Dear Literary Agent,
I always hear people going on and on about how we authors need to be building platforms. I also always hear agents and editors saying that self-publishing is a bad choice for writers like me. I’ve heard stories in the news about self-published authors who have made it big, though – Lisa Genova’s book even got made into a movie! Is self-publishing really that bad? Do I even need an agent?
Tired of Rejection Letters
Dear Tired of Rejection Letters,
Judging by your name, I am presuming you’ve haven’t struck gold yet in your quest to be published. Keep with it! Make sure you are constantly evaluating what is working and not working – can you tweak your query letter? Are people requesting your proposal or manuscript and then rejecting after that (perhaps your first few chapters are lacking something)?
Self-publishing can be such a heated topic to talk about. Authors feel like the underdog no matter what, and that is understandable. The most important thing to remember is that you need to be an informed consumer. No matter which type of publishing you decide to pursue – traditional or self – you need to keep in mind that you will be a very small fish in a very small pond. You just have to decide which pond you want to be in.
If your book has a very “niche” topic (i.e. “Growing Chrysanthemums in North Dakota” or “Tuning Your 1984 Steinway Piano”) or would attract a smaller audience (i.e. a collection of your grandfather’s barbecue recipes or a collection of letters sent between you and your husband) self-publishing might be the best option for you. If you are a professional speaker and are planning on selling your book in the back of the room, self-publishing might be the best option for you.
However, you need to make sure you understand what you are getting into. Lots of self-publishing companies promise authors many things that they are unable to deliver on. No one can make you a New York Times bestseller, unless they are personally planning on buying thousands and thousands of copies of your book. They may advertise your book, but it may be in a teeny tiny ad with several other books. Just as you would want to choose the best agent for yourself, you want to make sure you choose the best self-publishing company for yourself.
You need to also keep in mind that the reason you heard about a self-published author hitting the big time is because it is a newsworthy – meaning if this happened all the time, you would not be hearing about it on the news. Most self-published authors sell fewer than fifty books in their whole lifetimes.
What does an agent do? An agent is your advocate. An agent takes your project and pitches it to a very carefully curated list of editors. An agent gets the right pairs of eyes on your project. An agent also has publishing industry experience, and can help you polish your manuscript until it shines. Self-publishing companies make money no matter how well your book sells; we only make money if your book sells (and then sells well).
At the end of the day, you need to weigh your options and be honest with yourself – which path is right for you? We wish you the very best of luck on whichever path you choose.
Megan Close Zavala and the Team at Keller Media
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