How Do You Plan to Publish Your Work-in-Progress?

by | May 14, 2013 | Uncategorized | 62 comments

I have not been a literary agent for over two-and-a-half years now. The main way strangers contact me is through my blog, through a link under my bio, which says I was “formerly a literary agent.”

I still. get. query letters.

Query letters are the zombies in my life. Just when I think it’s safe to open my e-mail, they sneak in and send a chill down my spine.

So from my vantage point, it sure seems like quite a few people out there are still pursuing traditional publication, no matter how popular self-publishing grows and how the publishing blogosphere has steadily morphed to serve the self-publishing community.

What about you? Are you planning to first pursue traditional publication? Do you see self-publishing as a first option? A fallback?

Poll below. If you’re reading this on a feed reader or via e-mail, please click this link to see it.


  1. D.G. Hudson

    They still want to pick your brain, Nathan!

    I voted in your poll. I'm still planning the trad route, but will keep self pubbing options open.

  2. Susie Lindau

    I can imagine how annoying that would be. Of course you could have fun with them and say, "This sounds like a book that would waste everyone's time," and then say, "Just kidding! Didn't you read that I am no longer in that business??? Sounds like a great read. Good luck to you. :)"
    I know. I couldn't be that mean either!

  3. Crystal

    The thought of self-publishing makes me break out in a cold sweat…

  4. Anonymous

    WHY IS THERE NO BUTTON FOR: "The Material I am Creating is Not Publish-able at this Time?" 😀

  5. Ted A.

    You are probably still listed in old periodicals, or articles people are finding.

    As for my WIP, I'm going to try the Traditional route first, but if it doesn't work out, I'll self-publish.

    I'm not a great evaluator of my own stuff. I'd really like that outside professional agent or editor to confirm that my writing and storytelling is up to snuff.

  6. Krista Van Dolzer

    I picked the first option but would have picked a fifth option between the first and second: "I will pursue traditional publishing and won't self-publish at this time (but may consider it down the road when I have more time and money)."

    There's still a big difference between self-publishing and self-publishing WELL, and the difference is a lot of time and some capital upfront. I could probably pull together the capital, but the time is a completely different matter. If I decide to do something, I want to be able to give it everything I've got, and I can't do that right now with self-publishing.

    But can I unequivocally say I'll NEVER self-publish? No, I don't think I can…

  7. Richard Sutton

    It seems like the best way forward, assuming that craft has been attained and polished, is for a combined approach. There are now so many models running back and forth on the playing field, it's hard to choose one to give full loyalty. Besides, if one if honest with one's work, then it's pretty obvious if you are seriously cross-genre that it's not going to be a blockbuster. Still, there are smaller, quieter books that have influenced me over a lifetime of reading. A few of them were single efforts, not well publicized that I found through word-of-mouth.

  8. Mark Covington

    Couldn't find the button that said I will send it to a bunch of agents who will reject it because it's not YA, Erotica or Chick lit, then I will send it to my small press publisher who will publish it because they care more about literature than making a quick buck with minimum effort

  9. david elzey

    i have two WIPs, one of which i will take the traditional route, the other specifically designed for self-publication as a serialized ebook.

    at this point in time i believe writers need to think of the end-product as part of the writing process. narrative and reader expectations are shifting along those lines.

  10. Miriam Joy

    I'm not sure I fit any of those options. My co-written novel was indie-published (given that there are four of us I couldn't call it 'self'), but my solo novels I'm looking to find an agent. But I'm still very open to the idea of taking it in my own hands — it's just that at this stage in my life, I'd be happy to relinquish control and thus avoid the responsibility of indie publishing. So it doesn't really matter to me which I end up doing. My novels don't exactly fit conventional moulds but in YA, that's generally not a problem. I'll see how it all works out.

  11. Anonymous

    I loathe the process of groveling to an agent, but here I am…on my knees. Hahaha!
    I have several friends who have self published. I will consider it, if -and when- I don't get a bite.

  12. Chris Lunda

    Trad houses still possess the fast track to seeing your book in other media. That is why I chose #1

  13. Jaimie

    You should do this poll every year, like the e-reader poll. I was stuck between option 2 and 3. A part of me wants to just say fuck it to the misery and lack of control of traditional publishing and do all the work myself.

  14. Nathan Bransford


    I'm sure I am, but they're e-mailing me directly through the site. My old work e-mail wouldn't wouldn't work anymore.

