Will an Agent Recommend Self-Pub?

questionsMarcy Kennedy wrote:

I’m committed to finding a traditional publisher for my novel. Not only has that always been the dream, but I also like that a gatekeeper has to approve the quality of my work. That said, have you ever advised a client to self-publish a work that you think is fantastic but hasn’t been able to find a home at a publisher? Under what circumstances might you make that recommendation?

Good question, Marcy. These days, agents need to be aware of a far greater variety of publishing options than in the past. Self publishing is one of those options.

The circumstance under which I’m most likely to suggest an author consider self-pub is when we can’t get a publisher to bite, but we believe in the book AND the author has the means to sell the book on her own.

That last part is crucial, because most self-pub books languish, selling a couple hundred copies if they’re lucky. If that’s all you’re going to sell, it’s not worth it. So you’ve got to have the time, the knowledge, and the commitment to market that book.

There can be other factors that lead to a discussion of self-publishing.

  • Sometimes a book really needs a quick turnaround for a release date that’s sooner than any publishers will consider (to coincide with an event or anniversary).
  • Some authors are truly in a position to make more money on their own than with a publisher.
  • Some authors don’t have “the dream” of traditional publication that includes validation by gatekeepers.

So there are definitely situations in which an agent recommends a path other than traditional “big” publishers, but a good agent will always try to discuss the advantages and pitfalls of the various options.

Readers, under what circumstances would you consider self-publishing?


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Christopher Bunn on February 4, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Interesting thread. Obviously, everyone brings the unique specifics of their own circumstances to the table. Trad publishing might be the way to go for some, indie publishing might be the way for others. Still others might keep a foot in both camps.

    I went with indie/self-publishing in November 2010 after a lengthy time spent analyzing the traditional industry in relation to my genre (epic fantasy). What pushed me over the edge was reading Joe Konrath’s blog, as well as spending some time on the Kindleboards. I ended up publishing through Amazon’s KDP, as well as B&N, and Apple/Kobo/Diesel/Sony via Smashwords. As of today, I’ve sold a little over 40,000 ebooks. I’m certainly pleased with the results, but you have to understand that there a great many indie writers who are consistently selling in much higher numbers (and I’m not talking about the Konrath/Hocking superstars).

    Amazon has irrevocably altered the publishing landscape. I would urge any writer who has automatically dismissed the self-pub route to reconsider. It very well might not be for you, but it is worth your time to research the option.

    Best wishes and luck (though, I’m not sure if I believe in luck) to everyone…

  4. Michael Mayo on January 23, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    I’ll introduce myself and throw in two bits about self-publishing: I’ve never been happier. Publishers have become like the major film studios – they’re happy to take you if you’re a celeb, otherwise they’ll pay and promote you little in return for taking all your rights if they bother to take you at all. Instead of wasting my time with them, I self-pubbed “The Adventures of Alex Walker,” through LightningSource, who handled getting the book up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and have made wonderful friends in the animal charities I’ve promoted it to. I understand the desire to have a “Real” publisher, but they’re hubris-riddled, dying shadows of their former selves. Publish yourself, make a name for yourself, then I promise you they come and you’ll be in a better position to make the deal you want…

  5. […] in mind the promoting a book is some factor that would require patience, persistence and enthusiasm.Self-publishing a book is some factor that demands balance in all aspects. It demands great promotio…st self-published authors would have to work with a limited spending spending […]

  6. Cherry Odelberg on January 16, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    I paid to have my children’s book, The Pancake Cat, independently published because I wanted to see it through to the end; to complete what I had begun; do what I said I would do. Also, because I wanted to have professional looking copies of my work with which to gift family members.
    I was not expecting huge success and could not afford to buy or store 500-1000 copies, so print on demand was an attractive option for me in 2009 and my book remains available today.
    Another reason I decided to publish independently with this book, was to try out the emerging self-publishing and print on demand practices. My heart has always been to write women’s fiction or literary fiction, so using a children’s chapter book to test the self-publishing waters seemed a sensible experiment-a bit like writing for periodicals for experience and to get one’s name out there.

    The conversation generated by this post has been enjoyable (for the most part) and helpful. I found myself reaching for the nonexistent “like” button after reading the comments. Thanks for providing this forum – almost as good as a panel discussion at a writer’s seminar.

