Monday, May 03, 2010

The Fate of Self-Published Works

I just found out something very disparaging that I would love to have elaborated on by an actual agent. It seems that despite strong sales and critical accolades, agents do not wish to take on books that have previously been self-published. Is that really true? I understand that for ebooks, people who have already purchased will have the initial rights with Amazon, for instance, to re-download, but the book can be pulled by the author at any time. So, why then is self-publishing so taboo instead of being a good test-market of material?

As much as I do not like the notion that this could be true, it does shed some light on why I have received so many agent rejections for a book that has been labelled an inevitable bestseller over and over again. I shudder to think that I have lost all that potential just for taking the bull by the horns and putting it out there on my own, as my only cheerleader in the beginning.

Is there any silver lining or way around it? If I pulled the book and retitled it, would that make a difference?

Well, there is always a silver lining, but with many things in this business these are the exceptions and not the rule. I have two clients, for example, who had previously self-published. Debbie Allen had self-published Confessions of Shameless Self-Promoters. While shopping around her new title Skyrocketing Sales, I received interest from McGraw-Hill in purchasing the rights to Confessions of Shameless Self-Promoters, which we subsequently sold to them. The catch: Confessions of Shameless Self-Promoters had previously sold 25,000 copies as a self-published title. We did also sell Skyrocketing Sales to another publisher.

Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor and had also self-published his book and sold roughly 7,500 copies. I liked Bob’s self-published title a lot, but felt there were some things that could be done to make it stronger. So Bob and I agreed that rather than seek a publisher to take over the publishing of that book, we would use it as a starting-off point for a fresh new title that was even stronger. It worked and Wiley is publishing The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business this month.

While 7,500 copies sounds impressive, in truth we ran into pushback from publishers because of those numbers. They weren’t big enough. Bob had self-published his book and got it into some bookstores, but sales were low and, as we’ve discussed before, bookstores will place their orders based on the publishing history of the author. And that’s exactly why self-publishing can make it more difficult for an author to break into a bigger publisher.

When a publisher looks at a previously published author, whether the author was published with a big house or self-published, the first thing they will look at is the author’s sales. If your numbers are low it doesn’t bode well for orders on your next books.

In your case you said that the book has “strong sales” and “critical accolades,” but what does that really mean? Does it mean that Amazon reviewers gave great reviews or that the New York Times raved about it, because it does make a difference. What about strong sales? Are you selling upwards of 10,000 copies or about 250 to people other than family and friends, because, again, it does make a difference. It also makes a difference how fast those sales are made. 10,000 copies is an amazing number, but not if it took you 10 years to sell them.