QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Acquiring An Agent After Self-Publishing

from the QT Festival Of Questions

Question #1:

I'm a self-published author who has sold a few hundred copies, via family and friends but have failed to get an agent interested. Currently, the book is doing the rounds of the office where I work, and being passed back and forth in the staff room of the college, where my sister teaches. I haven't sought any praise, but the reaction has been truly fantastic, with comments almost in the realms of hyperbole. This being the case, can you tell me how I should go about getting an agent?

Absolutely! Write a second book.

That's not the answer you thought you were going to get, but it's the best way to attract an agent. You've shown some success on your own, but many agents are going to see the publishing pool for this novel as having been tainted by your self-publication.

Writing that moves people to tears and earns unasked-for praise will inevitably attract an agent's attention. If you've got that kind of talent, surely you have more than one book in you. You can then leverage your self-publishing success in order to show an agent that your work has wider appeal.

Therefore take a two-pronged approach: promote the heck out of your self-published work. Get it reviewed as widely as possible, and do whatever you can to connect with others who will love your book. Raise those sales number.

And at the same time, write a second novel unconnected to the first. Put the same effort in as you did for your first. Polish it, and then query agents with a fabulous query letter and an appealing hook. In your bio paragraph, you can note, "I am the self-published author of {Title Redacted} which has sold 5,000 copies."

Ah, but what you wanted was to get your current title in front of thousands of readers. A second book would help in that regard: those who read and love your second book will see mention of your first in your bio, on your website, and in your interviews promoting that book. Consider the second book to be free publicity for the first. You'll sell more copies. And if you sell enough copies of Book One, the publisher of your second book may decide it's worth publishing too.


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (this December from MuseItUp). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.


Stina said...

Great advice, Jane!

Christine Fonseca said...

great post Jane!

Unknown said...

Perfect advice! Writing is about moving forward. I doubt Stephen King spends one second of his day thinking about how to market Cujo to readers in Honduras, or how he could get more Amish readers. He just writes another story.

I realize King has a Money Bin and can afford not to worry about those things, but my point remains the same: You've clearly written a solid story, and should be very proud of the accomplishment. Now get to work on another one. One that's even better. When it's finished, send it out and let the agents worry about who's going to represent it/you. Just worry about writing, and let the chips fall.

Anne R. Allen said...

Great answer.

But I'd tell this writer: savor that success and enjoy all the kudos. Congratulations. Now you know you're good. That's what will keep you going.

I'd add that if you haven't sold at least 5000 copies, it's probably better to present yourself as a newbie in your query letter for the next book. Even with a small press publication low sales can hurt rather than help.

EJ--Great analogy with King not worrying about Cujo's sales. We all have to be sharks--keep moving in order to stay alive.

Becky Mushko said...

does this approach work better for fiction or non-fiction? Could you list a few authors (and their books) who've gone this route?

kathrynjankowski said...

Good advice, whether your first novel is self-published or unpublished. Once it's done, move on!

S. A. Soule, Creativity Coach said...

The question is...did they TRY to find an agent first?

Or a publisher?

Or did they just decide to self-publish, then decided to get an agent?

Guess, it doesn't matter now, unless they sell a few THOUSAND copies and can show a real profit.

Time to write another book

Kim said...

Why is self publication considered bad by the publishing industry?

Eric W. Trant said...

Love this advice. I say this all the time, especially to authors who have only one book in their drawer.

Write another book!

Odds are your second will be better than the first, and so forth.

- Eric

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Great question, and great answer...AND great thoughts in the comments, too! :)

Jane Lebak said...

Dark Angel: the person wrote that he'd failed to get an agent interested, which implies he tried already. This would seem to have been a request for advice on how to do the second round of approaches to agents with the same novel.

Kimysworld, self-publishing is bad only when someone uses it as a quick way to get an unready book published and then expects fame and fortune to follow soon after. For many people, it's the perfect way to produce a book in order to suit their specific needs.

But Miss Snark addressed this too: