books that everyone loves to bag on for being awful keep publishers afloat. Those extra dollars allow them the latitude to take chances on mid-list writers that won't make them as much money, or the slightly out-there projects that may bomb or may take off unexpectedly. The "sure-things" make it possible to invest in the "risks."

And it is totally fine if you have zero interest in money, and only write for your own satisfaction. It really is! That's kind of the beauty of options-- for some people there is no question about it, self-pub is the only way to retain all the artistic control they desire. For others, self-pub is an awful way to go because they have no inclination toward any of the non-writing duties of publishing. And for many people there are pros and cons and they will have to carefully make a decision about where their work will thrive best.

Mandler said...

I love this post, Janet. I'm glad you said it. I've self-published two books now -- one a collection of stories I figured wouldn't sell, and another a genre novella, designed to be a Kindle Single but unceremoniously rejected. I have no skills at marketing (I'm not Don Draper, it turns out), and all told over the past year I have yet to break even 500 copies sold (and I'm not even really close to that).

If you can market yourself, fine. If you have an audience built-in already (as is the case, I feel, with people who've had contracts and gone through the process already -- you're all seasoned pros, in one way or another), then fine.

But for unpublished wannabe hacks like me? Man, all this talk about selling $8,000 / month worth of digital books is disheartening when I can't even buy a beer with the numbers I put up.

Granted, I'm not saying it's anyone's fault but my own, but self-publishing is not magic.

Dor said...

Publishers are not Teh Evuls Dark Overlords for publishing works like Twilight and Dan Brown and selling them in their hundreds of thousands.

The culprit is the consumer.

When the world stops being full of people who want to read those books, my 187K heart-rending literary examination of a suburban family (written from the POVs of the lampshades in the front room) will finally find the audience it deserves (It's written entirely in adverbs ^_^).

The advantage with self-publishing (or the smaller independent publishers, or the e-publishers) is the ability to market more directly. A publisher needs to get the product into the hands of the people who want to buy it. If you are self-publishing, that's YOUR job, and yes, there are a lot of good books out there whose authors can do a better job of it than one of the big 6 publishers. Plenty of self-published books sell even though the author hasn't grasped how to punctuate dialogue correctly - they've connected with their market.

Look at it this way: I was at an auction. I bought a lot consisting three pieces of Art Nouveau furniture. I got them at a price the pieces were worth individually because in my area, people don't want Art Nouveau furniture.
I could now take them to any one of a dozen auction houses elsewhere and double my money because there will be a demand for these pieces and demand drives up price.

For anybody who wants to remain a purist though, And Other Stories is a British not for profit publisher of literary works. They operate a subscription service and are supported by a National Lottery grant. They've already had a smash hit with Deborah Levy's Swimming Home short-listed for the Booker Prize (which was rejected by her previous publisher).

Like it or not, there has to be a bottom line. Not everybody wants to read works of great literary merit, or books which are hard work to read. If publishers insisted on only publishing those works, they would go bust. It doesn't make them wrong, or bad, or symptomatic of the evils of a consumerist culture. It means they are publishing to a different market that you are writing for.

Michael J. Sullivan said...

I think there may be a "range" of numbers for you it's 20,000 but I am one of those people who were picked up (I received a six-figure advance from Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group. At the time I was selling 1,000 books a month (across 4 titles) so I was FAR under 20,000 copies.

Laura Libricz, Authoress said...

If Writer A indepenently sold 20,000 books on his own, what the heck would he want with an agent and a traditional publisher?

Anonymous said...

Janet, isn't the focus on units sold a bit ambiguous, since self-pub prices vary so widely?

How does a novel that's sold 20k copies at $.99 compare to one that's sold 10k at $1.99, or 5k at $3.99, etc.?

And what about free giveaways on Kindle? Are these included in "sales" numbers?

Mark said...

I'm one of the lucky authors who this happened to:

I, along with my co-author, sold 90,000 copies of two novels, reaching No.1 and No.2 on

This led to a deal with HarperCollins.

