Monday, May 03, 2010

Self-Publishing Credits

I teach a writing class at my local community college and got a question from a student -- would an agent consider representing someone based on a self-published novel? Should the student mention that what they're submitting has been self-published? My immediate answer to the student was no, but then they said that it's sold pretty well. Does that make a difference?

The unwritten "rule" (though some have written it) is that a self-published book should have earned at least 3000 copies on its own steam to be considered a "success." I don't know where the number came from, but I've heard it many, many times and read it on agents' websites. So no, if it's below that, don't count it as a publishing credit and don't mention it.

However, we're seeing more and more people who self-published their novel first, then were shocked to find out how little they sell and how costly the process is (usually for the readers, because the books are a little more pricey than mass-produced books), decide they want to get published traditionally. If you're pitching a manuscript to us, and for some reason you want to send it book form ("I had it printed by Authorhouse), we're not going to be doing a lot of complaining. It's one of those things that doesn't help and doesn't hurt.


Thomas said...

I've bought a couple of self-published books in the past, mostly at conventions. As a rule, they're awful. Most are poorly written or inane in concept and even the few that do pass muster tend to be so poorly copy edited as to be unreadable.

Combine that with the fact that they're more expensive than a mass market book and I'm surprised that any get sold at all.

_*rachel*_ said...

BookEnds had an article on this yesterday:

I've mostly heard not to send a previously self-published book in book form. I'm pretty sure I read it on Miss Snark's blog.

Anyway, after what I've heard about and read of self-publishing, it won't be for me.

The Rejecter said...

Miss Snark, in all Her majesty, did write that a couple years ago, before Amazon made it self-publishing a terrible manuscript a process that takes approximately 4 clicks. What I'm saying is, we're seeing a lot more self-published books sent in, and at my particular agency, we don't necessarily hold it against the author.

The agent at Bookends has a point, but most self-published authors don't have strong sales. They have sales to their friends, family, and people they duped into buying the book, thinking it was legitimately published. So, under 300.

Of course, self-published books almost always have one great thing about them that we can enjoy - their terrible covers.

Stephen said...

There are extremes of quality even within self-publishing. With ten years experience in magazine publishing, I created my own publishing company. I developed a marketing plan for the book: niche into tourist markets; create a gimmick to draw attention. So far, my mystery, Vegas Die has sold 10,000 copies. Last week, I sold 50 copies at a book signing but in a high traffic area and a lot of cold calling pitches.

Self publishing only works if the author is an agressive self-promoter and the writing/story is good.

Certainly finding the high powered agent who will sell my future works into the NYC publishing industry would be a goal, but I am satisfied I am not hurting myself by establishing a solid track record by controlling my own destiny.

_*rachel*_ said...

Of course, a couple self-pubbed books have taken off just because they're too bad NOT to buy.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of variables that go into this, and self-publishing is a great opportunity for many. In fact, many come from the traditional side of the business to earn more profits per sale and to keep content rights.

An author recently handed me a copy of her traditionally published book at a conference, and said, "My name is on the cover, but this isn't my book." As it turned out, the publisher removed 60% of our submitted material.

Having gone through traditional side myself, I can attest to that experience. Coincidentally, the publisher estimated the market's ability to absorb around 3000 copies, which is typical for a micro-niche title. What's more, my royalties per sale was much lower than what would have been available through a full-service self-publishing model like Outskirts Press:

On the other hand, I've worked with authors who have earned tens of thousands of dollars in just 30 dollars, and who have been optioned for big budget Hollywood productions. Are there still some horribly produced self-publications available? Yes, but the market will speak with their dollars on a title by title basis.

The bottom line here is that technological and retail advancements over the past 1 years have produced an exponential growth in publishing, distribution, and retail options for books.

Getting published can promote urgency in instant gratification, but I encourage all to do the research.

Anonymous said...

On a similar line, what if you have something published in PDF format in another industry? I'm referring to what's known as the "d20" industry, which is basically electronically published roleplaying games, like D&D. A friend of mine has had success with her d20 publishing company - good PDF sales, high reviews, etc - but isn't sure if mentioning this in a cover letter would bring respect, ambivalence or ridicule. Would you as the first line of defence pay any more or less attention to her is she said "I have successfully sold xxxx copies of d20 supplements through my publishing company", etc?

Not sure if you know what I am referring to - basically products that are sold on places like

Anonymous said...

I basically have two choices: to keep on the traditional publishing path with 1:3000 odds or self publish. I've spent two years querying with encouraging rejections calling my books "witty" and "well written" and shortlisted by scholastic. I finally lost patience and will press go with POD in the next few weeks. I hired a wonderful illustrator and have some help from other people. It's been fun learning the ropes every stop of the way. I do hope to one day sell it to a publisher once I have a proven product. I am driven not by money, but by the feeling that there needs to be more options for children learning math... into the abyss..wish me luck!