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Thread: Self publishing and finding an agent later...

  1. #1
    Deceptively Horrific Elegy's Avatar
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    Self publishing and finding an agent later...

    Is it possible for me to market my novel as a PDF and then go through a publishing house later? Will they reject me based on my novel already having been out there?
    Before I begin writing, the blank page is my greatest fear.

    Once I have begun, it becomes my greatest temptation.


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    A dark core to every cloud Clair Dickson's Avatar
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    You will have used up the first printing (can't think of the technical term at the moment)-- everything else will be a reprint.

    It's highly unlikely that a publisher will want to reprint your novel. Unless you happen to be one a half-dozen self-pubbed authors who sells SOOO many copies that publishers DO want to cash in on it.

    It's possible, but if your ultimate goal is landing a book with a traditional publisher, self-publishing it may not be the best method for doing so. The better method would be to continue revising and querying agents-- and (most important!) write your next book. When writing the second book, one often becomes acutely and painfully aware of the mistakes in the first one.




  3. #3
    Writer is as Writer does Terie's Avatar
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    Should this topic be moved to a more appropriate forum, since it's not about business writing or technical writing and might get more response if it were posted in the right place?
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    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elegy View Post
    Is it possible for me to market my novel as a PDF and then go through a publishing house later? Will they reject me based on my novel already having been out there?
    If your goal is commercial publishing -- that is, publishing by a legitimate, royalty-paying, commercial press (a Random House or the like) -- then focus your efforts exclusively on pursuing an agent and commercial publisher (or possibly a commercial publisher that accepts unagented books, but watch out for sharks in those waters).

    See my "The Pursuit of Publishing" for an overview and resources. Link to a free .pdf version is in signature block below. (No, I have no interest in commercial publishing of that piece, in case you wondered. That is not its purpose.)

    --Ken

  5. #5
    Deceptively Horrific Elegy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terie View Post
    Should this topic be moved to a more appropriate forum, since it's not about business writing or technical writing and might get more response if it were posted in the right place?
    Listen, When I saw "business and technical," I assumed this forum was for the business end of writing itself.

    People like you, who make short, rude remarks to people are really making me hate this forum.

    I mean no disrespect, but please -- stop disrespecting others.
    Before I begin writing, the blank page is my greatest fear.

    Once I have begun, it becomes my greatest temptation.


    ---

    Horror novel -- 39,467, first draft | 15%

  6. #6
    Deceptively Horrific Elegy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ResearchGuy View Post
    If your goal is commercial publishing -- that is, publishing by a legitimate, royalty-paying, commercial press (a Random House or the like) -- then focus your efforts exclusively on pursuing an agent and commercial publisher (or possibly a commercial publisher that accepts unagented books, but watch out for sharks in those waters).

    See my "The Pursuit of Publishing" for an overview and resources. Link to a free .pdf version is in signature block below. (No, I have no interest in commercial publishing of that piece, in case you wondered. That is not its purpose.)

    --Ken
    Thanks, Ken.
    Before I begin writing, the blank page is my greatest fear.

    Once I have begun, it becomes my greatest temptation.


    ---

    Horror novel -- 39,467, first draft | 15%

  7. #7
    Opinionated suki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elegy View Post
    Listen, When I saw "business and technical," I assumed this forum was for the business end of writing itself.

    People like you, who make short, rude remarks to people are really making me hate this forum.

    I mean no disrespect, but please -- stop disrespecting others.
    Elegy, I didn't take the comment as rude so much as suggesting that the post was in the wrong place. You'll find that a lot of people here are willing to help you in your writing pursuits - but it might be a good idea to default to assuming they are trying to help.

    As for your original question, I agree with Ken that if your goal is to be published by a trade publisher, then it is generally better to focus on finding an agent or trade publisher who accepts unagented manuscripts (my strong suggestion is finding an agent).

    There are people who successfully self-publish and then later have that self-published book picked up by a trade publisher. But those are, statistically, the rare exceptions rather than the rule.

    Once you self-publish it will be unlikely that an agent or traditional publisher will take on the book unless it sold a large number of self-published copies - I'm not an expert but the number I've seen tossed around is more than 5,000.

    So, my advice would be to focus on trying to find an agent.