It took a lot of hard work. Months of constant marketing and promotion. We had some luck too. And, most importantly, our books were very good and well-written (he said modestly).

So you can do it... but I think it's getting increasingly hard as more and more self-publishers enter the market, and publishers get to grips with digital publishing.

My advice is not to be deterred: even if your self-publishing venture goes terribly you can always use a new pseudonym. Authors relaunch themselves with new names all the time.

Anonymous said...

@Sam: "And don't forget-- those big bucks books that everyone loves to bag on for being awful keep publishers afloat. Those extra dollars allow them the latitude to take chances on mid-list writers that won't make them as much money, or the slightly out-there projects that may bomb or may take off unexpectedly."

Ah, that old saw. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have much truth in it anymore--if it ever did.

Salon had a good article on this recently, using Lena Dunham's $3.7 mil book deal as an example.

Think of all the promising young writers who could have taken a sliver of that advance and written great books. Weep a silent tear. Etc.

The industry is NOT taking chances on midlisters anymore. The midlist, like the middle class, is the redheaded stepchild of publishing. Midlisters are defecting en masse to self-publishing. Pretty soon (if not already), all that remains of traditional publishing will be tiny prestigious indie presses who win all the literary awards, and the Big Six shitting out celebrity memoirs and flavor-of-the-month romances.

Everyone else will be self-publishing, and the majors will scoop up whatever Twilight fanfic is selling the most copies this week.

And so it goes.

P.S. Fuck Captcha, seriously. A robot could read this more easily than I can.

Elissa M said...


In a word, "burnout".

It's super hard to do it all yourself, which is what indie publishing requires. I can definitely see an author who sold 20k books being ready to let someone else do the non-writing work for a while.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I am glad that the industry and the authors want to make money because as a reader, I want to be entertained and not bore myself with books that I am obliged to read because they are supposed to be artistic. Stories written by sadsacks with chips on their shoulders and attitude problems.

If you don't want to make money publishing great, but why insist that the reader or the industry are stupid.

Anonymous said...

But what if--horror of horrors--it isn't my intention to attract the notice of a major publisher?

Your magic numbers are all very well, but I'm an author who couldn't care less if Random House or Penguin come sniffing around like errant dogs. I became an independent author/publisher so I could control every facet of my writing, including choosing a cover, settling on margins, font, what have you. To me, writing is a labor of love, a daily valentine to the power and legacy of the printed word.

I'm a literary author and I take one look at the sub-literate crap clogging the marketplace thanks to dim-witted editors and greedy agents and feel nothing but disgust for the state of the industry.

Instead of seeking out the next DeLillo or Pynchon, the trads are churning out vampire porn, sucky memoirs and zombies galore. Spin-offs of spin-offs.

The trads have nothing to offer me and I will continue to tread a less well-traveled path. Not so richly rewarded as E.L. James and many other hacks, perhaps, but at least I can face myself in the mirror each morning.

In that sense, I'm a lucky man...

Phoenix Hill Press said...

As someone with an MBA as well as a journalism degree, I find it really sad to read that people in the publishing industry do it for the money, not for the love. I also wonder why they haven't been able to stay as financially flush, if the goal is profits above all.

But then, this is why the industry is in turmoil. If they were good at making money, then this post probably wouldn't exist.

Melissa Foster said...

Great post, love the honesty. Also important to note...most publishers (according to a number of agents) don't respect the 99c price point because it's not a model they can duplicate. And, even selling 200K copies of your books doesn't mean you'll get a traditional contract. It's a tough business to break into, so shoot for writing quality books, sell as best you can, build a following, and keep trying...

Unknown said...

Here's what traditional publishing 16 novels never did for me: pay my mortgage.

Here's what self publishing does for me every month: pay my mortgage.

I don't need to sell 20,000 books.

Liz Raptis Picco said...

I'm sorry, but it's difficult to take you seriously when you're leaning so far over to one side. How about balancing your posts and researching and citing authors who have sold 20,000+ books. Why in the world are you citing E.L. James in this article?