  7. CG Blake on January 16, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    Self-publishing is a viable option for any talented writer who cannot break through due to the genre in which they write, publishing trends or just plain lack of success. However, the author must be prepared to work, work, work–and that’s just on the marketing side.

    • Cherry Odelberg on January 16, 2012 at 9:43 PM

      I could not agree more strongly.

    • Joseph Baran on January 16, 2012 at 10:08 PM

      All dreams require a lot of work. But we all know that by now.

  8. Suzannah Windsor Freeman on January 16, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    I’m ‘self-publishing’ an eBook at the moment, but it’s a nonfiction guide which is tied to my blog. So, not really sure that it counts in terms of the discussion here, but it’s something a lot of bloggers do, and do well.

    Also, I’ve considered self-publishing an anthology of my own short stories in the future, but ones which have already been published in literary magazines. I think the social proof of the stories already having been published elsewhere would provide more incentive for buyers, and I could market the anthology through my blog/website.

    I don’t see myself ever self-publishing a novel that couldn’t find a traditional publisher, but with the ever-changing nature of the industry, I suppose one should never say never!

  9. Jodi McIsaac on January 16, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    I plan on self-publishing because I have a marketing background and am confident in both the quality of my book and in my ability to market it. But I’m also hoping that if I’m successful at self-publishing that may attract the attention of a traditional publisher. Instead of trying traditional publishing first and then self-publishing if I can’t get an agent and/or publisher, I’m going to try it the other way around.

  10. Joseph Baran on January 16, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    After investing time and money in writing the story for a year or two and professional editing, I think it would be hard not to go the self-publishing route if the story is not sold traditionally. The only other option would be to shelf the project, indefinitely perhaps. But wouldn’t that be a bigger loss than selling a limited number of copies by self-publishing?

  11. Nancy Petralia on January 16, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    Rachelle, I’m curious about your statement “Some authors are truly in a position to make more money on their own than with a publisher.”

    Would you expand upon that in another post please.

  12. TNeal on January 16, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    So, Rachelle, this post is helpful and leads me to another question. Should a client let his agent know that he’s considering self-publishing a book?

  13. Patti Mallett on January 16, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    I used to think not, Rachelle, but the way things are changing I won’t say “Never!” to those options any more. “Who knows?” is more my new attitude. Let’s wait and see.

  14. Bret Draven on January 16, 2012 at 3:48 PM

    Self-publishing reminds me of running out of ideas for Christmas presents, and wanting to give your friends your book as a stocking stuffer!

    One of the previous postings said, “Validation must come from within.” To me, this sounds like advice my mother would offer after a quick review of her “Motherly Obligation” contract.

    In my dime-store opinion, any project worth its salt is validated by being sold traditionally. Until you receive a no-contact order from any given agent, or find yourself forcibly removed by the underpaid security guards at a publishing house… keep trying!

    Remember the adage: Busy hands, are happy hands!

  15. Theresa Froehlich on January 16, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Quite a timely post for me! My agent has sent off my book proposal to several publishers. Now the waiting game has begun. I popped the question to my agent, “How long do you think we should try to find a traditional publisher?” In other words, at what point should I consider self-publishing?

    I see self-publishing as a job that writers apply for. We have to look at our skill sets, our energy level, and our financial capabilities to decide whether or self-publishing is feasible.

    On the other hand, it seems that authors have to do a lot of their own marketing even if they find a traditional publisher to bite. The question is really about what is the breaking point?

    Theresa Froehlich
    Certified Life Coach

  16. Juturna F. on January 16, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    If I were writing for a niche market, I’d probably self-publish. Also, some genres are particularly difficult to sell to agents or traditional publishers. I’m not famous, for example, so if I were to write a memoir, I think I’d be better off self-publishing. The years it would take to find a publisher or an agent (if I ever did) would be better put to use earning pennies and reader loyalty in the e-market, getting my name out at a low price point. I plan on writing as a career; the ‘advertising’ of having a self-published book out could help me earn more off a second book in the same niche. If I only planned on writing a single book, even if it were in a niche or hard-to-sell market, I’d probably be more inclined to wait and hope for the market to change enough for me to ‘get lucky.’