  15. Tiffany Marie

    I just sold my book to an epublisher, which isn't quite "traditional" publishing, but isn't self-publishing either, so I kind of fall between the cracks of your poll. *grin*

  16. Cathy

    I'd love to see the option "I am planning on traditionally publishing and self publishing simultaneously." I think that they could work well together… if you're able to get the traditional deal, it will be a bit easier (in my experience) to get reviews from book bloggers. Once the relationship's established and if it is positive, you've got a foothold in offering them self-published works they might not have reviewed otherwise. Also, you can self-pub stuff that the traditional markets aren't buying because it doesn't fit what they're looking for. If your novels are all in the same basic genre (or close), then you've got a "rising tide lifts all boats" thing going on from your promo. For commercial work, if you're prolific it seems like the best possible symbiotic relationship.

  17. Peter Dudley

    I've got one I will absolutely self-publish, and another that I am floating to a single, particular publisher. If they don't bite, however, I'll self-publish that as well rather than seek a different traditional publisher.

    I am a little dismayed at how big the numbers are for people who will self-pub only after they've exhausted the traditional channels. To me, that just reinforces the myth that self-publishing is merely a garbage heap of everything that "real" publishing rejected.

    It's fascinating that (at this moment) one fourth will never self-publish, but one-third are looking to self-publishing as their first option. Interesting.

  18. Unknown

    I plan to pursue Traditional publishing first. I understand that traditional publishing and an agent will have better skills at getting my work seen than I am, etc. I will pursue self publishing not as a trash heap but if. I feel like I have a realistically quality product that doesn't fit traditional publishing. I won't self publish just because it doesn't get bites. I have shopped one manuscript that did not get any bites. I will not self publish it and that's because in hindsight I realize it just wasn't very good. I kept reading and learning while it was out on queries and, after the first round, I read it again and saw the irreparable mistakes in the manuscript. Self publishing that would be… bad. 😛 responding on phone is also bad.

  19. Andrea

    I've been a self-published author for two years, and it's absolutely amazing. It's a fantastic way to go – ESPECIALLY if you're trying to be traditionally published! Trad. pubs like authors to approach them with a fan base and readers already established. There's less risk for them.

    Self-pubbing isn't hard. You can do it in a few easy steps:

    1. Use beta readers. (Volunteers.)
    2. Hire an editor.
    3. Find some good proofreaders. (Again, volunteers.)
    4. Hire a cover designer.
    5. Format the eBook yourself (super easy).
    6. Upload to Kindle and Nook (and Smashwords, if you want).
    7. Make money! (After time, of course. :-))

    Total cost shouldn't exceed $500 when you start out. Don't worry so much about print and other medias: you can put out a paperback when royalties from eBooks are high enough to pay for it.

    For those who are trying but haven't yet succeeded: give yourselves at least two years to get anywhere, as it takes that much time to brand your name. Two years of regularly uploading quality material. And don't promote or market until you've got several books (in the same genre) for people to read to remember you by.

    You don't have to be a bestseller to earn a great income as an indie author. And it's so very much more satisfying – take it from me! I've been down both roads. (Left my publisher to go on my own.)

  20. Will Overby

    I'm going for the hybrid approach. Most of my stuff I'm self-pubbing, but other things, like my children's books, don't fare as well in the indie world, so I'm submitting that stuff to agents.

  21. Elaine Smith

    I'm hoping to slide down the traditional publishing route. I have a small publishing company (not vanity press) showing interest, I may go that way.

  22. collectonian

    If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said traditional, but these days I'm not really sure. Traditional still has some perks, like advances, if you can actually get through the door. But getting through the door seems to be a mixed bag, and it seems like more and more traditionally published authors are expected to take on things like marketing, etc. At that point, I find myself wondering why bother, if I have to do it myself I might as well self-publish when I'll actually get what I want in terms of cover and content, versus being forced to submit to the whims of a traditional publisher after the contract is signed.

    On the flip side, self-publishing means doing all my own marketing instead of at least "sharing" some of the load, plus cover, editing, etc. And while the profit margin is way higher, it is still almost entirely for eBook format and I want my stories to be available to folks without computers and ereaders, or folks like my mom who have a computer but can't sit on it for long periods of times.

    So for now, my answer is the option not available – I have no clue 😛

  23. Cynthia

    I clicked on the first one, although I might amend that to: I will pursue traditional publishing and won't self-publish no matter what…unless I change my mind later.

  24. Ed Varga

    Why did you cease being an agent?

  25. historywriter

    I selfpubbed my first novel and will for the second, but I like the idea of being hybrid author. I have essays and article published traditionally. One novel I have been pitching. My first never clicked with agents, but it did in lit contests and reviews, so I self-pubbed it. Readers really enjoy it. The awards prove it.