    And maybe a mod will move this to the appropriate forum for you. In the future, almost all forums have an about the forum thread or read before you post thread where you can make sure you are about to post in the most appropriate forum for your question/post.

    good luck.

    ~suki

  8. #8
    Whose amusement exceeds all known standards of propriety AW Paladin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terie View Post
    Should this topic be moved to a more appropriate forum, since it's not about business writing or technical writing and might get more response if it were posted in the right place?
    Thanks for making a courteous and helpful suggestion. I'm going to move this to the POD Self-Publishing and E-Publishing forum.
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    Becoming a laptop-human hybrid Fuchsia Groan's Avatar
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    I interviewed an author whose self-published book got picked up by a big trade house (after she used an offer from a smaller publisher as leverage to acquire an agent). She recently promoted the book on a major TV network. It's nonfiction and has a story with a pretty obvious "hook." Also, the writer is a fearless and canny businesswoman who told me she "broke all the rules" to get agents and editors interested. So that's one success story, but I'm guessing it's the exception.

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    Doing the Space Operatic AW Moderator Izz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elegy View Post
    Listen, When I saw "business and technical," I assumed this forum was for the business end of writing itself.

    People like you, who make short, rude remarks to people are really making me hate this forum.

    I mean no disrespect, but please -- stop disrespecting others.
    Wow--way to misread, dude.

    As to your original question (and to add to what people have already said): if you self-publish and do manage to sell more than the average 50-100 copies, it could be that an agent or publisher looking at the book will reason that it's already sold as many as it's likely to.

    Also, the vast majority of legitimate agents will not even consider a self-pubbed book. Not necessarily because they think self-publishing is the ugly cousin, but because their chances of selling it to a commercial publisher are very slim.

    And while publishing contracts don't explicitly refer to 'first publishing rights' it's likely that if you are able to attract the attention of a commercial publisher with the book the advance they offer won't be as much as they would've offered if it hadn't already been published.

    Yes, some people do self-pub and then get picked up by commercial publishers, but they're the exception. There's something like 250,000 self and vanity-pubbed books a year. Perhaps one or two of those might get picked up. You can make self-publishing work for you, but you need to understand the business model very, very well and then work very, very hard within that model.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW StephenJSweeney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elegy View Post
    Is it possible for me to market my novel as a PDF and then go through a publishing house later? Will they reject me based on my novel already having been out there?
    I know of a handful (and that is to say, only a handful) of people who have been picked up by commercial publishers after self publishing. But, they are very much the exception to the rule. They have worked their butts off to get there.

    One thing that I did notice was that all these publishing agreements were also made for re-writes of the original book.

    I've self published my own book. It's not been easy, but I'd like to believe that I'm doing a little better than most others, with some reasonable in-store placement (about 12 branches of Waterstone's in London).

    For my own efforts, I will continue to self-publish my trilogy, but am planning on writing two books in the new year which I was pursue commercial publication of.

  12. #12
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elegy View Post
    Listen, When I saw "business and technical," I assumed this forum was for the business end of writing itself.

    People like you, who make short, rude remarks to people are really making me hate this forum.

    I mean no disrespect, but please -- stop disrespecting others.

    There are several like that here.


    On topic: I would not self publish unless I had the intention of building a publishing company. There is a slim chance of another publising house wanting to use your existing published work unless you have sold enough for them to believe they still stood a good chance at a nice profit.

  13. #13
    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenJSweeney View Post
    I know of a handful (and that is to say, only a handful) of people who have been picked up by commercial publishers after self publishing.. . .
    I know a couple of self-publishers who have turned down buyout offers from commercial publishers for their entire companies. (They decided they would do better to stay private, already having sales well into the tens of thousands.)

    And of course, there is Ben Dominitz, who parlayed one self-published book into Prima Publishing, which is now part of Crown Publishing (I think it had been part of Random House for a time). One of Stephanie Chandler's Lulu efforts quickly was picked up by a commercial publisher. Another of my acquaintances self-published a book on gambling, and was offered a contract by DK for a much larger new book (which has since been published). Etc., etc. Those are just people I know personally. There have to be a great many more across the country. They are of course part of a very small minority, but such successes do happen.

