Author Topic: If you self-publish, does that mean you can never hope to get an agent?  (Read 851 times)  

Offline Piano Jenny

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I'm asking this on behalf of an author friend I recently met.

She just published her first book in a trilogy through a small press. It did okay, got good reviews, sold a few hundred copies. But two months after launch, the small press sent her an email saying they were shutting their doors effective immediately, taking it down from Amazon, etc.

Fortunately, she has all the rights and all the "stuff" -- formatted files, cover, etc.

A part of her wants to self-publish it  The only thing holding is her back is that she likes the idea of getting an agent someday. She has heard that being self-published means agents won't touch you, and she doesn't want that door to permanently slam shut, at least not yet.

I told her that I wasn't sure if that was true, but I knew some savvy people who could let us know so she could make an educated decision.

So ... would that be a problem if she sel-published?
And what would you do if you were her?


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Offline Alan Petersen

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I know a lot of self-published indies that have agents. The agents negotiate movie/tv/foreign rights, stuff like that. So although there will be agents who want full representation or won't work with indies, there are others that do.

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Offline JRTomlin

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Not at all. Many self-published authors have or acquire agents. I have been contacted by a couple of agents, although I'm not interested in representation. Now an agent is rarely interested in representing what is already published (unless it is an extreme best seller). They want to represent new work, but being an indy top seller is certainly something that agents consider a positive, not a negative.

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Offline Cheryl M.

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No, it most definitely does not mean that.

Offline brkingsolver

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Sell a couple of million copies and the publishers will come to you. Not trying to be facetious, but that's the way it works. Google "Amanda Hocking".

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Offline RBN

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A book that has been self-published is dead to agents/publishers, except in cases of extraordinary success said representatives want a cut of. They generally want first rights, which are gone at the moment the "publish" button is clicked.

Any author at any time is welcome to shop new work. Many authors who start SP move to TP. Many authors remain hybrid and do both, depending on the project. Many SP authors have agents who only handle their trickier legalities like film and foreign rights. Not every agent is amenable, but no agent has ever been right for everybody.

Experience and success are valuable assets. Agents will get in a cage match over an author who can not only write but market and has an established track record and reader base because that author makes agenting really easy.

If, however, the DIY venture is a dismal failure, it may be wise not to volunteer that information. (Don't lie if asked, but you don't have to lead with it.) "Inexperienced" is more appealing than "botched it on my own, your turn to make something of me."

Offline JessicaPAuthor

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It's incredibly difficult to get an agent, whether you're self-published or not.

That being said, if your friend decides to self-publish and she goes on to have "extraordinary success" - as RBN pointed out - then she probably won't have much trouble at all finding an agent. But for an indie author to garner agent attention, she/he really does have to be extraordinary. We're talking authors that have built massive platforms, usually over years and across several series of books, with dedicated readerships/audiences that buy their books by the tens of thousands. Is it possible to have that kind of success as an indie author? Absolutely. But it's very, very rare. The amount of work it takes to build a platform like that - never mind write the books! - is incredible. You have to be in it for the long haul to get there.

At the end of the day, it's tough to make it as an author, whether you're indie or traditional, agented or not. I've been on both sides of the fence, and my biggest regret is not working on building my readership right off the bat. Your friend can't start doing that too soon. Marketing and promotion are entirely different skills versus writing a book; they're skills you can't ignore if you want to sell books.

I know Kristin Nelson is an agent that represents a slew of indie authors. Tell your friend to check out her website and blog. They're fantastic resources. Hope that helps!
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Offline Cassie Leigh

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Keep in mind that the answer to this question is constantly shifting.  But, as others have said, there are many indies out there that have agents.  (I believe Jana posts here and her agent is Kristen Nelson who also represents Hugh Howey and Courtney Milan.)

Generally, if you want to get an agent it has to be for a new book, but not always.  There's a self-pubbed author, SL Huang, who recently signed with Russel Galen and then ended up with a four or five book deal with Tor for her self-published series.  They wanted one new book in addition to what she'd already published in order to do the deal.  In her case it wasn't insanely high sales, but strong movie interest that enabled her to query and find an agent.