    Since my genres of choice are science fiction, fantasy, and romance, I’m going the traditional publishing route. I’ll use the time until I actually get published to further hone my craft and work on generating a backlog of saleable manuscripts.

  17. Anonymous on January 16, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    “…because most self-pub books languish, selling a couple hundred copies if they’re lucky”.

    Where did you get your statistics? How on earth could you possibly know this.

    The reality is many traditionally published books languish, which is called being a “mid-list” author.

    You are quite manipulative, Rachelle.

    • Juturna F. on January 16, 2012 at 3:45 PM

      Anon: Actually, there’s statistics to support this claim. Here’s some links so you can check them out yourself:

      Science Fiction Writers of America’s Print-on-Demand analysis (pros and cons):
      http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/pod/ (updated 10/2011)

      Self-Publishing Resources analysis of the self-pub industry: http://selfpublishingresources.com/resources/books-news-and-publishing-industry-statistics/
      (“The average number of copies sold per title of a POD company that printed 10,000 different titles: 75 books.”)
      (from a 2010 article)

      Writer Beware’s breakdown of self-pub claims of superiority over traditional pub: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2009/04/victoria-strauss-stupid-articles-on.html

      Maybe “languish” wasn’t the nicest verb, but self-published books have had a definite trend of selling fewer than traditionally published books. I will point out that most of these statistics deal with SFWA’s research on Print-on-Demand books. I did not see any new articles on the self-pubbed sales over PubIt! or Smashwords (Anyone? Care to contribute?).

      Still, this data has been considered a go-to on self-publishing, and it has been updated recently. So her statement that most self-published books sell poorly does have substantiated facts behind it. Who knows, though. Maybe the trend will change. Perhaps it already is changing, but the data simply isn’t available yet. Or perhaps it is, and I just didn’t find the link.

    • David Todd on January 16, 2012 at 4:18 PM

      “The reality is many traditionally published books languish….”

      Where did you get your statistics, Anon?

  18. Janet on January 16, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    I’ve had 3 agents suggest self-publishing for “Normal Is So Overrated” and that’s likely the route I’ll take. Since the book’s target audience is cerebral brain aneurysm patients and their caregivers, traditional publishers are not likely to bite on it, figuring that the target is to small. Since roughly 30,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the condition annually, there are plenty of potential readers. I am probably better positioned to market the book myself than going the traditional route because I have neurologists and other medical professionals, brain aneurysm survivors, and people who have had near-death experiences among my contacts and have established a fair-sized network in the St. Louis metro area of people who believe in my work and especially in the “Normal” book. I also have a friend who’s an author and motivational speaker who has an extensive international following and he is very supportive of the effort.

    The agents who advised me to consider self-publishing all complimented my writing style, but were concerned that the book would be a tough sell in the competitive memoir market. I understand that completely. If I were a celebrity who had survived and recovered, the book would be far more marketable.

    As far as my fiction work goes, I would prefer to go traditional with that, but I think I would set a time limit for generating interest by agents and publishers. During that time, I would make the first novel the absolute best work I think it can be and if there still no interest, then I would consider self-publishing that as well.

    A wise woman once told me that there is no reason I should write for free. She acknowledged that I’m not writiing to get rich, but insisted that I should be able to earn enough from my efforts that I can pay my bills. Her encouragement and support mean the world to me.

  19. TC Avey on January 16, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    If I won the lottery and could afford to market my book I would go for it, but since that isn’t going to happen (I don’t gamble) then I’m going the traditional route, taking my time and trusting in God.

  20. Brianna on January 16, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    I’m considering self-publishing because I’m not sure an agent would be willing to take me on. I haven’t had good luck with those sorts of things in the past. However, self-publishing also seems really overwhelming, especially since I don’t have the resources to commit to writing full time right now.

  21. Robin O'Bryant on January 16, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    Well here’s something to think about. I self pubbed WITH my agent for several reasons:
    1 The doors that were opening for, “Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves,” in traditional publishing put some constraints on when it would be published and some of the content.
    2 I had an audience that was waiting eagerly to buy the book and traditional publishing would have taken at least another year.
    3. I have a second book that is almost completed and we didn’t want the books to be seen as competition to each other. Contractually or otherwise.
    4. Having a back list is the most effective way to sell more books. When my second book is published traditionally, my self-pubbed book will be out there and ready for readers as soon as they finish reading looking for more.

