Literary agents open the door to self-published writers

The top dog at one of the most successful literary agencies in New York says he’s in hot pursuit of self-published books to represent to mainstream publishers.

“Absolutely, yes!”  That was Jim Levine’s unequivocal answer when I asked him recently if he was accepting self-published submissions.

Levine is a founding partner at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, among the top five overall most active agencies in the business, according to Publishers Marketplace.  And he’s on the crest of a wave of agents beginning to represent authors who’ve self-published and are seeking mainstream commercial publication.

A notable shift in attitude

Levine’s attitude is a notable shift, since in the past, most agents shunned self-published books as tainted goods and a tough sell. Levine says that’s changing.

“Usually when we take on a self-published book we sell it,” he said. “We sold Jason Kaplan’s Things That Suck to Andrews McMeel Publishing, Jeff Rivera’s Forever my Lady to Grand Central, Dane Sanders’ Fast Track Photographer to Random House, and Ivan Sanchez’s Next Step to Simon & Schuster. And that’s just off the top of my head.

So we’re happy to take a look at self-published books. Of the more than 10,000 proposals we get every year, a few hundred are self-published and that number is growing. Sales track is key. If the author has sold 5,000 copies in the previous year, it interests publishers.  And if an author has sold that many, she or he probably has some sort of platform.”

The times they are a’ changing

Literary agents have been the missing link for self-published writers trying to break through into mainstream publishing.  When I recently interviewed Keith Ogorek, VP for Marketing at the self-publishing conglomerate Author Solutions, he said agents with old-school attitudes were the biggest obstacles for his authors pursuing commercial publishers.

But new attitudes are taking hold, especially among younger up-and-coming literary agents. Check out these three agents and their positions on representing self-published authors:

Nathan Bransford, the popular publishing blogger and agent for Curtis Brown in San Francisco:

“I definitely am on the lookout for self-published books, and have clients who started out self-publishing. I wouldn’t say that I have strict criteria for which self-published projects I take on. It’s all case-by-case.”

Bransford reports selling a previously self-published book on humane dog training, which will be published next year by New World Library.

Terra Chalberg at the Susan Golomb Agency:

“I would absolutely handle more of them, on a project-by-project basis. The self-publishing aspect, for me, only factors in as a sales tool in one extreme or the other – that is, if it hasn’t sold many copies and is “like new” or, if it’s sold so many copies it’s worth the investment (as happened with the self-published book The Shack, which sold a million copies and reached #1 on the NY Times bestseller list, before selling another five million copies since Hachette picked it up for mainstream publication.)

So, it doesn’t matter one way or the other to me or to the editors I’ve encountered. I wouldn’t ever turn a compelling project away because it had been self-published. It holds no stigma for me.”

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with WordServe Literary and also the author of Rants and Ramblings, a smart and well-written blog about writing and the book business:

“I haven’t taken any on yet, simply because I haven’t received any that impressed me enough. But I’d definitely consider it. My criteria are exactly the same as with any other project coming across my desk: Do I think I can sell it? Do I believe in it? Do I think I’d be a good fit with this author? Does the author have an appropriate platform to be able to market this book?

Then of course: how many self-pubbed copies has the author sold, and can they prove it?

Caution and skepticism persist

Not all agents are on board. Veteran agent Sandy Dijkstra (representing Amy Tan, Susan Faludi, Maxine Hong Kingston) for example, says she’s received very few self-published submissions but would handle one if she thought it had potential. So far, she hasn’t.

Another stellar agent, Jane Dystal (representing Barack Obama’s first book, Joy Bauer and Bobby Flay, among others) also has no self-published authors that she’s either represented or sold, as far as she can remember.

Joelle DelBourgo, a literary agent and former top executive at Random House, is divided on the subject, with one very successful experience and others not so much.

“A couple of years ago, an author approached me about her book, which she had self-published,” DelBourgo told me.  “She wrote a wonderful letter, provided a dazzling promo kit and included a copy of a beautifully designed little book which she had sold to her clients, 4,000 copies or so, without any bookstore distribution.”

“I was intrigued, read the book right away and took her on. I sold the book for six figures practically overnight.  But that’s the exception, not the rule. More recently, we took on an author who self-published a great marketing book and sold 6,000 copies, but publishers were still not impressed enough to take it seriously.”