Not everyone is Indie-publishing to get picked up by trade publishers, some of us are tired of waiting and taking control of our writing and using the Internet to promote and sell our books. We can purchase, at reasonable fees, the same quality of services and expertise as well as distribution channels, all a la carte and work with professionals to fulfill our goals. It is extremely hard work, but its not rocket science either.

corine said...

I've sold over 15,000 copies of my novel since I self published in May 2011. But not all book counts are created equal. It's easier to sell a novel when you get to price your e-book at $3.99. This flexibility is the self-published writer's small advantage.

E.B. Black said...

To be honest, it's just as hard (harder than the lottery!) to get an agent and become a best seller as to self-publish and sell 20,000 copies. I don't see how either avenue is less realistic than the other one.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Vitriolic comments are vitriolic. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting one of my favorite writers at the Killer Nashville conference.

Jeffery Deaver (oh *snap* *sniff* *horror* he's not literary!) gave a fantastic talk that centered around four words: "it is a business."

If writers want to turn out their literary churn on Kindle, go for it (and yes, I have read Pynchon, no thank you).

"This post is not to dissuade you from self-publishing. Have at it with all your might. But be realistic . . ."

Just like the folks who put their Publish America books on their resumes and call themselves "multi-published Authors (always with a capital "A"), going ballistic and using words like "greedy" don't add anything to the conversation.

Self-pubbing is not a panacea or sure-fire avenue to trad publishing. It is just another avenue. No better and whether or not it is worse is in the eye of the beholder.

Regina Richards said...

Granted that the chances of selling huge numbers on a single self-published novel are slim, but so are the chances of being plucked from a slush pile and making it big. Especially for those who write in a niche market.

Thankfully in the current marketplace, if you write niche market work and write it well and write lots of it, you can at least make enough dimes to cover a bill or two which is better than beating your head bloody against the publishing industry Wall of Disinterest.

The point is to know what you're selling and what the market is for it. There are some things the publishers are never going to buy because the market isn't big enough to interest them. But that doesn't mean there is no market.

Sure we'd all rather own Walmart and drive BMWs, but owning a local hardware store and driving a Ford isn't so bad.

Megan Hand said...

This is EXCELLENT advice! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your illuminating piece. With respect, your view is distorted by the nature of your profession. I have worked in publishing for 25 years. There are very few new or mid list authors who could sell 20,000 copies through a traditional publisher. And if they did, their income would be considerably less than those who sell less than a quarter by self-publishing. There is a place for trad publishers and agents but it's getting smaller and tougher, especially as these old publishers require writers to promote their work through social media as much as any self-publisher.

orangeseattle said...

I think some people are missing the thesis statement of the post. Essentially she's responding to the idea that people see self-publishing as a very easy route to getting a traditional publisher's eye. Her comments are aimed at answering questions she's been asked many times and giving her professional advice. She's not necessarily saying which is better than the other, and she's pointing out that publishers need to be able to turn a profit.

Unknown said...

Interesting. I'm self-published, and never really knew what kind of sales were considered a lot even for trade published books--especially those published by a large publisher. Now I know.

For those others thinking of self-publishing with an eye towards getting picked up by a publisher, be aware that even if you DO achieve those numbers and have good ratings, your chances are still slim. At least, that has been my experience. One of my books has sold about 34,000, and the other two are doing well, (fourth just came out a few weeks ago, so not counting it) but never had anyone contact me. I've thought about querying some of Amazon's imprints, but I was too busy between the day job and getting the fourth book out to worry about that at the moment. One thing I will say, is that the sales are allowing me to cut down to part-time at the day job, so that was one of my goals that I have achieved.

Moral of the story is, self-publish because you want your book to find readers, not as a means to finding a publisher. Readers are the best and make it all worthwhile. I have found that an email, review or post on my FB page by a reader is a guaranteed motivator to continue my writing. (Sorry this is so long!)

Unknown said...