    I sold over 1000 copies the first month but I am so overwhelmed with marketing, PR and promotion that I’m having a difficult time finding time to complete the second book. I didn’t think we would self-pub the first book but I’m glad we did.

  22. Else on January 16, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Since I started getting published, I’ve written two books that haven’t sold. One of them was okay. The other was, IMHO, pretty good.

    It’s sitting right here on my hard drive, and I’m working on something else.

    The okay book will probably never see the light of day. It’s only okay. All the publishers who rejected it said it was okay. I learned stuff from writing it, though.

    The pretty good one would probably have sold in a better economy. It will get trotted out when I’m done fulfilling my current three-book contract. There may be hope for it yet. I don’t want to self-publish it, and see it sink like a stone. In publishing as in marriage, you’re better off not settling for what you don’t really want.

  23. Robyn Bradley on January 16, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    I used to be a self-pub snob. Had an epiphany in the summer of 2010 after re-reading Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” specifically the chapter on publication where she reminded us that validation needs to come from within.

    At the same time, I was hearing about how easy Amazon made it to self-publish. I had some short stories — two of which had been traditionally published in small journals with few readers. I wanted a wider readership for these pieces, so I figured, “Why not self-publish?”

    I’m a marketing copywriter by day, so I had a leg up there on marketing strategies, so I worked on building my brand while releasing five short stories over six months.

    Then, in April, I released my first novel, a book I’d been working on for over 10 years (on and off). I’d been on the query-go-round, received positive feedback, but never had an offer. In October, I released my second novel, which I’d been working on for two years.

    I, too, want to make a living from writing fiction full time. This has been the dream and fervent desire since I was a kid. Ten years ago, this seemed like a crazy dream since few writers (or so I’d been told) made their livings from writing only (so many had side jobs, like teaching). I think the electronic landscape has helped change that. We hear about the Konraths and Hockings, but there are more — I’d say “many” more, with “many” being a subjective number, I realize — who are making decent livings from writing. I’d hoped to be doing that by the end of 2011. Didn’t achieve that dream, mourned it, and am moving on. The only thing I can control is my writing output.

    It’s a lot of work, but a traditional deal these days still requires authors to do a lot of work (and the exact same marketing work we self-pubbers do).

    As for sales…I just added up the numbers: 1,920 electronic copies of my first novel sold through Amazon US and B&N.com (This number doesn’t include paperback copies, iPad, or Amazon’s international markets.) I haven’t added up the numbers on the second book or the short stories, but it’s safe to say I’m well over 2000 for all titles. Is that number good or bad? I don’t know. I do know I want to reach more readers — it’s not so much about the money; it’s about sharing my work with others. I write because I love doing it — nothing makes me happier — and, equally important, I write because I have a need to share the stories with others. Self-publishing has given me the opportunity to start doing this. But, as Konrath says, it’s a business decision, not an ideology. I’m not a self-pub evangelist, nor do I think traditional publishing is dead. And agents are still important, and will continue to be, methinks.

  24. Marielena on January 16, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Helpful post and responses. Like other authors, I finally decided to put “Jane” out there as an e-book. Why? Although I had major interest from two prominent NYC agents, it was a no-go and I decided to test the waters.

    I’ve been using social media and other means to market the book, but it’s a tough road. Promotion is a full-time job that takes away from writing/editing.

    Ironically, I now have major interest from an editor (I pitched to him months ago at a conference) at a reputable publishing house, but he wants revisions. He spent considerable time with me about what’s working and what isn’t.

    I’m in a dilemma. I’d like to keep my e-book up and live because there are no guarantees he’ll buy the book. Or, after making requested revisions, do I just pull the book once he’s said “yes” … and should I still try to get an agent even though I have the interest of a publishing house?

    Like I said. A learning process.

  25. Vera Soroka on January 16, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    I will give the tradional route a chance but I would like to so what some authors do and that is both.

  26. Courtney Cole on January 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    When I wrote the first book in a 4-book series based in mythology, I was lucky enough to have several agents respond back that the writing was good, but that they wouldn’t be able to get a publisher to pick it up because mythology was on its way out.