So despite her initial success, DelBourgo is cautious and skeptical about most self-published books, expressing views held widely among mainstream agents. “My experience is that most self-published books have been poorly edited and produced.  Authors don’t always understand that self-publishing means that YOU, the author, are the publisher, and need to do everything for your book that a “real” publisher would do, like editing, copyediting, design, production, marketing, distribution, etc.”

Alice Martell, of the Martell Agency in New York, says “Up until five years ago, I had a knee-jerk negative reaction to self publishing. It’s become quite attractive these days, however, as a way for an author to test-market a book’s commercial appeal. It’s funny, though. Most people don’t assume they’d be great lawyers, engineers or doctors, but easily imagine themselves as magnificent writers.  So this is one field in which some kind of review process is absolutely essential.”

My view: Self-published authors need agents

As an editor at a big commercial publishing house, almost all my acquisitions come in through agents.  So I’ve always believed that the best way for a self-published author to convert to commercial publication is with the help of an agent. A good agent who believes in your book can make all the difference in the world.

What about you?

Are you a self-published author seeking representation with an agent?  How’s that going?  Or are you an agent with war stories to share?

We’d all be very interested to hear about your experiences, so please post here in comments.

54 Responses to Literary agents open the door to self-published writers

  1. Mari Miniatt

    This article came at the right time for me.
    I am self published. And have been thinking lately about getting an agent. I know some self pub authors would feel that is a slap in the face to the whole “us vs them” mentality. But 1. that idea of “us vs. them” is changing. 2. I feel that I have “cut my teeth” on self publishing and want to make the big plunge. I know my second book is better than the first. I learned a lot more by doing, than having someone tell me what to do.
    So I plan to keep on self publishing, while submitting.

  2. Rosalinda Vargas

    An agent would be great, but I have not found a bilingual/Spanish agent. I write poetry and children’s picture books. Also, blog reviewers who read and write Spanish are hard to come by. I will keep trying. This was a nice article with promising information.

  3. Edward G. Talbot

    Agents and editors are in the business of selling books. It never really made sense that a book that could sell 3000 copies without a publisher was a WORSE bet than one that had not sold any copies. Unless the publisher considered itself to offer no value in the form of getting the book in front of more potential readers.

    The oft-stated fact that the vast majority of self-published books stink – usually said while implying an agent or publisher won’t really consider them – is interesting. It is true. And totally irrelevant, unless one feels that the fact that the vast majority of the slushpile stinks should mean no more considering the slushpile, either. When I hear an agent or publisher say that about self-published books, I know they – intentionally or otherwise – are focused on something they shouldn’t be focused on if they are interested in finding books to sell.

    The increasing acceptance of self-published books is a very positive thing, as it breaks down one more limitation that didn’t make sense. However, authors need to keep themselves grounded in reality about what it means, and about self-publishing (and ebook publishing) in general. The opening up of opportunities is actually going to make it MORE difficult to have a financially successful career as an author, at least in the short term. Advances will continue to go down and more people will be fighting for the same sized pie. That’s one of the side effects of democratization of the process. When the dust settles, I hope the result is more good books, but the pain of the recent years among authors, agents and publishers is going to continue for a few more years at least.

  4. Barbara Hartmann King

    I am an Australian author who writes Outback sagas with a multicultural theme. I had a small independent publisher for my first book and when they closed their doors due to financial problems I self-published the next two books to complete my trilogy. I’ll never be sorry I did that. My multicultural genre could have been the problem back then in my country. I was probably before my time but I would welcome an agent who could find me mainstream publishing. I am really ready to get out there big time.I received an Australian Day Cultural Award from my community which should count for something. I know I have the goods.

  5. Gary Allen VanRiper

    We have managed to sell 100,000 copies of our self-published (NOT P.O.D.) children’s book series on a part-time basis. Not at all sure what an agent could do for us. But glad to see attitudes may finally be changing in the industry. I think.

  6. Livia Blackburne

    It’s really striking how quickly perceptions in the industry are changing. I feel like even in the year and half that I’ve spent in the blogosphere, people have become much more accepting of self publishing.

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  8. Anna St. George

    Having done many things on my own without the help of a professional, some with success and some without, I have finally learned that it is best to hire them from the beginning. Since my co-author and I have zero experience in publishing, we want to secure an agent that has said experience.

    We are confident that our topic and its angle will be of interest to one and the larger houses they work with. If we are not successful in getting one, then we will look at self-publishing as an option. It is comforting to know that this method could also be a way to gain an agent’s interest.

