If you’ve self-published your book and are seeking a literary agent, you’re not alone. These days countless authors are taking the “publish first” approach to getting a book deal. Sometimes this method can lead to a traditional publishing deal. But other times, self-publishing before querying literary agents can make the query process a bit more complicated.
Here are our tips for writing a query letter if you have self-published your book (oh, and by the way, Writer’s Relief DOES help authors target self-published books to literary agents). We often help authors work through the tough decisions needed to make a strong pitch for a self-published book.
Scenario 1: You self-published your book and it took off! You’re on the Amazon Best Sellers list. You’re getting interview requests. You’re making waves.
What your query letter should say: If your book is that great, there’s a chance that literary agents will come to you! And you might just be able to have your pick from among your favorites. Your query letter should offer specifics about book sales (if you’re writing a query letter at all).
Scenario 2: You self-published your book, put in a ton of time marketing and promoting, and it’s doing kind of okay. You have some strong reviews from reputable reviewers (as opposed to random readers or distant cousins). Your author website is getting some interest. Your numbers are looking promising (you’ve sold well beyond your friends’ friends).
What your query letter should say: Be honest. Share your successes. Explain why you made the carefully thought-out choice to self-publish before seeking a traditional publisher. Explain why you think now is the right time to get a literary agent (maybe signs are pointing toward success, and you want a major publisher to step in).
Scenario 3: You self-published your book with expectations of great wealth and notoriety. You did a little bit of marketing, a few books signings, a little hand-selling, but the story’s popularity never grew beyond a few friendly reviews on Amazon. Now you want to ask a literary agent to try to do for the book what you could not: Get people to appreciate and buy it.
What your query letter should say: Perhaps this subsection should be called “What your query letter should NOT say.” Above all, you want to be positive about your experience. Don’t whine. If you’re not excited about your book, an agent won’t be either. You might want to hold off mentioning that you self-published, and then quietly slip that information in at the end of the letter, no big deal style.
Scenario 4: You self-published your book but did no marketing. Perhaps you wanted to get something in print quickly because a loved one was getting on in years. Perhaps you self-published because you wanted to give your book as a gift. Self-publishing was really just a way to share your book with friends and family.
What your query letter should say: If you didn’t intend your self-publishing endeavors to reach beyond friends and family, then an agent probably won’t hold you accountable for low book sales. Go ahead and mention your “very limited, self-published print run for friends and family.”
Here at Writer’s Relief we generally advocate querying literary agents before self-publishing; it’s a cleaner, neater pitch that way. Agents are looking—first and foremost—for what’s fresh and new.
But if you’ve self-published first, you’re not out of the running by any means! Just be sure to craft your query letter with an emphasis on the positive elements of your experience—and agents may pick up on your vibe! Learn more: After Self-Publishing: How To Find An Agent And A Publisher For Your Self-Published Book.
Writing your own query letter may seem daunting, but the experts at Writer’s Relief can help! For our Full Service clients, our professional letter writing team creates effective query letters that are skillfully crafted to entice literary agents and build interest in their books. If you’re a DIY-type, you’ll find an easy-to-follow, step-by-step blueprint for writing a successful query letter using proven marketing techniques in our book, The Ultimate Query Letter Tool Kit by Writer’s Relief.
QUESTION: Have you ever self-published/printed a book or other piece of creative writing to share only with friends and family?
I made a photocopied chapbook of my poems and passed them out to friends, but that was in middle school… not sure if that counts lol.
I went with the fourth scenario. I didn’t make major sales but I also didn’t try very hard. i was surprised by the decent reactions I get from agents in my initial queries. I was afraid they’d be turned off by that, but it’s not as bad if you’re clear that the low numbers came from low effort. (just make sure they know you’d work a lot harder with them if they signed on to your project)
Thanks, that was good advice. Edward Smith
I wrote this book because I was asked repeatedly to do so by clients, family and friends. I knew I wouldn’t be able to market it for lack of funds but I have received some unbelievable reviews throughout the web. It was a personal achievement and I would LOVE to expand the readership and rework what I have and even add a few chapters. I just don’t think agents are interested in even hearing about self-published work.
I self published a book with a local publisher. After a month or so I sent an e-mail and a follow up phone call asking why my book was not available to other retailers and book distributors companies. (Yes, I called other large retailers and book distributor companies when there were minimum sales) Now I am in search of a literary agent to help me carry my self published middle grade fantasy story of optimism forward. I believe I can find that agent that will help me get the first domino to fall and knock over the next and next.
We do not work with middle grade books, but you can certainly look for an agent for your self-published book.