    I was crushed because I really believed in my book. A friend talked me into “going indie” and honestly, it was the best decision that I ever made.

    I have a business degree, so I put it to use. I’m ambitious, which is key to doing it yourself. I’ve sold thousands of e-books since April 2011- enough that I could quit my full-time day job and write for a living if I chose.

    I don’t think that everyone should do it themselves. I think you should only do it if you are going to approach it as a real job. You need to have someone edit it (you should never let it go without other pairs of eyes going through it for you) and hiring a professional cover artist. But if you approach it like the professional endeavor that it is, then by all means, go for it.

    The big publishers might have said that mythology was on its way out, but I’ve built a huge fanbase now that would disagree with them. So I’m glad I took the chance. It’s a lot of work, but anything worthwhile is.

  27. Joe Pote on January 16, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    I self-published “So You are a Believer…Who has been through Divorce…” quite simply, because after reading a little about the industry, I realized no conventional publisher or agent was likely to take on a non-fiction author with no platform.

    While I have not sold many copies, to date, it has been a worthwhile endeavor.

    Rachelle, I do disagree with your statement, “…most self-pub books languish, selling a couple hundred copies if they’re lucky. If that’s all you’re going to sell, it’s not worth it.”

    That all depends on the author and the author’s goals. At this point, I’ve sold well under 200 copies, and already consider the project a success, not because of numbers sold, but because of lives touched.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Karen A. Wyle on January 16, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      I was about to make Joe’s point when I saw he’d got there first :-). I published my novel in October 2011 and am still well shy of the 200-sale mark — but I’ve had some very gratifying reviews, and I know that my book will linger in those reviewers’ memories. That may not be my only goal, but it does make the effort and (not too extensive) expense worthwhile.

      Rachelle’s remark also doesn’t take into account the much longer shelf life (virtually speaking) of self-published books. A traditionally published book gets 90 days to sell in the bookstore before it’s returned. A self-published book is available on Amazon, bn.com and/or Smashwords indefinitely. Books published later can lead readers to that first book. It may take time to build up an audience, but the time is available.

      • Joe Pote on January 16, 2012 at 1:19 PM

        Karen, I hadn’t really considered the longevity of shelf-life aspect, but that is an excellent point!

      • Rachelle Gardner on January 17, 2012 at 10:11 AM

        Karen, to say that a self-published book has a longer shelf life than a traditionally published one is incorrect.

        A digital book has a longer shelf life than a print book. Traditionally published books are available in both print and digital formats. Long after the print book is no longer available in the bookstore, the e-version is still available.

        • Karen A. Wyle on January 17, 2012 at 12:46 PM

          You’re right — I was oversimplifying. However, if one is trying to preserve or build a relationship with a publisher, or hoping to work with any publisher on future books, the performance of the physical book in bookstores during those 90 days will be crucial, will it not? I’d also wonder whether a publisher would continue to put in any promotional effort on behalf of a book that didn’t perform well — in either format — early on.

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      I took issue with that statement as well. A few years ago, I published a book about the history of a certain Baptist association. It was the author’s first (and only) book and there was little interest outside of the 20 or so churches in that association. I knew going into the project that it wouldn’t make any money. We sold less than 100 copies, but that is one of the most worthwhile projects I’ve ever been a part of.

      But I think I see where Rachelle is coming from. As a literary agent, she doesn’t have the luxury of taking on important books. She only makes money if the authors make money.

      • Joe Pote on January 16, 2012 at 1:53 PM

        Ah! Not from the viewpoint of when an author should consider self-publishing, but from the viewpoint of when an agent should consider recommending that an author self-publish.

        I had not considered that possible nuance.

        I would have to agree that from the viewpoint of a smart business decision you would want to see more than 200 book sales of either that book, or some future book.

        As a hobbyist, I have the luxury of not being constrained by smart business decisions… ;^)

  28. Megg Jensen on January 16, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I see that figure a lot – that most self-published authors only sell a couple hundred books.

    I don’t see that happening. Most self-published authors sell a couple hundred books A MONTH. I sold that many in the first month. Less than a year in, and more than 30,000 copies of my ebooks have been downloaded.