    I am learning a great deal from your blog, thank you!

  9. Jon R Horton

    My first book was published by a regional publisher who wasn’t honest, to put it mildly; the second regional publisher got breast cancer and closed her house. At that time I was a member of both of the Western Writers and Mystery Writers, attending conventions etc.. However, I decided to re-publish my books, which were doing well, via POD, and because it was the mid-90′s my reputation as a writer was immediately ruined. All five of my titles are five-starred on Amazon and feedback from readers are uniformly laudatory. I was the first to write about a small town Wyoming lawman but the concept was met with a yawn by New York when I was pitching it in the early 90′s, but C.J. Box and now Craig Johnson have gone on to sell millions of books based on it. I finally gave up, completely worn out by beating my head against the wall. Now I write short stories, mostly for my own satisfaction. C’est la vie.

  10. Alan Rinzler

    Edward,

    I have a different perspective of the financial side of publishing. In my experience authors aren’t getting lower advances, not at all. I’ve been losing some auctions for books I’d like to publish to bigger advance offers from Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and others. The trend is up, not down.

    Also, some self-published books are producing good earnings, as Gary pointed out in his comment.

    So call me an optimist, but I think these are exciting times for authors, as long as they have good books, as you say.

  11. Jeff Rivera

    Hi Alan,
    I’m Jeff Rivera (you know me already but your readers may not) I’m the same Jeff Rivera, super-agent Jim Levine mentioned in your article. Yes, it’s true an agent can indeed sell an originally self-published book. Mine went to Grand Central and I now help other self-published authors land agents. Help is out there, if you just look. Dreams really do come true and I’m living proof of it.

  12. Sharon Bially

    Great post! I’m the author of a book that I’ve serialized on a blog integrated with blogging about the story and background, and even as I go down this path as an indie, think it would be fantastic to work with an agent. It’s good to know that agents are opening their minds to this — as you said, times, they are a-changing.

  13. Sharon Bially

    PS to my previous comment: I sometimes think perhaps a viable model for the publishing industry’s next phase would be to accept ONLY books that have already proven they can sell or have an audience. Why pay cash up front for something that has no track record and often winds up losing money? Not to mention that all authors these days also need marketing/entrepreneurial skills. Shouldn’t books, like products in all other sectors, have to prove they are viable BEFORE getting the seed funding (in this case, an advance) that will help launch them to the next level? Self-published authors with a growing audience may just be the type of entrepreneur the industry needs.

  14. LeAnn Neal Reilly

    Alan,

    I came to the same conclusion that Sharon Bially did earlier this year. I’d gotten little response to my queries and had to decide whether to hide a manuscript I’d spent years on in a drawer or use my professional writing and design skills to put it out in front of potential readers. So far, I’ve done far better than my fears about self publishing led me to expect, BUT I have treated publishing as a business. I’ve created promotional materials, contacted media sources, reviewers, and bookstores, and spent my own “seed” money to pay for PR through book blogs. In a few weeks, I’ll start touring online. Although I still have a lot to learn, I really believe that I should look more attractive and not less for my efforts and experience. That, and I believe in my product. I’d prefer to get an agent and traditional publisher, but I don’t regret what I’ve done.

  15. Jack Barrow

    I self-published The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil a little over four years ago and it’s been a mixed blessing. It has enabled me to believe in myself as a writer as the feedback from total strangers who have parted with their ten pounds counts for so much more than any other sort of feedback. However, it’s left me with an overwhelming sense of burden. Burden that I really should be doing this, writing, but I don’t have the energy to do all the marketing and promotion when I really want to be writing the second book in the series. In the mean time I’ve republished a non fiction book I did years ago and written a spin-off book from the novel turning the Hidden Masters into a franchise rather than just a series. I’m trying to produce a viral marketing animation while working on a re-launch of the novel to try to capitalise on my increased web presence that I didn’t have before (Twitter, Blogspot, Facebook fans page, etc.).

    As a self published author all of these options are open to you, and you have to do the lot, but the promotion is a full time job, not to mention dealing with the printing and distribution invoices and other admin.

    In case nobody noticed, I’m a writer! I’ve been writing other stuff for business and technical audiences for over twenty years. I’m not a PR person or marketeer. If I could just hand the promotion on to someone else I could make us all a fortune but my second novel is sitting there with only two chapters written because every day is spent dealing with all the promotion.

    Barrow’s Law: Social media promotion expands to fill the time allocated for the creation of that which is being promoted.

