I have been working on a book series for almost a decade now, and the idea of handing it off to someone else worries me for two reasons:
1.) A publisher could acquire the rights, and skimp on the support they put behind it or never get around to publishing it. (Which would kill me. I've worked too hard on this project to let this happen.)
2.) I've done the research and the math, and I'm convinced that I could make more as a midlist indie than a midlist traditionally published author.
There are two ways to assuage both of these concerns:
1.) To indie publish, which I know will be a tough row to hoe, but at least I'll retain my rights and make sure the books get out there, though I won't have quite the reach of the traditional publisher.
2.) To hold out for a big offer from a big-name publisher, big enough to show how serious they are about getting the books in front of as many people as possible.
The odds of #2 happening are slim but only unachievable if I don't query anyone at all. Which is where my problem lies. I want to at least try for that big paycheck, but if I don't get it--if I'm only offered midlist offers--I plan to self-publish, which would leave the agent who shops it around with nothing to show for her time and effort. (Unless I get a post-self-pubbing rights deal.) On a scale of newborn baby to Bernie Madoff how shady is this plan? If I do decide to query, at what point should I discuss this with an agent?
It's not shady at all. In fact it's quite clear. Show you the money or you show me the door. I think you should be VERY upfront about this in your query. It will save us both lots of time. I won't read your manuscript and you won't need to wait around to self publish.
It's very clear from this that you have minimal understanding of the value of a publisher (large or small.) You should not undertake a business relationship with anyone unless you value what they bring to the table. And value is not the amount of cash they are prepared to pour over you.
"Retain my rights" and "never get around to publishing" demonstrates a lack of knowledge about how the publishing contract works, and what it does.
"Handing it off to someone else" demonstrates a mind set that is almost impossible to deal with in publishing. (See above about value of publisher)
Traditional publishing isn't perfect. Far from it. I spend a goodly portion of my days with a Taser trying to whip those fuckers into doing what they're supposed to. I have NO illusions about the state of publishing.
Which is not to say I don't value what they do, and the benefit they provide to my clients. I do. Very much.
What you're asking here is what are your chances of being a big splashy debut novelist. I can tell you they are minuscule even if you're a brilliant writer with a brilliant book that lots of people want to read.
You're an ideal candidate to self-publish and since you're sure you'll be a success there, I can't imagine why you would consider anything else.