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After Self-Publishing: How To Find An Agent And A Publisher For Your Self-Published Book

Often, writers e-mail us with variations on the same question: How can I get a literary agent for a self-published book?

Dear Writer’s Relief,

I self-published my book [enter number of months ago] and now I’m [A) Not happy with my publishing company or distribution B) Disappointed because I’m not getting any sales of my self-published book and/or C) Thinking of expanding my already successful efforts by getting a literary agent and a traditional publisher for my self-published book]. Can you please tell me whether or not I can send my self-published book to literary agents and editors?

While each author who has self-published is in a unique situation and there is no single answer for every writer, it is possible to submit your self-published book to literary agents.

If you do want to transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing, here are some tips for getting a literary agent:

1. Be as positive as you can be about your self-publishing experience. If you chose that route, be sure to demonstrate that your choice was deliberate, educated, and professional (hopefully it was!). You don’t want to come off as the kind of person who forgets to look before she or he leaps.

2. Emphasize the success of your book by citing sales, quotes, and media coverage, if possible.

3. Be sure you hold all rights to your book. You can’t offer publishing rights if you don’t own them.

4. Don’t expect to use your own cover art, title, layout, etc. When you transition to a traditional publisher, you need to be prepared to give up much of your autonomy.

5. Be honest. If you find yourself in serious talks with an agent, don’t hide your self-publishing history. Agents will look you up online.

6. Be prepared to remove your book from Amazon and other online retailers. If you sell your book to a traditional publisher, you don’t want to undercut their sales. You’ll need to think about whether or not you want to “freeze” your book sales before you attempt to get an agent or editor. A freeze will cut into your sales, but it may also demonstrate a firmer commitment to traditional publishing. Weigh the pros and cons before making your decision.

7. Don’t mess with the system. Some writers have asked us if it’s possible to sell SOME rights to a publisher, but keep others for themselves. This is probably not going to happen. Publishers develop rigorous ideas about how they want to market, and for that reason they generally want control over nearly all rights. If you hold some rights and the publisher holds some rights, you will set yourself up as a competitor against your publisher.

8. Don’t query with your bound, finished book; query with plain-old, 8.5 x 11 manuscript pages when necessary—as if the book had not been typeset and bound. Always follow agents’ submission guidelines.

9. If you’re querying literary agents for the first time with your project, it may be helpful to mention that. Some literary agents will suspect that self-published books are projects that failed to find homes at traditional publishing houses. If you’ve never queried before, your book may yet have a “freshness” factor worth mentioning.

If you’ve self-published a book, Writer’s Relief may be able to help with the submission process if you’d like to begin sending your book to literary agents. Visit www.WritersRelief.com to learn more.

6 Responses to After Self-Publishing: How To Find An Agent And A Publisher For Your Self-Published Book

  1. I just can’t see any publisher being interested in a self-published book. If you can offer them evidence of good sales, then they are going to reason that there probably isn’t all that much left for them to profit from. If you don’t show them good sales, well then that tells it’s own story in their eyes, even if there are perfectly legitimate reasons why that might be.

    At best, surely all it can do is get them to ask to see your next book?

    marc nash

  2. Good advice above.
    1. Agents and publishers don’t want to be bothered with self published books.
    2. Amazon.ca only lists books that are listed in its catalog. These books are supplied by publishers.
    3. Amazon.com lets you list your book at your starting price, then adjusts the price (downward) according to demand. Demand for your book only occurs with publicity. Publicity is scarce because every writer wants it.
    4. Investigate before you invest.

  3. I have to respectfully disagree with the above comments. An agent will be interested in any project that they deem profitable. Marc, you say that an agent will see a self-published book with great sales and “reason that there probably isn’t all that much left…to profit from.” When lots of people love a book, the sales grow exponentially. People didn’t see readers holding Dr. Seuss books, or Harry Potter books and go, “Nah, too many people like that, I won’t buy it.” The opposite happens. Sales grow sales. Plus, if you don’t have a history of marketing your book, the agent can start fresh. Agents want good writing. If you hold the rights to your self-published project, the right agent would be happy to work with your well written self-published book.

  4. Amanda Hocking, the poster child for self-publishing, has been picked up by agents and her self-published book, ‘Switched’, was re-printed by them.

  5. Use all possible outlets. Why not contact agents to help with your promotion, then you are free to read and write more? Agents may know the terrain much better than a particular author. Fifteen percent doesn’t seem as though you’re sacrificing the family inheritance. If it’s a good, interesting, dynamic, powerful, well-written story why not get it out there any way you can.

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