  26. Anonymous

    When I went to prom I had no date, my dress was a handown from my sister, and I had to ride in the backseat of my friend’s Pontiac. But I was happy to go because otherwise I would have spent the entire night in my room feeling sorry for myself. It was about the experience, the whole, if I don’t do this I’ll regret it for the rest of my life, kind of thing.

    Skipping the chance to get published traditionally, I would think, would be a similar feeling of regret. It is the ultimiate in a book’s potential. But publishing is ruled by such fickle moods. Zombie, paranormal, steampunk, erotic. I like to believe most authors are conentrating on writing the best book they have been born to write, not the best new trend they can pump out before said trend dies. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe was a novella. Today it would be published by a small, artsy press. The Dubliners would meet a similar fate. Short story collection. Can't place this. I can hear the agent response now: While this has merit, I don’t feel I’m the right person for this particular work. But other agents may feel differently . . .

    Publishing is prom. A long, depressing prom with no date, and your sister’s old dress, and the back seat of your best friend's Pontiac. But I’ll keep trying because I want my books to reach their full potential of readers one day. I don’t want my manuscripts to sit around, all gloomy, waiting for dust when all the other books are having fun.

  27. Anonymous

    Anon: we skipped prom and went to the self-publishers all-night rave on the beach. It was awesome. No chaperones, no curfew, big bonfire. We kept looking for you, but you never showed. What happened?

  28. Susan Kaye Quinn

    p.s. I heart 2nd anon's response in a major way. See you at the rave!

  29. Greg

    The results thus far are fascinating. Only 27% (so far) won't self-publish. 31% definitely will, with 22% open to a trad pub (TP?) if the opportunity presents itself.

    I'm going to the self-pub route. It's not at all clear how much the TPs really have to offer (and they carry a boatload of negatives), especially given the promotional opportunities with services like KDP Select.

    Beach party, anyone?

  30. Katie

    2nd Anon's response made me smile. Definitely skip that sad prom you feel like you have to go to and come to the rave!!! I am self publishing all the way now. 6 books out and working on number 7 now. Originally it was the less-awesome option for me, but now I only wish I'd started years sooner. Not only has self publishing been incredibly emotionally satisfying and creatively rewarding, it's also become quite lucrative for me, too. Less frustration, more control, less waiting, and (lots) more money? I'll take it.

  31. Karen A. Chase

    It's all changing so quickly. I self-published my first book, and that went so well (three independent book publisher awards+good sales) that I would rather say, "I will submit to traditional publishers, and hope that they'll be willing to negotiate a non-traditional agreement."

    Which leads me to the question… Are the traditional publishers willing to think non-traditionally? The authors certainly are.

  32. zkullis

    I self publish, and will continue to self publish until I get to a point where a traditional publisher would want to pick me up.

    Self publishing is a great medium with plenty of good options. It can be a downfall for an author that doesn't have their work professionally edited.

    My first novel was not professionally edited, and while it received some very good reviews, it could have been much better.

    Best of luck to all of us that love to write, self published or not, and best of luck to you Nathan with the read-me-zombie hordes.

  33. Katie Lyn

    A bit of irony for me that you posted this today. I had been wondering the other day if you still received query letters or occasionally critiqued them.

    I plan to go traditional publishing, mostly because even though people self publish, children's picture books are easier, in my opinion, through traditional publishing. I may be wrong, but for now, I'm still headed down that path of literary agent and traditional publishing.

  34. Susie Schnall

    Also ironic for me that you posted this today because I am in the thick of the self pub process. I shopped my ms around and was given great feedback by agents but told a pub wouldn't take a chance on this type of book by a first-timer. Several said it would be perfect for self-pub. So I dusted off my ego and let go of long-held feelings that it wasn't a real book unless an actual pub house said so. I decided to do it myself and do it right with a real editor, real cover designer, real photog etc. Finalizing the ms now and hoping to have ON GRACE (women's fiction) for sale on Amazon within 6 weeks. At this point I'm thrilled to have this option. Better than having to stick all that hard work in a drawer! Thanks for all your help and guidance through your blog. Much appreciated!!

  35. Debra Erfert

    I'm going to indie-pub my paranormal thriller trilogy since paranormals aren't in vogue with publishers at the moment, but that doesn't stop me from looking for an agent for my suspense novels. I know so many indie published authors (Hi, Andrea!) that help is never further away than a few strokes of a keyboard.

    I didn't vote in your poll, Nathan, but I would've if you had the question: I will pursue traditional publishing along with self-publishing.

  36. Matthew J. Beier

    I self-published as an experiment, and as a result, I've been lucky enough to get some decent exposure for the book. It was about a risky topic (a satire about homosexuals taking over the world and wiping heterosexuals out), and it ended up being a great way for me to test the waters and earn some credibility as a "real" writer.