    --Ken

  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin bobbiewickham's Avatar
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    Actually, I think it's the only way to go in today's market. If you are a new writer, breaking through the din to get the attention of agents and publishers is very, very hard work. And once you've got an agent and a publisher, as a new writer you're at a terrible disadvantage when it comes time to write the contract. Self-publishing gives new writers a chance to prove themselves before they ever sit down with an agent or editor.

    I was interviewed about this in Self-Publishing Review a few weeks ago and gave details of my own experiences there.

  15. #15
    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobbiewickham View Post
    Actually, I think it's the only way to go in today's market. If you are a new writer, breaking through the din to get the attention of agents and publishers is very, very hard work. . . . .
    If you think self-publishing is not hard work, you have another think coming. I can cite very successful self-publishers (and have), but I can tell you that they work their posteriors off and have invested in learning their craft.

    Anyway, new writers get agents and get real publishing contracts daily. Every commercially published author was new at some point. Mind you, I am a supporter of self-publishing. But only for the right reasons. To avoid the work of pursuing commercial publishing is not a right reason.

    As for writing the contract . . . if you have an agent, it is the agent's job to worry about that. The agent lives on a percentage of advances and royalties, so it is in the agent's interest to pursue as good a contract as possible.

    --Ken

  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin bobbiewickham's Avatar
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    Hi ResearchGuy!

    Sure, it's the agent's job to negotiate terms, but if you can give the agent something solid to work with (e.g. "Look, this author has sold ten thousand copies on his own, here. and get a load of these reviews!") then that agent is going to be able to make you a better deal. In the venture capital world this is called "proof of concept" and the same rules apply. A startup company with a real product and revenues to show is going to get a far better valuation from venture capitalists than one without.

    I'm a n00b here in self-publishing land, to be sure. But in the three months since I published my first book (I went ahead and did two, more or less at once) I've managed to sell almost 600 copies, I've been approached by a national magazine to write stuff for them--and to my total shock, one of my books is going to be taught in an honors undergraduate course at a highly-ranked university next year!! It's true I have been working really hard at promotion but believe me, I went into this hoping for a conventional deal down the road, and so far I haven't regretted my decision for one instant--it's going great.

  17. #17
    Opinionated suki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobbiewickham View Post
    Hi ResearchGuy!

    Sure, it's the agent's job to negotiate terms, but if you can give the agent something solid to work with (e.g. "Look, this author has sold ten thousand copies on his own, here. and get a load of these reviews!") then that agent is going to be able to make you a better deal. In the venture capital world this is called "proof of concept" and the same rules apply. A startup company with a real product and revenues to show is going to get a far better valuation from venture capitalists than one without.

    I'm a n00b here in self-publishing land, to be sure. But in the three months since I published my first book (I went ahead and did two, more or less at once) I've managed to sell almost 600 copies, I've been approached by a national magazine to write stuff for them--and to my total shock, one of my books is going to be taught in an honors undergraduate course at a highly-ranked university next year!! It's true I have been working really hard at promotion but believe me, I went into this hoping for a conventional deal down the road, and so far I haven't regretted my decision for one instant--it's going great.
    Your story is interesting, and I congratulate you on your success. But I note that your two self-published books are non-fiction.

    From my research, and in my anecdotal understanding, there is a great deal of difference between the chances of self-publishing success with non-fiction versus fiction. There appears to be more authors self-publishing non-fiction books and finding eventual homes with established publishers later, than with authors with self-published novels.

    With fiction, self-publishing still carries a stigma with some agents and editors. So, each writer needs to carefully research the issue and decide for his/her self what path seems most likely to achieve their goals, short term and long term.

    But with fiction, it is still, statistically speaking, more likely to achieve an agent and a contract with one of the established trade publishers by finding an agent, as opposed to self-publishing and hoping to sell sufficient numbers of the self-published novel to gain the attention of an agent or large publisher.

    ~suki

  18. #18
    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobbiewickham View Post
    . . . if you can give the agent something solid to work with (e.g. "Look, this author has sold ten thousand copies on his own, here.. . . .
    Obviously. But you do that, and either publishers are coming to you, or your business is far more profitable than any deal with a commercial publisher would be, or both. Very few self-publishers sell more than a few hundred books, and those that sell in large quantity (thousands, tens of thousands) are not likely to be interested in an offer from a commercial publisher. My friends who have sold in the tens of thousands have rejected buyouts or commercial publishing contracts.

