Saturday, December 07, 2013

Question: About that self-publishing line yesterday

If I have self published a novel and would like to have an agent consider it, are the steps to querying said novel different than if I had never published it? While I enjoyed the process of self-publishing, and I learned a lot about marketing my work, etc, I am increasingly frustrated with how difficult it is to stand out in the saturated self-pubbed market. I would still love to have my novel picked up by an agent and published traditionally. Is that still an option with a self-published work?

I posted yesterday about bone-headed self-published promotions, and mentioned that "More and more people are being told that self-publishing is the new way to catch an agent's eye. I think that's hogwash but even if I believed it, this is the wrong way to do it."

[I wrote a blog post "Some Hard Numbers" on this topic in October 2012  as well.]

If however you've already published your novel, and discovered self-publishing to be a hard lesson in cold reality, and you want to query your novel you'll need a couple things:

1. A manuscript.  Do NOT expect to send finished copies of your book to an agent.  This is actually in your best interest since many self-published books are so just-plain-ugly (bad cover art, no book designer employed, bad layout) that a word .doc is more readable. I am a book snob. I love beautiful books. Ugly books have to be brilliant on page one to get me to read further IF I open the book at all.

2. Sales figures.  If you sold a lot, and I mean 20,000 copies within a year or less, you've got a reasonable shot of getting some attention.

3. A marketing plan.  Normally you don't need a marketing plan for a novel.  But if you've self-pubbed, and sold a lot of copies, what I need to know is who DIDN'T buy the book yet and how we're going to reach them.

Realistically if you self-publish your book and discover that making sales is a whole lot harder than everyone told you, you're out of luck on this book.  Write the next one and query that.

If you dig beyond headlines and snakeoil blogs, you'll discover that a lot of the people who "got discovered" by self-pubbing have not gone on to stellar print careers.   Most of the people who tell you otherwise have an agenda to push, or an axe to grind. Maybe I fall in either/both of those categoires but I like to think of myself as someone who looks for what actually happens rather than what we're told is Sure To Be The Next Big Thing. 


Anonymous said...

I recently saw something in GalleyCat that mentioned the growth in self publishing.

"The amount of self-published book titles available in the marketplace went up 59% between 2011 and 2012, according to Bowker’s latest self-pubishing report."

Something like 390,000 titles. Wow. Anyway, I've not considered self pub'ing for several reasons. Mainly, it would seem almost an insurmountable task to bring attention to any one individual book against the gazillion others out there. It's been done - but maybe those individuals have been really lucky in writing the right book at the right time, or really smart, or had the perseverance to keep on for who knows how long, even against an ever increasing number of new titles.

Lance said...

Thank you for this post. Overall, it is very helpful in clarifying the issue of so-called self-publishing. Would it not be more accurate to say self-printing? Item number 3 really hit me. If you have sold 20,000 copies of a self-p book, who is left to buy it? How would you identify who was left?

Let's say a writer did self-p a book, got poor results, and gave up on it. Then the writer turns out a second polished, ready-to-go manuscript. In the query letter, should the writer mention the self-pubbed book?

Anonymous said...

I eventually self-published my first book because I had an agent a few years ago who was just starting out and it turns out he did a lot better with non-fiction than fiction.

We parted company in a friendly manner, but he'd already submitted unsuccessfully to a lot of major houses, and I couldn't see another agent wanting a book that was "used."

That's enough of a hurdle by itself, but the book is also a middle grade novel clocking in at 146 kilowords. Not an easy sell anyway.

So I really had nothing to lose by self-publishing. I had the software and skills to do a reasonably professional job, and it didn't cost me a nickel.

As I see it, if you've got a self-published book with the characteristics that agents would want (a lot of sales and decent market presence topping the list), agents and publishers will come looking for you.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Read what the hugely-successful, million-selling writer Amanda Hocking has to say on the subject. She made a fortune from her self-published book. And guess what? The next time around she signed with a traditional publisher.

From The Guardian*:

Hocking's new-found stature as self-publishing vanguardista is not something she welcomes…

What about the hours and hours that she's spent since April 2010 dealing with technical glitches on Kindle, creating her own book covers, editing her own copy, writing a blog, going on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, responding to emails and tweets from her army of readers? Just the editing process alone has been a source of deep frustration, because although she has employed own freelance editors and invited her readers to alert her to spelling and grammatical errors, she thinks her ebooks are riddled with mistakes.

"It drove me nuts, because I tried really hard to get things right and I just couldn't. It's exhausting, and hard to do. And it starts to wear on you emotionally. I know that sounds weird and whiny, but it's true."

In the end, Hocking became so burned out by the stress of solo publishing that she turned for help to the same traditional book world that previously rejected her and which she was seen as attacking.


And on her own blog, in an entry headed "Some Things That Need to Be Said", Amanda wrote:

This is literally years of work you're seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.

There is so much stress in doing it all yourself. The editing is never good enough. And finding an editor isn't as easy everyone thinks. People thinking an editor is just having someone read through it a few times, checking for basic grammar and spelling, and while that is part of it, it's also much larger than that. It's helping tighten up sentences, watching repeated phrases, helping with flow, etc. And it is really, really hard (or at least, it has been for me) to find an editor that can do all that. My books have all been edited - several times, by dozens of people with varying backgrounds - and people still find errors.

Here's another thing I don't understand: The way people keep throwing my name around and saying publishers are "terrified" of me and that I really showed them.

First of all, no publisher is afraid of me. That's just silly. I'm one girl who wrote a couple books that are selling well. That doesn't scare them - they just want to be a part of it, the same way they want to be a part of any best seller.

Saying traditional publishing is dead right now is like declaring yourself the winner in the sixth inning of a baseball game when you have 2 runs and the other team has 8, just because you scored all your runs this inning and they haven't scored any since the first.

And just so we're clear - ebooks make up at best 20% of the market. Print books make up the other 80%. Traditional publishers still control the largest part of the market, and they will - for a long time, maybe forever.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

[Me again] Inspired by two of the comments in your previous blog post* - what about Kitty's suggestion (a writing contest) based on Michael Seese's hilarious message?

I keep missing out on these because of time commitments out in the big bad Real World. But there's a bit of a lull coming up… and the weather outside (at least here) is sooooo dreary… perfect for sitting by the fireside drinking a hot port and trying to wrestle with incongruous word combinations…

Kitty said... I think this calls for a writing contest.

Michael Seese said... "Even if this was the best book in the world, what am I supposed to do? Send up smoke signals?"

Pffft! Well, YOU'RE supposed to Google him, find his website, go there, and scour it for any contact info.

I swear, you agents have gotten so lazy lately.

Michael Seese said...


Irony is my middle name. (My parents had a warped sense of humor.)

french sojourn said...

I've noticed in self published books, that so many are serialized and they are giving away the first then hooking you on the remaining books in the series.

I know Hugh Howley did quite well, but then had K. Nelson's agency tackle the rights. (interesting outcome) It's been optioned for film now...all you need is a silo in the midwest for filming so budget shouldn't be high.

But I think an Agent is required if your book is really well written and you want to get it to as many people as possible. Although self-publishing is a lot more legitimate than 15 years ago, a...good... literary agent knows whats required in this day and age. Bonnie Shaljean's post was a good example.

L.H. Thomson said...

My experience reflects that. I've marketed the first in a series of Kindle mysteries for .99 cents and the other three for 2.99 each and collectively they've sold about 12,000 copies, which is a good second income but not a full-time job, unfortunately. Still, people seem to love the character, and the unexplored market (I don't self-market or promote well at all) is quite large, so it's quite worth the time I put in for potentially several years of health royalties.