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.
Great advice as usual![quote][/quote]
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?
I beg to differ on that viewpoint. In fact, I’d think that today, many publishers are more impressed with authors brave enough to take the initiative to self-publish some novels more so than sit on a manuscript waiting to be discovered. We also need to recognize that many traditionally published novels that make “bestseller” lists are poorly written and are corporate bought into such accolades. The literary world isn’t without its own questionable practices like any industry. Times are changing! Also, the traditional space is hurting, and if they don’t accept previously self-published authors, they will only hurt more down the road.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is so interesting, I self published because I had a deadline for a keynote speech where the company who hired me also bought books for all attendees. I would love to have a publisher! I would love to have my book edited by a publisher and re-do the artwork if that’s what they want. I have a “platform” . I have lots of media coverage, TV, magazines, online magazines and I am doing more keynotes and workshops around the country and to an international crowd who is buying my book for all their attendees. I’m going for it and submitting proposals to publishers despite all the nay-sayers on line!
After a long, and successful life,I started writing as a hobby. Right after I retired. I had written a dozen or so, short stories, several of which were aimed at my grandson’s, each with a message. I have four unfinished novels in the works that fill my time. I had one finished novel called Boston’s Own BIG JOE FLYNN which I sent to Amazon along with eight short stories that I compiled into a book called American Stories for the Grandchildren. Writing is a very rewarding experience in itself and keeps me mentally and physically young, However I do not care to infringe on the young that make it their career. That’s why I will keep my works in self publishing.
I enjoy the efforts you have put in this, thanks for all the great blog posts.
Has anyone actually had success getting a self published book placed with a publisher? If so, can you share which companies have been receptive?
Poppa Won and Poppa Too by Michael Anthony are both books I self-published. The first publisher was AuthorHouse. When they stopped giving my my royalties I changed publishers to Parchment Global. Now I’m still not getting my royalties. I see my books are being sold because many people have them now. It’s difficult to find out how many have been printed and sold so I can get an idea of how much money I can expect to receive. I’m still trying to figure out how these two publishers are getting away with this criminal offense. I’m going to start doing my own marketing and hopefully things will change.
So who has actually done the self-publishingn route and gotten success with an agent/mainstream publisher afterwards? I’d like to know.
You may find this articles interesting: http://selfpublishingrelief.com/5-self-published-books-made-into-movies/ and http://selfpublishingrelief.com/4-self-publishing-success-stories-of-2016-and-what-we-can-learn-from-them/
I have an agent who contacted me saying she’d like to find a publisher for my self-published book. I’d have to take the book offline first. It’s on substance abuse published in 2010 with 34 substance abusers telling their stories. It will cost me some money with her work. Usually, agents don’t charge. Which this scared me. She said she charges because she puts in a good 80 hours a week. She had 15 books ready to find publishers and she has authors already published. The website is far from fancy but she has a record.
I want to go with her but feel on shaky grounds. She said no one would work harder than her. What would you all do? I’m also a speaker with a wonderful platform. I lost a husband and daughter from this disease. This attracted her to me.
You may want to read this article about agent red flags: https://writersrelief.com/2015/10/08/literary-agent-practices-worth-questioning/