  16. Elizabeth Newlin

    This is great to hear! Gives hope to all of those aspiring authors out there (whether we should have it or not).

  17. Kristina Holmes

    As a non-fiction agent, I consider self-published books, theoretically at least.

    But I think the challenge for self-published authors, ones with real ISBN numbers that get tracked on Nielsen Bookscan, is that their sales numbers through the traditional bookstores are public information for publishers. And its unfortunately those traditional sales outlets that are the hardest for self-published authors to get into because they lack distribution.

    While the publishing climate is certainly changing, I think as long as sales are tracked through traditional outlets and publishers continue to put the most emphasis using Bookscan as a primary sales reference point – versus an author’s statement that the book has sold 3,000 copies in back-of-the-room sales or as ebooks – big publishers are going to be wary of publishing authors that are showing, say, 100 copies sold. When I look up self-published authors on Bookscan, the vast majority (I’d say over 95-98%) are showing sales under 100 copies. From a publisher’s standpoint, this is not compelling.

    If the large publishers are hoping for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in book sales, then a self-published author who has sold more books, say 5,000 copies, is a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, the argument can certainly be made that with distribution, the book may fare far better. But on the other, a publisher may feel that their target for sales is substantially higher than this author’s platform has shown it can generate. There’s a cloud of doubt that’s produced.

    Coming back to why I theoretically consider self-published projects. I do believe that there are amazing self-published authors that could be huge successes if discovered. I would love to be queried by those ones, of course. :)

    In the end, though, (and I’m speaking of non-fiction, since that’s my domain) I still must see a significant platform and a well-written book with a compelling premise. The extra consideration self-published authors will have is showing substantial book sales. To a degree, a really unique hook or premise to the book can make up for low book sales, as can recent platform developments that may take sales to another level.

  18. Alan Rinzler

    Kristina,

    Thanks for your astute comments. The last time I bought a self-published book I asked the author to send me print orders and shipping records to prove to my more skeptical marketing and sales colleagues that the he had in fact sold 8,000 books in the back of the room after dozens of trainings and workshops. So you’re right. The current era of relying exclusively on BookScan does cast a shadow of doubt, since most self-published books have incomplete and misleading BookScan numbers.

    But it is changing. Publishers are beginning to realize that evaluating the potential saleability of self-published books requires a more careful analysis, which includes bulk orders from niche organizations and groups, books that are value added give-aways, built into the participants fees or sold at trainings, specialty shops that don’t report to Nielsen BookScan and other types of sales. And I certainly agree that quality of content and platform will always be the ultimate criteria.

  19. Ernie Zelinski

    Perhaps I will have to contact one or more of the agents that you say are interesed in self-published authors.

    I hope that this means they are interested in new titles by successful self-published authors who have not yet published these new titles.

    I self-published my “The Joy of Not Working” in 1991 and turned it over to Ten Speed Press in 1997 with a normal publisher/author Agreement (royalties of 30 percent of net receipts, however, which is not that normal for a tradeback). The book still sells almost 4,000 copies a year. It has now sold over 250,000 copies worldwide and has been published in 17 languages.

    How is an agent going to look at undertaking one of my new titles, however, knowing that I rejected a deal with a major publisher for 3 of my self-published books?

    In 2004 my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” was rejected by 35 publishers including Random House and Ten Speed Press. Phil Wood, owner of Ten Speed Press, agreed to distribute this title for me if I self-published it with their imprint on it, which I did.

    When Random House bought Ten Speed Press a year and a half ago, Random House immediately cancelled the distribution Agreement I had with Ten Speed Press for three of my self-published books including “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.” At the same time, Random House wanted to take over the publication of these self-published books in a normal publisher/author relationship instead of distributing them for me.

    Despite the fact that many people would love to have a book published by a major publisher such as Random House, I made the decision to turn Random House down.

    After contacting several independent distributors, I was able to get National Book Network to distribute “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” along with the other two books for me.

    There were problems with the transition. In the first month, only 87 copies were shipped by NBN, during which I got pretty dejected.

    So I decided to put in a lot more creative marketing effort, which paid off.

    In the first complete year with NBN, even factoring in the lousy transition month, I was able to increase shipments of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” by 52.5% over what Randon House/Ten Speed Press had done with the book the last 8 months that they had it. In fact, the book shipped out 14,000 copies in its first year with NBN.