    Self-publishing is hard work and no one should enter it lightly. To really succeed, you need to push yourself to do your very best. But shouldn’t we approach everything that way?

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 1:55 PM


      If you are doing better than that, then good for you, but your claim that most authors are selling hundreds of books a money just doesn’t add up. There are approximately 1 million books printed in the United States and approximately 3.1 billion books sold each year. If those books were all new titles and the numbers were distributed evenly, that would be 3,100 per author per year or 258 books per month, but it doesn’t work that way. There are a few books that sell a lot and a large number of books that fall into the long tail. It is simply not possible for some books to sell over a million copies and everyone else still average in the hundreds of books per month range.

      • Megg Jensen on January 16, 2012 at 1:59 PM

        Then I shall change my statement to: All of the authors I hang out with and share stats with all sell at least hundreds of ebooks a month. 😉

        • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 2:39 PM

          I think a lot of us (at least I am) are still unsure what to make of e-book sales statistics. It still tend to think more in terms of print books because there is more to keep self-published books in line with the prices publishers must charge. With e-books, self-published authors are able to push their prices down to the cheap level while publishers cannot, but it isn’t clear that this results in increased profits.

  29. David Todd on January 16, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    I decided to self-publish when, after considerable research, I came to the understanding that it has no downside. The amount of time needed to learn query, pitching, and proposal skills is similar to the time needed to learn formatting and uploading skills for an e-book. Any costs related to self-publishing (covers for the graphically challenged such as me) are less than the cost of conference attendance with the thought of finding an agent or meeting an editor. The editing commitment of the writer seems to be about the same for self-publishing and traditional publishing (though may vary considerably with individual publishing houses). The marketing commitment seems to be the same. The need to have a platform seems to be the same. Either way you want to write your best book. So the only difference is the validation of traditional publishing and the royalty structure.

    I also considered that self-publishing happens when I say it will. I’m not subject to the lottery-like chances of traditional publishing. In pursuing the latter, you can write a book as good as any Nobel Lauriate, and it could go unnoticed by traditional publishers.

    In 2011 my two books sold a grand total of 35 copies (29 e-books and 7 print), with almost no promotion. If I keep adding more books each year, even if none of them become homeruns, I might have a nice supplemental income when I retire in 5 years, 11 months, and 15 days. Meanwhile, I haven’t given up on traditional publishing, and am still querying for some things.

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM

      It seems like there has been a major drop off in the sales of self-published books with no promotion in recent years. I’m not sure if it is the economy or if it is because the self-published market is so saturated right now. A few years ago, I would’ve expected your 7 copies sold to be more like 70 copies. I think that for a while people found self-published books interesting for the novelty of it, but now they are beginning to get used to them.

  30. jeffo on January 16, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    I don’t think I would consider self-publishing. It’s not the fear that it will be dismissed as junk simply because it’s self-pubbed (that stigma is, fortunately being disproved on a semi-regular basis), it’s that I don’t think I could fulfill the second part of your statement. I don’t know that I have the means to sell it all on my own, at least not at this point in my writing ‘career’.

  31. Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    I self-published my first book because I wanted the learning experience. More correctly, I wrote my first book because I wanted to try self-publishing. I never anticipated that I would write eight books. My latest book Extending Art of Illusion is one that I decided to write because there were no books available to explain how to develop plugins for Art of Illusion and all of the tutorials I found online were written for older versions, so they were no help. Art of Illusion falls within a rather tight niche as it is and many of its users are more interested in creating graphics than they are in developing plugins. There aren’t many publishers and agents who would be willing to take the risk on a book like that. But I can.

    My biggest investment was the time it took to write the book. Before I could even begin to write, I wrote several plugins for Art of Illusion that would later serve as the examples in the book. That took a significant amount of time and I suppose that if I were paying myself for that time it would be cost prohibitive to write the book, but the Lord has been good to me and I’ve not hurting for money right now. That allows me to treat that time like the time I spend working on any other hobby. The actual financial burden was about $200, most of which was paying for proof copies of a 544-page book. At best, I’ll sell enough copies to pay for the cost and the time I put into the project. At worst, I was able to do something I enjoyed and still didn’t spend as much money as people spend playing golf.