In the past few years I've seen a few shifts in what agents say about self-published authors, so it's really going to boil down to what the landscape is when she's ready for an agent, but I think we're moving towards it being less of an issue than it was say five years ago.

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Offline Dawn McCullough White

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I was approached by an agent years ago after self-publishing.  So, no.  I don't think it does.  What matters is if your book/s are selling, that's what will interest them.
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Offline Laran Mithras

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I was approached by an agent years ago after self-publishing.  So, no.  I don't think it does.  What matters is if your book/s are selling, that's what will interest them.

^^ That.

As to "what would you do?"

Personally, I would not wait around or shop for an agent first. I would be busy writing and being creative entirely self-publishing. If your friend needs to support herself, she can't afford to wait around hoping for a trad-pub deal.

It's been over a decade since I compiled rejections slips enough to wallpaper a 700 room hotel. I've made tens of thousands of dollars on my own and objectively gotten quite a bit better at: writing; presentation; blurbs; structure; flexibility in POV; etc.

Should that be the path for your friend? Dunno. I don't know her quality or style. Just telling you what I'd do.

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Re: If you self-publish, does that mean you can never hope to get an agent?
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2017, 02:42:45 PM »
You can definitely still get an agent. You don't have to sell millions. I got one after selling like 100,000 books or so.

Now... at what point you actually need an agent when you are self-publishing, that's another question.

Offline GrandFenwick

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Re: If you self-publish, does that mean you can never hope to get an agent?
« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2017, 02:54:49 PM »
After self-publishing three YA books, my daughter got an agent the old-fashioned way--by writing another manuscript and querying agents about it. It took months, but she eventually got three agents wanting to rep her. Her first contemporary YA book is coming Summer 2018.

So no, having previously self-pubbed books didn't deter agents at all. I think it used to but not anymore.

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Offline Wayne Stinnett

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Re: If you self-publish, does that mean you can never hope to get an agent?
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2017, 06:17:01 PM »
Two scenarios.

The agent pitches her book to publishers and one picks it up. The publisher then gets 70% of the sale price for every sale. Your friend will get about 25% of that 70%, or 17.5% of the sale price. And the agent gets a cut of that. Her book again sells a few hundred copies at $2.99, lets call it 500 copies. She gets paid $252.50 and probably pays half of that to the agent.


She self publishes, keeps the publishers share, learns to market and keeps the agents share, but only sells half as many books at the same price, $2.99. She earns $523.25 and doesn't pay an agent anything.

Most of the 100 top selling authors are traditionally published. But, most of the 100 top earning authors are indies.
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Offline RightHoJeeves

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Re: If you self-publish, does that mean you can never hope to get an agent?
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2017, 07:00:07 PM »
Given how hard it is to get an agent, and how little power a querying author has (save for the occasional few), I would think an author wouldn't even want an agent until they were selling well on their own (of course that's assuming the author is fine with the self publishing process).

It seems to me that basically all of the best things an agent can do (foreign rights, movie/tv rights, etc) don't apply unless you're selling heaps anyway. I'm honestly not that convinced by bookshops either. Sure, we all love bookshops, but most of the ones near me are at least 50% cook books, travel books, self help books, etc etc. The remaining 50% of fiction is either the old classics (Fitzgerald, Austen), Stephen King, George Martin, the latest Man Booker Prize winner, leaving maybe a tiny slice for a debut author. And that only lasts if you inexplicably move heaps of copies.

If you've got a bunch of sales behind you (and therefore some power), then sure. But as a little fish? Seems a bit pointless.

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Offline IreneP

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Re: If you self-publish, does that mean you can never hope to get an agent?
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2017, 07:26:50 PM »
No. But it definitely does NOT mean that. I know people who self-published and later found agents.

However, it would be hard to get an agent on a previously published book of any kind unless the book had sold phenomenally well. Most pubs want first publication rights.