    Of course, my decision to keep self-publishing “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” has paid off handsomely for me.

    But will agents consider this a negative when I approach them with one of my new completed titles such as “The Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why You Will Love Retirement” or “Look Ma, Life’s Easy: How Ordinary People Attain Extraordinary Results”? I am also writing a new new book called “How NOT to Retire Broke: Create $250,000 or More for Your Retirement in Seven Years or Less.”

    I somehow suspect that some agents may not want to represent one of my new titles if I don’t agree to also include “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” as part of a package to major publishers.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    Author of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 125,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)
    http://www.sensationalquotes.com/Writers.html

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  21. Sharon

    ‘If I could just hand the promotion on to someone else I could make us all a fortune but my second novel is sitting there with only two chapters written because every day is spent dealing with all the promotion’. I’m with you Jack Barrow. Promotion is a burden on a writer. I would more happily hand over a percentage of royalties to someone who would take on that onerous duty than to an agent who could sell my book to a big house, which would then by all appearances still expect me to put in that marketing time.
    It seems the writer of the future will be the one who can best brand themselves. Only time will tell what that means for literature.
    That being said, I would love if an agent took me on. Perhaps after I have sold 5000 copies?

    Sharon Tillotson, author of:
    The Storyteller
    Now Available on Kindle
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003ZUYQJ8

  22. Alan Rinzler

    Ernie,

    Your track record as a self-published author is indeed quite exceptional. I can’t predict whether or not an agent would take you on at this point, but as a publisher I can attest it’s unlikely you’d ever get a royalty of 30% of net receipts for a trade paperback these days.

    Speaking also as a publisher, though, you have good reason to feel confident. You have a very persuasive track record of sales and a talent for marketing. My only caution would be: Don’t spread yourself too thin. The three new titles sound a bit too much like the first one. My advice would be to approach your potential new agent with only one new title at a time, and see what happens.

  23. Zoe Winters

    I think it’s great that attitudes in the publishing industry are changing, but I do feel some people still are missing the point. While some self-publishing authors want an agent and a big publishing deal, many do not.

    Many of us have heard direct from the horse’s mouth horror stories about how many agents and publishers routinely treat any author who isn’t a name. Why would we want to sign up for such treatment? I’d rather build my platform slowly over several books and several years and at the end have something that is completely mine with no compromise, than have to deal with the drama of working with a publisher.

    I don’t care if they can get me distribution. It’s not worth the headache. I’d rather just build my business myself. For many indie authors, the point is to do this ourselves, not to impress an agent or publisher. Some of us like doing it for the sake of it.

    It’s about pride of ownership.

  24. L'Aussie Denise

    Great post. It’s good to hear the publishing industry’s attitude is changing and rightly so. There are so many good sub-published books out there! I’m thinking of doing it myself along the track..:)

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  27. Douglas Morrison

    Super post.

    I have been reading a great deal on this subject and can see an author to agent evolution on the horizon – Agents as Publishers of e-books.
    I’ve heard the thoughts of using e-books as a proving ground for potential print-worthiness, but I believe that will lead to agents providing less quality material to Print publishers and holding a few promising works for internal e-publication.
    Consider the number of books a publisher takes on a year vs the huge amount of submissions. Granted, a large amount of those submissions my be sub-par, but a number of works are refused or held in limbo awaiting slots on publishing calendars. Agents or editors that can’t get a book past their in-house review committees may see an opportunity to provide services to a project they like at the e-book level. Taking a book on speculation at the e-book level, provide marketing expertise and generating much of the buzz mentioned in the previous posts give them a win-win scenario.
    Done correctly, I could see agents making money on a work before pitching to a print publisher, therefore heightening their negotiating position for print.
    I can even see it possible that agents could begin to speculate on their own (there is a book in this scenario somewhere, a “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas as a literary agent….lol)

    I truly enjoy your insights.

    DougM

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  29. Marilyn Peake

    Hi, Alan,

    Wonderful post! I had originally self-published two middle grade novels, THE FISHERMAN’S SON and THE CITY OF THE GOLDEN SUN. They began selling rapidly, and an indie publisher then agreed to publish those two novels plus the third book in the trilogy, RETURN OF THE GOLDEN AGE. The novels continued to sell. Piers Anthony read THE FISHERMAN’S SON, liked it a lot, gave me a great review quote and corresponded with me by email for a time. I started hearing from people all across the United States that their children were doing book reports on these novels, and I heard from people who found the books in their local libraries. I did quite a bit of book promotion, including talking on radio shows, after running a regular ad through Radio-TV Interview Report. It was a lot of fun! Now that distribution is more difficult, sales have slowed down. I would LOVE-LOVE-LOVE to have an agent at this point in my writing career.