    • TNeal on January 16, 2012 at 5:43 PM

      Love the practical bottom-line–at best/at worst. That makes the project manageable and the expectations reasonable.

      The way I play golf, I suppose I get more for my money. My single goal is to find more balls than I lose (which I do while looking for lost balls).

  32. Katie Ganshert on January 16, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Well….I have this YA paranormal romance story I’d love to tell that is very much NOT my brand. I’m not sure I’d get a publisher to pick it up. Maybe someday I’ll write it and consider self-publishing it. But not before doing lots and lots and LOTS of research. And of course, talking with my lovely agent. That’s far in the future though. I haven’t even written the book yet.

  33. carol brill on January 16, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    I’ve hired a professional editor so whether I find an agent/pub or self pub, my novel is the best it can be when I put it out there.
    for a professional result, self-pub means learning lay-out, cover design, marketing, print on demand and e-books options. I keep asking myself, do I want to be a writer or a writer/agent/publisher/book marketer all rolled into one?

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 9:56 AM

      That is why there are so many subsidy presses out there; the publisher does the work, but the author takes the risk. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to pay other people to do the work for you.

  34. kiff on January 16, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    It’s funny I asked about this just last week, got little or no answer, so i am extremely grateful to see this post today. I am presently trying to decide whether to self-publish or land an agent.

    I started reading one of the books you suggested “book proposals that $ell” by W.T. Whalin (and let me say here that for those of you who live in first world countries you should really be grateful for the library/book store/ online shopping opportunites you have, as to get this book I had to order it online and send it to a friend in the US, who was visiting my country, as books about memoirs and memoir writing are almost non existent in my land) and it is proving to be quite insightful.

    So, at this point, I will try my hand at the book proposal and based on what happens there, then i will self publish.

  35. kbr on January 16, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    My ideal situation would be to publish a line of series with one of the Big 6 publishers and then self-pub novellas of secondary characters in between each book in the series that ties them together.

  36. Stephen H. King on January 16, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    I think any author with the resilience it takes these days merely to find an agent should consider self-publishing. The two require much the same skill set, yet the potential reward for the latter is higher.

  37. Nancy Kelley on January 16, 2012 at 5:35 AM

    I self-published because I thought I had a better chance of achieving my goal that way. I want to make a living doing what I love. I don’t want writing to be a side job that I have to find time for in between shifts at my day job. Two months later, my instincts have proven correct. I’ve made more from book sales than I earn from my regular job.

    I have one thing to add to the list of considerations when pondering self-publishing: Genre. Some genres are more open to indie authors that others. Readers in my genre are almost universally accepting, but not all groups are like that.

  38. terri patrick on January 16, 2012 at 3:30 AM

    Thanks for this post. About 5-6 years ago someone said I would self-pub my memoir and I was adamant, no… As this story has evolved and I have pitched it to agents and editors, and hired editors, they have been very supportive in encouraging me to self-pub it. Your three points are why, but more importantly, to do so would provide me the freedom to present the story as I see fit.

    I will continue to pursue more “traditional” (ha! what’s traditional for trade fiction these days? LOL!) routes for my fiction. But I do have the resources and skills to do it all on my own with this memoir. So I guess it’s time to get it spit-shined and published, according to my vision. Memoirs are such a one-shot deal anyhow. 😀

    Thanks for this post. It was an answer to a question.

    So, how’s it feel to be the answer? No need to answer. Have an awesome week!

    • Cherry Odelberg on January 16, 2012 at 10:00 PM

      Ah, Terri, I love your comment – Memoirs are such a one shot deal, anyway:) Haven’t you heard of fictional autobiography?

      • terri patrick on January 16, 2012 at 11:09 PM

        Yes, thanks, and it’s not for me. 😀 If I ever write another memoir it will be years from now.

        I prefer to use what I know for fiction. It’s a control thing and I can orchestrate a happily ever after and write “The End.”

  39. Madison Johns on January 16, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    Great question. There are many authors self publishing these days because they were dropped by publishers or have their rights back. Well known authors with huge backlists.

    I don’t think there is any self published author that doesn’t want a traditional published book if the terms are right. I still send out submissions, and god bless the one personal rejection I received from a small press editor. Who also offered me to resubmit when I revised.