I came very close to landing an agent for my memoir of life with autism, "Problem Child," but didn't. I self-published it on Amazon in September of 2011. I designed the cover and back, the jacket text, the website text, everything. My website for the book is

As anyone can see in the “In The Press” section, I did manage to get some decent coverage here in Connecticut in newspapers and local television stations. You can read the articles and watch the interviews. I’ve also done a lot of book talks and signings. Feedback has been very positive. So I guess it did do fairly well, so far as a self-published work goes, and my Amazon sales rank once hovered around 15,000 for a brief time after one of the TV spots (9,900 on Kindle). (There aren't a lot of reviews on Amazon, because as a matter of principle I don't ask anyone to review the book.) But according to stats I've seen on how many self-published books need to be sold to get represented, it hasn't done that well, I guess; I've got perhaps about 500 copies, bound and Kindle, floating around out there. So when Janet put out the number20,000, well, it scares me quite a bit, to be honest.

What exactly is the ideal procedure for querying an agent regarding a self-published work? What should I say and what shouldn’t I say? Do I stand a chance with my track record (not lots of sales, but decent media exposure)? Does anyone know of any agencies that specialize in this?

Kate Campbell said...

I was riding the BART train home from San Francisco to Berkeley at rush hour. Out of the crush, a crazy man squared off in front of me and bellowed: "You are not young! YOU are not YOUNG!" The BART police pulled the guy off before he assaulted me, saving what is left of my life. This story is partly why I chose to self-publish. I am not young -- or patient.

After spending 5 years writing Adrift in the Sound, I did not have the time or patience for the traditional agent/publisher rigmarole. I self-published to get the monkey of my first novel off my back. Turning the book over to readers is the only way I could see to move forward with my craft, my art. I'm grateful the option is there.

Money counts--usually one dollar at a time and I'm grateful for everyone. I'm working on my second book and noodling my third. Who knows where the industry will be when it's time for me to shed my next project and move on?

M.R. Jordan said...

When I first read this struck me as logical but here I am, back to disagree. I can't count how many times I've seen people succeed when logic would predict failure. This at the core of Meat Head the Worst Dog in the World.

I used to swear my manuscripts would never see the light of day if I didn't have an agent. Now, if I don't get an agent, that's exactly what I'm going to do with Meat Head an a few other nuts I've squirreled away.

Sure, maybe only 20 people will read them. But last time I looked 20 is better than none. And as we learned last February year, writers can revitalize their careers with a pen name.

Kate Grey said...

Janet, this is a really helpful post because it's great to see things from the side of the traditional publishing world and have concrete numbers like that.

I would really love a follow up post about logic now that you've shared numbers. Are agents/publishers more open to a book being submitted by an unpublished author than the same author and book that has been self-published? Is there an advantage to not self-publishing because the work is completely new and not previously available? Or from the other side of the coin, is it detrimental to self-publish and have sales numbers below 20,000 because that's somewhat concrete evidence you book doesn't sell well?

I really appreciate your insight and perspective on a really interesting and complicated issue.

Carolyn Haley said...

I'm trying to figure out how to deal with a novel that got e-published by a dedicated e-publisher, with whom I had a three-year deal that expires at the end of this month. I don't want to stay with this publisher, but I do want to keep the book available, as an e-book plus in print.

This means either self-publishing, subsidy publishing, or attempting traditional publishing. I originally went the e-pub route because the novel is a hybrid and difficult to categorize, ergo hard to sell -- something I will address no matter which route I take.

The question is, how to present this in a query to an agent? The book received virtually no promotion, received a few positive reviews from unknown-to-the-print-world sources, and sold under 200 copies. Does this history make it an automatic reject from an agent's point of view? Or is the fact I tested the waters and learned a lot, and am repackaging appropriately, demonstrate maturity and potential? (assuming the story is good, and well-written)

MVB said...

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Lindy Ryan said...

Janet, I self-pubbed a novella version of my memoir in May 2012 and it sold about 2,500 copies, has a 4.5 on Amazon, and hit top kindle and twitter trending lists. In you opinion, would an agent look consider the full-length version of this book?