    --Ken

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW MickRooney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suki View Post
    From my research, and in my anecdotal understanding, there is a great deal of difference between the chances of self-publishing success with non-fiction versus fiction. There appears to be more authors self-publishing non-fiction books and finding eventual homes with established publishers later, than with authors with self-published novels.

    With fiction, self-publishing still carries a stigma with some agents and editors. So, each writer needs to carefully research the issue and decide for his/her self what path seems most likely to achieve their goals, short term and long term.

    But with fiction, it is still, statistically speaking, more likely to achieve an agent and a contract with one of the established trade publishers by finding an agent, as opposed to self-publishing and hoping to sell sufficient numbers of the self-published novel to gain the attention of an agent or large publisher.

    ~suki
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  20. #20
    figuring it all out
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    Bobbie, enjoyed your review on SPR, and your book looks great.

    The distinction between fiction and non-fiction is dead-on. Although there are examples of people who have successfully self-published fiction, they are few and far between. Very rare.

    I've helped many people self-publish, almost all of them non-fiction authors, and many have been profitable. But of the novelists, I know of none who has sold any appreciable number of books despite budgets for PR, marketing, advertising, and so on. At least at the present time, it just seems like a money sink.

    On the other hand, some authors who have published multiple books, almost creating their own "line" of novels, have done okay, like JA Konrath.

    But self-publishing definitely works best for the niche non-fiction author.
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  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin bobbiewickham's Avatar
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    Hello all, and thanks for the thoughtful comments ... thank you especially, JFBookman, for going over there and reading the interview, and for your kind words.

    You're all quite right of course, there's generally a big difference in immediate marketability between non-fiction and fiction. But I believe this to be largely a question of having a marketing hook, and some sales ability. I suspect that strong genre writers with a great hook and natural skill at self-promotion are likely to do well at self-publishing. The excellent sticky note on this site about book signings says it all, really. Proactive, intense effort means the difference between success and failure in this business, as in any other.

    I have known of a few fiction writers being picked up after self-publishing successfully ... there was a guy on Authonomy last year named Steven Dunne, a thriller writer, who had self-published successfully and was picked up at HarperCollins. I've heard of many others. But here's the thing: it's only been possible for a very short time for self-publishers to produce a professional-quality product and have nationwide distribution at such low cost.

    It makes no sense to look back in order to determine whether or not this can be done. The situation for new writers has changed so drastically, and so rapidly. Ideally, a gifted new author of fiction could expect a decent advance, a lot of personal attention, and a real budget for PR and marketing. That whole world is pretty much gone. Check out this story in Salon to learn the exact fate of one new author. And this author was one of the lucky ones! Things have only gotten much, much worse since this piece was written (in 2004.)

    Ellis Weiner's recent piece in the New Yorker speaks very eloquently (and hilariously) to recent changes in the publishing world.

    In any case, best of luck to everyone with whatever path you choose.

  22. #22
    minion kullervo's Avatar
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    You can absolutely find successful, self-published fiction writers. And you can find unsuccessful, disgruntled commercially-published fiction writers. This is called cherry-picking. Finding examples to fit the argument you're making. However, are these cases the majority? No. They are the extreme minority. And two facts that are also true in these cases are that the self-published writer is hustling him- or herself to death and the commercially-published writer has a check in his or her pocket.

  23. #23
    just a writer, unbranded AllieKat's Avatar
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    I've heard of authors who got scouted by agents after they already went their own self-pub route.

  24. #24
    Elle est arrivée! Barbarique's Avatar
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    Thank you for that SALON article, Bobbie. I found it fascinating, if not altogether unsurprising.

    Alas for the stately old publishing industry! Sic transit gloria mundi.
    "The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that by seeing nothing it might avoid Truth." ~ Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness

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  25. #25
    figuring it all out
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    Again, this relates mostly to non-fiction, but at a recent BAIPA meeting (Bay Area Independent Publishers Association) Alan Rinzler, head of Jossey-Bass, said that he thought about 5% of self-published books were being acquired by traditional houses. (BTW I assume he meant "properly self-published" books, i.e. edited, designed, produced professionally.)

    So if you have a good topic, do the homework, spend the money to do the book properly, and then establish some sales, you do have a chance at getting a contract because you have, in a sense, eliminated a lot of the upfront cost and risk the publisher ordinarily takes on.
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