Wow, first off I have to say, best discussion in the comments section ever in response to yesterday’s You Tell Me about self-publishing and the future of publishing. Really, really good stuff there, very informative, very interesting, thanks so much to everyone who posted. I could only hope to be as smart as you people. And in the meantime, please keep up the discussion.
The more anxious self-published authors out there want to know if having a self-published skeleton I mean novel in the closet will kill their writing career. No. It will not. So you can all exhale now. Whoa, NOT AT ONCE! Ahhh! HURRICANE!!!
Ahem. Now, is there a “stigma” attached to self-publishing, and will people in the publishing industry look down on self-published books? Well, things get a little more complicated here. Anyone who has read more than three self-published books knows that the average self-published book is not very good. And (truth alert) anyone who has read more than five self-published books know that “not very good” is being kind. I know there are exceptions (insert plug for PODler and iUniverse Book Reviews for finding the gems in the Jupiter-sized cavern), but let’s face it. Most self-published books are not very good, and agents know this as well as anyone.
I don’t, however, feel that “stigma” is quite the right word. I’m certainly open to the idea that someone could have self-published a stellar work that was overlooked by mainstream publishing, and we all have heard about books like ERAGON that were picked up by a major publisher and went on to be bigger than Ryan Seacrest. I’m definitely open to considering self-published books. So while I wouldn’t say “stigma,” I do think “skepticism” is more apt. In other words, you have some convincing to do.
Here’s what I would like to see from a self-published author when I’m considering their work. I want to see that the author:
1) Wrote a really great book that for whatever reason was overlooked or the author just decided to self-publish to save the hassle of submissions.
2) This author put a tremendous amount of energy into getting the book attention, reviewed, into bookstores, made connections with local publishing people like sales reps, got themselves onto the radio or even TV, received media and Internet attention and all of this effort translated into a solid fanbase and sales in the thousands.
3) The author has a killer idea for a NEXT book that they hope to place with a mainstream publisher, and wouldn’t you know it, that manuscript is all finished and polished and is ready to go to build on the author’s hard-earned success.
That’s what I want. And I have seen this with these very eyes! I’ve seen self-published books that were reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, self-published books that were mentioned on the Huffington Post blog and received the endorsement of a major comedienne, self-published books that have won awards… I’ve seen some pretty amazing things. It can happen. It’s difficult, these authors work harder than you would believe (and they are talented and wrote a great book as well), but it can definitely happen.
Now, about that pesky #3. I’m going to don my white coat and stethoscope (that’s Dr. Bransford to you) and tell you about a pernicious disease called Self Publishus Myopialoma, or SPM. SPM is a disease that afflicts many a self-published author. These authors invest their time and money and energy into self-publishing a book, and they become so invested in that book they don’t want to even contemplate writing another book with new characters or in a new world or really think about what their next step should be. Symptoms include refusing to work on a new (or non-sequel) work until the day they see their self-published book picked up by a mainstream publisher, murderous rage toward agents when they suggest that perhaps the author should work on something new, and frequent ranting against publishers for a) only caring about money or b) only putting out crap. SPM commonly mutates into Acute Sequelitus and… well… let’s just say these cases are tragic and fatal. I’ve seen these my share of these cases and it’s enough to keep you awake at night, clutching a towel, shouting “Why, God? Why????”
Don’t let SPM and Acute Sequelitus happen to you. The chances of a mainstream publisher picking up a sequel to a self-published book are so small you can’t even find them using an electron microscope.
Also with regard to #3, I hate to be the bearer of bad news (it hurts you more than it hurts me), but even if your self-published book is magnificent and has sold a bunch of copies, publishers might not want to pick it up. Publisher may feel that the book has already sufficiently run its course, or it might no longer be timely, or they might just not be that into you. They might, however, take note of your success and be interested in your NEXT book, and since they’re now in the business of investing in your career, your new agent might be able to convince them to pick up the reprint rights to your self-published book. And voila, you fulfilled your dream of having your self-published book picked up, but it was your NEXT book that was the key to getting the publisher interested.
Now, if you have a self-published book in your past that you aren’t proud of and you have a new idea, there’s no rule that says you have to mention it in a query. You should tell your prospective agent about it at some point in the client/agent mating dance, but if your self-published book didn’t do well and you want your new idea to stand on its own, just pretend you wrote your novel in Vegas.
And there you have it. Remember the big three bullet points of self-publishing, and above all, KEEP WRITING. And no sequels, Mr. Acute Sequelitus.