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  31. Jack Barrow

    I’m a pretty incompetent publisher. I’m a fairly incompetent marketer. I’m a completely incompetent publicist. When it comes to being a self publicist I’m a total loser! I am a self publisher.

    I can’t phone up a venue to say I’d like to do a book promotion for my own book because I feel like they will think I’m a wannabe, unable to find a publisher because I’m crap. I know that’s not the case but it’s what’s going through my mind. During the brief time when I had a publicist I did readings, signings, all sorts, and I had a great time. Having somebody else to represent you gives you credibility. I can do all the web promotion, social networking, all that’s easy. When I started I chose a pen name so I could pretend to be a second person when I was acting as my publisher. That way I might disguise the fact that I was self published. It didn’t really help much because what I really needed was another team member.

    I’m a writer, I’ve been writing for twenty years, mostly corporate or technical content with a bit of copywriting and a bit of journalism thrown in for good measure. Now I’m trying to break into a new field, writing popular mass market fiction.

    Saying that publishers are going to judge the potential of a self published book on sales seems ludicrous. I know these are businesses but, surely, when a manuscript lands on their desk they judge it on the manuscript. It’s got potential or it hasn’t. Expecting self published books to show fantastic sales is just saying that they only what to publish books by business gurus. I write deeply absurd comic fiction with philosophical themes that make people laugh out loud on the train. I know that’s true, my readers have told me so. But I don’t have tens of thousands of readers out there because I have no way of reaching the mass market. Plus some of the bigger online sellers list PoD books as unavailable or out of print! The industry is actively blocking the one-man bands.

    Publishing insiders claim that there isn’t a wall around the industry. Saying that self published writers are welcome, then picking up one or two as an example to sow how open the industry is just means they have extended the wall to block a minor breach. The rest of us are still on the outside.

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  33. Amy O'Brien

    As a first-time author who wanted to launch a public speaking business, I decided to go straight to self-publishing. It’s true, when you self-publish, you are the chief, cook, and bottle washer of your project. I hired a professional editor and book cover artist. Next came the web designer and graphic artist for my branding. I’ve learned to write press releases, web copy, and pitch myself to the media. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and look forward to launching my first class in January. I’m still building my platform, bit by bit, but if you’re going to self-publish, you do need to understand the work involved. Once I’ve sold a significant number of copies I plan to pursue an agent. I have an idea for a book series. The title of my book is Stuck with Mr. Wrong? Ten Steps to Starring in your own Life Story.

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  36. Ann Medlock

    I haven’t “self-published” since that term, as one of your interviewees pointed out, includes marketing. I have “published privately,” forming a one-purpose company, hiring a fine line editor, a copy editor, and a wonderful book designer to work on a volume of poems and a novel. I also bought great art for the books’ covers. Sales have been in the hundreds, not the thousands, because I haven’t ordered large print runs and haven’t hired a marketer. What I have done is collect some spectacular feedback that attests to the excellence of the writing. I naively thought readers’ reactions would be sufficient to interest an agent in seeking a commercial publisher for the novel. (No point in that for poetry–more people are writing poetry than reading it.) But here you quote agents saying that what matters is the book’s sales record, not the quality of the content. Ah for the days of the gentleman-publisher, dedicated to “literature,” underwriting the losses. I think I was born in the wrong era.

  37. Sandra Hamer

    I was very glad to hear this. After finishing my book, GLORY…THE HAIR and working with an editor, I too had planned to wait for an agent. After copyrighting my book, I was approached and solicited by Author House or 1st Books Library at the time. I went to graduate school after publishing the book and also helped a friend to start a non-profit which took up about 8 years of my life. I am also finishing with a sequel to the above book and have some proposals for two other books. So, I will query agents again. Of course, I have been querying agents off and on over the years.

  38. Lucy

    Yeah. Last month between Kindle and Nook, I sold nearly 1000 copies of books literary agents rejected. That includes Mr. Levine.
    No, I don’t think I need an agent (wow I just fired mine about 6 weeks ago for doing nothing, not even submitting my work) and I don’t need traditional publishing to do what I can do better than they can.
    Today I publish a sequel to a book I published in October that agents hated. One clever agent said it wasn’t “loud” enough. Readers love it, maybe their hearing is just better.

