Updated May 2023
Often, writers email us with variations on the same question: How can I get a literary agent for my self-published book?
Dear Writer’s Relief,
I self-published my book [enter number of months or years ago] and now I’m 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 to encompass every author and publisher, it certainly is possible to submit your self-published book to agents.
Self-publishing can be a great route to success and fame for authors. However, if you do reach a point where you want to transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing, here are some tips for getting a literary agent:
- 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, processional—and successful! You won’t want to come off as the sort of person who forgets to look before she or he leaps, especially with such a serious endeavor as publishing.
- Emphasize the success of your book. Cite sales, quotes, and media coverage wherever possible.
- Be sure you hold all rights to your book. You can’t offer publishing rights if you don’t own them!
- Don’t expect to use your own cover art, layout, title, etc. When you transition to a traditional publisher, you need to be prepared to compromise and give up much of your autonomy.
- Be prepared to remove your book from online retailers like Amazon. If you sell your book to a traditional publisher, you won’t want to undercut their sales. This means you’ll need to think twice about whether or not you want to “freeze” your book sales before you attempt to obtain an agent or an editor. A freeze will cut into your personal sales, but it may also demonstrate a firmer commitment to traditional publishing.
- 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 plans about how they want to market, and for that reason, they generally want control over all (or nearly all) rights. If you hold some rights and the publisher holds some rights, you will set yourself up as a competitor against your traditional publisher.
- Don’t query with your bound and finished book, or with a formatted e-copy. 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.
- If you’re querying literary agents for the first time with your project, mention that. If your project has never seen agency eyes before, it may have a “freshness” factor to it that will appeal to some literary agents. And if your book has a tremendous sales record from your own efforts, this will be attractive in its own right!
- Most importantly, 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. And these days, self-publishing is not something for an author to be ashamed of.
If you’ve self-published a book and would like to begin sending it to literary agents, Writer’s Relief may be able to help with the submission process! Visit our service page to learn more.