The Rejecter, I've been reading up on your blog all the advice you've dispensed about self-published authors seeking representation- and i'm assuming by the beginning of this sentence you can tell that I am one of them. Why did I self publish when I want now to be published by a big house? Simply because I wanted to, i've always been a go-getting 'do it yourself'er. Now I see the potential my book really has with the right marketing, so here I am. The issue isn't just in that i'm self published, but in how in the world to even query it. My book is a non-fiction parenting humor book (I don't want to go as far as to say memoir, but it is about my life). What concerns me is that I don't have thousands upon thousands of sales to tout to agents as a strong selling point, but I have received amazing reviews and have a decent platform. That to me speaks volumes, but what about to an agent? Will the sales really hurt me that much? Am I really not to even mention that I have self-published my book without being able to say that i'm a "success"?
We're getting a lot of self-published pieces at work, and now that self-publishing has some legitimacy to it (I started self-publishing a fiction series when my publisher decided to shut down its fiction unit after the 4th book) this is a question a lot of people are probably wondering about - if you should bring your successful self-published book to an agent, and when should you do it?
A lot of people go into self-publishing first now, either because they didn't succeed in getting their book published or because they didn't see a reason, and then they become successful and think, "But what about outside the Kindle/Smashwords market?"
When I see a query pitching a self-publishing book, there's two things I consider:
(1) How "successful" has it been, really?
(2) How much of its audience has this book already eaten?
Despite how much money Amazon will give you for your self-published book (which is an awesome policy of Amazon's, as is paying on time), you have to be talking thousands to be talking success, because publishers rarely do print runs under several thousand, and they do runs of books they want to sell. So if you're under a thousand, count yourself out. Most agents will say 3000, but this is a magic number the industry came up with years ago and I don't know how much it applies anymore.
The second problem is a larger concern. If your book was going to be lower mid-list and sell 3000 copies, and you've already done it, what's it going to do now? Back when it was nearly impossible for consumers to get self-published books, this wasn't an issue. Now even PODs are reasonably-priced and people can give away their eBook for free, or at the .99c range where people will indiscriminately click "buy." If you've been self-published for a while, you've definitely used up your relatives, friends, livejournal pals, and people you could talk into doing you a favor and reviewing it because you helped them move their couch. This issue is going to make agents a little more hesitant about picking up well-selling fiction. If it's doing fine in its own market - which is now a pretty large market that reaches a lot of people - that might be the shelf-life of the book, and there's no reason to go further.
Also, we don't care about Amazon reviews unless there's tons of them. If you've got 60 Amazon reviews, OK, we're legitimately interested even if some of them were bad. That means you had a lot of readers. Fifteen good reviews means maybe you've had your friends and relatives throw up sock-puppet stuff and then paid a bunch of people on fiverr to do a few more. I'm above paying people for reviews, but it's not like I didn't pressure relatives who already read the book to throw together something for Amazon even though they had never written a review in their life. Everyone does it, which means everyone sort of has to do it, because a book with less than 5 reviews starts looking suspicious. It's a misleading trend but let's all admit that you will do what you have to do, especially if it's your livelihood (I don't make a whole lot reading queries).
And chances are we won't look at your Amazon page unless we're being paid hourly and we already read pretty fast and damnit, rent is expensive and the ConEd bill is always shooting up. And even then, probably not.
You're in a weird position. Not admitting you've self-published successfully is a big omission at this point, but we also aren't going to be thrilled to hear it. My advice to you, if you've had success in publishing and want to try a different area of publishing with more professionals involved, is unequivocally this: Go write another book. Because if you've only got one book in you, and you've written and published it, don't bother with the tricky world of publishing. But if you've used self-publishing to get off the ground, churn out as much good material as you possibly can that is new and interesting and unseen by the public. And then we may be interested.