  39. Christine H

    I haven’t read all of the above comments,but I want to respond to the few that I did read which point out that perhaps all authors should have to self-publish in order to “prove themselves” as a sort of test-marketing model.

    That is all well and good if you happen to be great at design, marketing and selling and have a reserve of ‘seed money’ to invest. But there are an awful lot of excellent writers who do not have those skills or resources.

    I would hate to see really good books not get published just because their authors weren’t supermen or superwomen who could do all this additional work just in order to be *considered* by a publisher. I hope that there will continue to be multiple routes for everyone.

  40. MediaShift . Literary Agents Try New Role as Self-Publishing Consultants | PBS

    [...] "Literary agents open the door to self-published writers" by Alan Rinzler, on his blog The Book Deal: An Inside View of Book [...]

  41. Jeff

    The article is both heartening and frustrating at the same time. I wrote & self-published a terrific little non-fiction book, “Everybody’s Meditation Book” about meditation and stress management, as a response to the needs of attendees of my workshops. Having worked in advertising and publishing, I think I’m pretty saavy about what makes a good book, and my reader all agree. My problem is that while I have unlimited faith in the book, I do have limited time and resources to promote it.
    There’s my problem–I’d love an agent to help promote it. Agents seem to be willing to consider a manuscript on it’s own merits, but once the book is actually in print they primarily look at “platform,” rather than the merits of the book, even though platform is a reflection of promotion more that quality.

  42. Alan Rinzler

    Jeff,

    Literary agents don’t promote book as a rule. Their job is to sell the book to publishers. Marketing and publicity professionals have traditionally tried to promote books but the old methods are becoming obsolete. Whether you self publish or publish commercially, the author is now the primary book promotion tool and there’s just no getting around it.

    The meaning of platform has also changed. An author platform is now a result of building a network of social connections on the internet. Which means that your book can benefit from helpful outreach, blogging, tweeting, making videos for YouTube, Facebook and a whole new portfolio of new and ever- changing options. Welcome to the new world of book publishing!

  43. C. JoyBell C.

    I remember when I was seven years old, wearing a pair of red shorts, walking down the sun-drenched sidewalk with my mommy in Florida…that afternoon I decided that one day, I would make my own books. To make my own books was the most honorable thing to do in the whole world, I had concluded!

    I made my first book last year, and my second one this year (my second book was four years in the making, which means that I conceptualized it, began writing it quite a long time ago and was able to publish it by March this year, not completely convinced before that it would actually someday materialize into a book on people’s bookshelves), with my publishing of both my books, I never considered searching for an agent so I could be traditionally published. Why? Well because then I wouldn’t be doing what I decided at the age of seven to do, “when I grow up.” I knew I wanted to “make my own books” and that’s exactly what I did.

    Publishing myself creates a fulfillment of my childhood desires and dreams. I get to be involved in every single aspect of my book’s design, on the inside and on the outside. I get to hold my breath the week before my book is released. I get to “conceive” and “give birth” and I find that every time I do this, I grow leaps and bounds! I soar!

    But I have also learned that as everything in this world, money seems to be the driving force behind people’s motives in this industry. This is something I didn’t know as a child and once upon a time I was truly convinced that all people believed books could take us anywhere in the Universe that we wanted to go to and that’s why everyone wanted everybody else to read something! So we could all soar together! I have since learned that most writers will fight tooth-and-nail to land a six figure deal. I have realized that people who you love aren’t going to be so proud of you if you don’t sell a million copies of your book, and I have seen and come to understand that nobody REALLY wants to help you make your books, they just want to make money off of your books in the end.

    As of the moment, I would be happy if an agent were to come along and discover my novella, read it, and see it as a lasting piece of literature that will still be around a hundred years from now. Afterall, that was my dream, to be unforgotten, to be around a hundred years from now. It still is my dream, and I believe in literature. I don’t believe in entertainment. I don’t believe in the blockbuster. Admittedly, I enjoy entertainment just as anyone else does, but I don’t want to be an entertainer, I don’t want to produce entertainment, I want to be a writer. I want to be an Oscar. I want to be around tomorrow.

