“My book is self-published and now I need an agent to take it to a bigger publisher.” Or perhaps, “Should I take my self-published book to show to an editor at a conference?”
As an agent, I get several self-published books a day. First, let me say I have no problem with self-published books, I’ve done a couple myself. That is, I don’t have a problem if it was a business decision to do it and not just because the author didn’t want to do the work necessary to traditionally publish.
But is it a viable strategy to circumvent the process and take a shortcut to a major publisher? I hate to have to say it, because I know it isn’t what authors want to hear, but once a book has been published, whether self-published or by other means, it is in print and to take it to a larger publisher generally means selling reprint rights. When I say that, many respond, “But I retained the rights for it.” It isn’t about owning the rights to the book; it’s about the fact that once a book is in print, the first rights are gone, no matter who published it. First rights are what a publisher primarily wants to buy, and a book can only be published for the first time once. That means it’s a reprint project or has to be offered as a new book which often requires a major rewrite.
Few publishers want reprint rights, and those that will look at them want to see sales figures up in the four figures that will show them the book deserves further print and promotion. As I said, there are a lot of good reasons to self-publish, particularly if a book is aimed at a regional or limited market, and the author recognizes that they will be doing the primary sales and marketing. However, as a strategy to get a book out in order to interest a major publisher in it, that strategy very seldom works and those times when it did work it was because of significant sales.
And how is an editor likely to see it if you bring a finished book to an interview to pitch it? A lot of self-published books have poor covers or poor editing (which has a lot to do with opinions the industry holds of self-publishing), but let’s assume neither is the case. To the editor we are showing them the book has already been done so a lot of editors are going to think we are offering them used goods. Were it to catch their interest, their first question would be about those pesky sales numbers.
Most of the time the odds against taking a previously published book and trying to get a major publisher interested are too long for me unless there are some really good sales numbers. Our best means of getting those books in print with somebody else is to get the next one published, do well with it and establish a relationship, and try to get our earlier books in behind it with the same publisher.
Still, the agency has done something with a few self-published titles if there were some decent sales and it was a really outstanding book. But I mentioned that I get a number of them each day. How many have been able to make that next step? A handful. Is it a viable means to interest a major publisher? Very seldom.
Terry Burns is an agent with Hartline Literary http://www.hartlineliterary.com, a member of the AAR (Association of Author's Representatives), and a writer of inspirational fiction (over 40 books in print, including 10 novels). He has a new series, The Sagebrush Collection, of short works, with On the Road Home the first release. His young adult book Beyond the Smoke won the Will Rogers Medallion. A Writer's Survival Guide to Publication was developed out of the month-long course he held for ACFW. Terry is a popular speaker at workshops across the country. www.terryburns.net