    It’s very hard to do it all on your own, but I feel when a self published author is published they will be the ones that do more promoting. One of the reason I recently saw a small publisher snapping up self published authors’ books that are already doing well.

  40. P. J. Casselman on January 16, 2012 at 2:39 AM

    I self-published my books because I can’t convince an agent to read them. Therefore, I put them on the market for those who enjoy them fully knowing that I was not going to make any real money. So, in my circumstance, it was a lack of desire for financial gain that prompted the self-pub. Otherwise, I would have kept trying to rewrite my proposals until I got a nibble.
    On a funny side note, the book Angel Blood: Family Secrets is getting passed all over my daughter’s campus in Boston. Some of the students want to make it into a screen play for their Screen Writing class. Who’d have thought a pastor would write a cult classic. 😀

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 9:50 AM

      At one time, I had the attitude that I would never publish anything that I had sent to agents and been rejected. I wrote the original version of Mother Not Wanted for the purpose of sending it out to agents. But after receiving several “No, thanks” from several agents and no response from the rest, including from a certain agent who will remain nameless but whose initials are R. G., I stuck it in the back corner of a closet. After more than a year, I pulled it back out. I still thought it was good, but I decided it could be better, so I rewrote about 60% of it, mostly the latter half. It turned out so good that I decided not to mess with literary agents and I published it myself.

      • P. J. Casselman on January 16, 2012 at 1:12 PM

        That’s great, Timothy! You took a proactive approach. I am currently compiling a book of short stories by authors on Twitter who have done something similar. In our bios, we shall place the names of our books. All the money will go to fight breast cancer. Together, we will cross promote the book, which will give every one of us exposure to a larger audience. Thinking outside the box is a must in this evolving pub market.

      • Maria A W on January 16, 2012 at 1:22 PM

        How did that work out for you? I have a small publisher that asked me to submit my manuscript when I was finished. Who knows if it will go any where, but I have hope! I believe in my work! I may have only just began, but I know I have something special. I have gotten advice from a accomplished writer. She told me I had a natural talent, and a grate idea. I have bin told by many that it WILL sell. But my confidence has always bin low, in everything I do. Any who could give me advice, or would like to check out bits of my work please feel free to visit me at http://artfulhelix.wordpress.com/
        I would love to hear from you Timothy Fish.

        • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 2:16 PM


          I’m flattered that you would ask for my opinion by name, but since you say that you lack confidence, it is probably best if I decline. I tend to be quite bruttle when it comes to stating my opinion of other people’s work.

          As for how it worked for me. The feedback I have gotten has been positive, but book sales haven’t reached the tipping point.

          • Maria A W on January 16, 2012 at 2:34 PM

            Thank you for your reply. I should have stated it better. I am my own worst critic. I am not new to criticism. I find the more honest a person is with me, no matter how brutal, I get something out of it. I understand your reluctance, thank you for taking the time to reply.
            Maria A W

        • Alan Kurland on January 17, 2012 at 1:59 PM

          Maria, not to be harsh but I hope your proofread your manuscript before you send it out, unlike your comment, (Bin). Take care and good luck!

  41. Komal on January 16, 2012 at 1:18 AM

    I would only consider self-publishing if I felt I had produced the best manuscript in my ability and could not find an agent to represent it or a small publisher to publish it.

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 9:41 AM

      Aren’t we always trying to produce the best work in our ability?

  42. Sam on January 16, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    As a reader I appreciate this route when a series gets cancelled and loose ends are still dangling. The author can self-publish a wrap-up book that will give their fans some satisfaction. (And oh, if only they could do this for TV shows!)

    • Timothy Fish on January 16, 2012 at 9:39 AM

      With television shows, I don’t think it is so much that they can’t wrap up the show before it goes off the air as much as the creators are hoping that the fans will be so upset that the cliffhanger will never be resolved that they will demand that the network put the show back on or at least come up with the money for a movie.

  43. Anna Mittower on January 16, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    It’s good to hear that agents aren’t completely focused on only publishing books through traditional publishers.
    As for me, currently I intend to try the traditional route first. I would highly appreciate the feedback an agent and possibly editors would give on my novel(s). However, if they failed to bite, I would most certainly consider self-publishing. The commitment required is huge, but I would not go into self-publishing without seriously committing.