    I would be happy, if an agent unearthed my book and in the process of the whole, would be able to land me a deal which would earn me more respect and some money, because I have come to accept the fact that the literary industry is a war zone filled with those to each his own; only God knows each of our intentions! And if I do land a six figure deal one day, I hope it’s because I’m unforgettable, and not because someone thinks that I can put more food on their table.

    C. JoyBell C.

  44. C. JoyBell C.

    (note: My novella is currently undergoing back cover revisions and won’t be available for purchase until I have approved the physical proof that’s on its way to me, in the mail. Just a note for anyone who may be interested in visiting my web site linked into my name, in the comment above.)

  45. Jack barrow

    Apropos my comment on self published authors not getting sales. I met a woman at the weekend who bought eight copies of my novel for her friends at Christmas. She had to buy them all second hand as Amazon were listing it as out of print when it was PoD.

    If we want to have a debate about how the publishing indistry is keeping up with the digital revolution this should be part of the debate. Please can I have a mantion in the process as I could to with a break, I mean EIGHT copies!

    http://jackbarrow.blogspot.com/2011/08/is-amazon-messing-up-chances-of-small.html

  46. How to Land a Literary Agent: First, Get a Platform - Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

    [...] Literary agents open the door to self-published writers (alanrinzler.com) Leave a Reply Click here to cancel reply. [...]

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  48. Joseph S. Nettles

    I have two self published novels that are great stories and would sell on bookstore shelves if given the chance. They would also make terrific movies. The publishers are dragging their feet on their promises and little happens in the way of making sales.
    The first is a coming of age novel about high school romance and pitfalls of making it through the senior year to graduation. The second is a mystery novel of the old South (1915-1935) Takes place back and forth from Natches to New Orleans and is encumbered by eight murders, riverboat cruises, jazz music and creole cuisine.

    The author of both books is a member of Brokaw’s greatest generation, a purple heart veteran of World War II and if it’s in you, I would appreciate a break.

    Regards,

    Joe Nettles

  49. Zabrina Murray

    I am a newly self published author and still learning the ropes. I have sold a few books but no where near as many as I’d like to. I am learning a lot about the marketing as well but still could learn more. My only concern about having an agent is the cost. I am a stay at home mom with 4 children, my husband is the only one working so things are tight. I enjoy writing and would love to make a career out of it but as I said before I’m worried about the cost. I would like to learn more about all of this. The name of my first book is Untold Secrets: Fire & Ice if u want to check it out I have it on Amazon.com I have also created a website for my series zabrinamurray.weebly.com if you want to see it. I am still learning so much and would like to have a little help.

  50. Jeannie Eneh

    I am a first time self-published author of my new novel, “Color Me Black.” Being self-published give you complete control of your royalties; however most marketing of your book comes from yourself. But who would better represent yourself than yourself. For me, it’s working great!

  51. Nanci E. LaGarenne

    Thank you! I have been frustrated to say the least when having submitted work to agents to no avail, and finally deciding to self-publish, only to come up against a still practiced stigma against self-publishe authirs and books. How do we break into the big publishing markets when we cannot get agents to read our books? I have sold hundreds of copies of my first self-published book, which came out through Amazon in April of 2013. I have it in shops locally in Montauk and East Hampton and Noyac and Amagansett, okay, The Hamptons, as it is known. But my local bookshop won’t carry it because it is available on Amazon! Barnes and Noble will order it for you but cannot physically carry it in their stores. Even though it is available through Ingram distributors and can in fact be returned if copies do not sell, even though it is currently Print on Demand.
    What can we as writers, do? I am now feeling better with the agents you listed in the article that will consider reading self-publishe books. I am sending each of them a copy if my book!
    So, thank you.
    Nanci, author of Cheap Fish, a novel.

  52. Alan Rinzler

    Nanci,

    It certainly can be frustrating to pursue agents and traditional publishers, so I commend you for having the courage to self-publish. It’s true that the established gatekeepers are still scouring self-published books for debut authors, but you won’t get their attention until you’ve sold not hundreds but thousands of books on your own.

    Consequently, I recommend that you put all of your available energy into self-marketing your book – which traditionally published authors must also do these days – and be patient. Six months isn’t long and good books ultimately create a buzz through online social networking.

    Meanwhile start a new book, if you haven’t already. It takes years to create a body of work and build a following. Many successful authors – with and without big track records – are committed to doing it all themselves. It’s the best way, they believe, to reach readers quickly, increase their audience, and receive a far bigger cut of the revenues.

  53. Is Amazon messing up the chances of small publishers? | Jack Barrow

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