Sunday, May 13, 2012

Can Self Publishing Lead to a Traditional Publisher?

Surprise! Yes your self published work can lead to a traditional publishing contract with one of the Big Six. What are the odds? Well you have a better chance of being struck by lightening or winning the Power Ball lottery.  We all know the stories of famous authors throughout history who made the big time after self publishing. Authors continue to do so today. However, think about how many books have been self published over the past few years. The numbers are staggering. In addition to the several hundred thousand books published by traditional houses annually, self published work far exceeds those numbers.

My experience indicates that most authors who self publish do so only after endless rejections from traditional houses. They do so out of sheer frustration and a feeing of hopelessness. My thoughts are that self publishing is great for authors who wish to reach out to family and friends, particularly with memoirs of family life and careers. I also think that if you feel strongly enough about your work, then self publishing is a viable option. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The rationale for self publishing encompasses many considerations for each author. If this is what you want, then go for it. It is possible to get your book out in multiple versions of ebook, online, print on demand, hardcover, paperback, all of which can be made available through major outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble on line, and in rare instances in brick and mortar venues. And unlike just a few years ago this can be accomplished with little or no expense.

I decided to blog on this topic from my viewpoint as an agent. Agents are individuals who differ in their approach to offering representation. At Schiavone Literary we seek out top notch materials to represent. We receive some 8,000 queries per year and select only a few. We clearly state on our Web site at Publishers Marketplace that we have a 99% rejection of all queries received. My best advice to authors seeking agency representation is to diligently research the nation's top agents to determine who they are, who they represent, sales they have made, and genres that they specialize in.  I am rather astute, after 16 years in the publishing industry, in interpreting those authors who have done their homework, compared to those who willy nilly use the shotgun approach to sending queries hither and yon. Also, some authors use old resources that do not reflect the current needs and interests of the agencies they contact. I always know when an author writes a query based on information gleaned from my Publishers Marketplace Web site.

I have taken the position that I prefer not to consider previously published work in any format. Clearly, most authors who send queries asking for representation of their self published work, are not satisfied with the results. Invariably they convey their disappointment over the lack of sales. They say that they want to reach a broader population and now wish to attract a traditional publisher. "Look at me, I've self published and now I want you to sell my work to Random House!"  Really? In a rare instance or two, the author tells me that 9,500 copies were sold in four weeks. Well then, I'm interested. Send documentation of those sales so we can proceed with representation. Interestingly, communication stops  completely at this juncture.

I am prompted to jot down these thoughts, because lately I have been overwhelmed with queries from self published authors. I do believe that there are true literary gems among those queries, but time limitations preclude investigation. There may very well be agencies that will entertain the possibility of looking into self published work. Schiavone Literary is not one of them, but this does not preclude the possibility of representation based upon high sales figures.


  1. James,
    We've been hit by lightning twice now, so... does that mean I've got a chance?

    I've enjoyed reading your blog thoughts and feel compelled to comment. I think you're right on with your account of why somebody becomes a self-published author. I am one of those who have self-published before but desire to be published through one of the traditional houses now. I am not seeking representation for my self-published works, only my new and unpublished writings.

    I don't regret my self-publishing and have learned so much from the experience, but (as you eluded to) it was not everything that I wanted to accomplish.

    So, my question is: how do you, as an agent, feel about previously self-published authors who are querying you about new works?


  2. Queries (we only accept one page via email) regarding new books by previously self published authors are indeed welcome. We do not want self published books with abysmally low sales.