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Self-Publishing: When (Not) To Include Your Self-Published Book In Your Cover Or Query Letter Bio

Q. When should you include your self-published novel or book in your cover or query letter bio?

You should mention your self-published book in your cover or query letter bio (or any other writing bio) if you can also mention that the book has been successful in any of the following ways:

  • You’ve sold a substantial number of copies (“substantial” varies, but the numbers we’ve heard indicate that about 5,000 in one year is worth mentioning!).
  • You have received great reviews.
  • You have a great quote from another author or publisher.
  • The book received an award, nomination, or other distinguishing honor.
  • You have published a regional or niche book and marketed it to great success.
  • Any other interesting acclaim.

When should you NOT mention your self-published book in your query letter bio?
Completing a book is a big accomplishment—self-publishing a book can also be an impressive undertaking. However, unless your self-published book has garnered any accolades such as those listed above, it may do more harm than good to mention your self-published projects in your bio. Here are a few possible outcomes to consider before mentioning your self-published book (or books, if you have more than one) in your publishing bio when approaching agents.

Presumption. Some writers are choosing to self-publish even before they query literary agents and editors in order to publish traditionally. Historically, there have been a number of self-published novels that were extremely well-written; many have gone on to become wildly popular.

However, if your self-published book isn’t among that throng, mentioning your project in your cover or query letter may cause agents to infer that you tried to publish but ultimately could not find any enthusiasm for your project—even if you didn’t attempt the traditional publishing route at all. To put it crassly, if you mention that your books are self-published, agents may presume your writing isn’t strong enough or suitable for mainstream publication.

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Low sales = low enthusiasm. If your self-published book has not sold well, an agent may infer that you have not done the necessary legwork to promote your book; simply don’t know how to promote your book; or an editor may assume that you did promote it but didn’t get reader support (if nobody else wants to join your party, why would an agent or editor show up).

Practice books. Professional writers, agents, and editors know that it can take a writer a few tries before he or she is able to work through the many difficulties of composing a book-length manuscript. Although you rightly love your early-career, self-published book, an agent will likely consider it a “practice” book. While practice books are significant life credits, they are not always significant publishing credits.

The danger of being overeager. If you mention to an agent that you have three books self-published (but you’re pitching only one, or perhaps you’re pitching an entirely different project), the agent might think: “Oh, no. If I take on one project by this writer, he or she will bombard me with all the other books, so I’ll be stuck with all these ‘practice’ books that no one else could place at a traditional house.” If you mention all your other manuscripts, the agent may get scared off.

Other conflicting issues. An agent may be turned off by the self-published books in your bio because he or she may assume that you are the kind of person who wants to have complete editorial and marketing control over your book. Working with a traditional publishing house requires patience, a willingness to compromise, and a certain amount of “letting go.”

NOTE: if you are querying an agent with a book that was previously self-published (as opposed to simply mentioning a self-published book in your bio as discussed above), there is a right way and a wrong way to query. For more information, read After Self-Publishing: How To Find An Agent And A Publisher For Your Self-Published Book.

If you need help submitting your book to literary agents, Writer’s Relief has a service for every budget. We’ve been helping writers with the submission process since 1994, and there are hundreds of testimonials on our Web site. We’re happy to answer all your questions, so feel free to write to info@wrelief.com or call (866) 405-3003.

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