    I learned TONS about the publishing process (editing, book design, starting a publishing company, etc.), but I also learned how difficult it is to market–and actually sell–books if you have no platform. The work involved in becoming visible can be staggering, and it still never guarantees sales.

    I'm 50/50 about pursuing traditional publication for the book series I'm working on. I have a background in graphic work and want control of the overall book design, but I would definitely sacrifice a bit of royalties for more marketing power. Whether good marketing would happen from a traditional publisher is the big question. Also, if Barnes & Noble continues to decline and online sales continue to grow (they will), I'll continue to lean toward self-publishing. It can't hurt to consider both options, though!

    I also love what Anonymous said above regarding there being no button for "The Material I'm Creating is Not Publishable at This Time." I think a HUGE challenge is really knowing when your manuscript is ready to self-publish! You really need to have a good idea of what makes all the published books you love work, from design to pacing to tone. Not having the agent/editor/publisher filter can cause a lot of self-doubt!

  37. S.P. Bowers

    Unfortunately none of your poll answers are completely accurate for me. I don't see a one, or the other, or one first and the other if it doesn't/does work out. It's more, what is best for this novel, for this time in my life. Choosing one doesn't mean the other is a "fall back" It just means that it wasn't right at this time for this project. We're lucky that we have the choice, we just need to use it wisely.

  38. Rick Daley

    I have no intention of publishing my WIP. I' waiting until it's done.

  39. Mira

    Interesting poll, although I have some questions…

    How do we know the people who are voting are writers?

    And how do we know people aren't voting multiple times?

    And wouldn't your subscribers be skewed toward traditional publishing paths, since they signed up when you were an agent?

    If you published this same poll on Konrath's blog, for example, I think you'd get some very different results.

    I think this is fun, but I'm not sure the results are trustworthy.

  40. Lexa Cain

    I'm seeing more than 75% of authors self-publishing out there, so perhaps your blog is attracting a more traditionally-oriented audience — like the ones who still send you queries! 🙂

  41. Bruce Bonafede

    I co-published and edited a weekly local business/public affairs newspaper briefly, BACK IN 2006, and I still get occasional calls from PR people who want to pitch me a story. I must still be in some horribly out-of-date media database somewhere. Cracks me up.

  42. Greg

    I'm conflicted.
    I would love the control over rights, pricing, cover art etc that self-pub brings but I would also love to have the resources and experience of a traditional publisher behind me.
    Hugh Howey hit a pretty sweet spot with his print rights only deal!

  43. Bruce Bonafede

    To me, the essential question for an author in this whole huge current debate between selfpub and tradpub (I like to write in Newspeak) is "which approach will get my book read?" (or, more importantly, bought). It's a marketing decision, and all good marketing decisions are made based on the nature of the product. In my case, I am self-publishing a humor book, yet I am not a comedian, have no following, and don't have a TV talk show. I know no traditional publisher with half a brain would even look at my book (and I don't blame them), so why waste their (and my) time? Instead, I'm self-publishing, and hopefully my marketing efforts will get the book enough visibility that readers can judge it on its own merits, rather than on who published it or whether my sex tape was any good. Oh, did I forget to mention my sex tape?

  44. Terin Tashi Miller

    Well, Mr. Former Agent Man,it's a funny thing that's happened in the last few months.

    As you know, I am and have been a strong advocate of self-publishing, having tried without success the "traditional" route for about 30 years and finally decided, technology making it possible, to publish my novels myself.

    But in the last few months, wouldn't you know it? I've contracted with not one, but two publishers, to publish first my previously self-published work, and even to publish a never-before published thriller I'd all but given up hope of ever seeing print.

    And I've found an agent interested in whatever I write next that isn't committed by contract to either publisher. Though both publishers want to publish, at last word, more of my work…:)

    So. I have at least one more novel committed to be published by Author's Empire India, which launched my previously self-published debut novel this past weekend in Patiala, India (it and the other self-published novel are both set in India, as is a third that, likely, they'll publish), and I have another thriller/mystery that I think might interest White & MacLean, which is publishing my first set in Texas, Sympathy for the Devil, May 24. As both the contract and publisher are interested in a right of first refusal.

    Meanwhile, my actual, eager-to-get-to "work-in-progress" I will give the interested agent as it is neither a thriller nor set in India.

    But if all else fails or falls through, I know, and it is far more comforting a thought having done it twice and been pleasantly surprised at what it's done for me, I would readily and happily self-publish again.

    There are things you get, that I guess are vestiges of the now old way of publishing, being published by someone else other than yourself.

    One is a new perspective on your story, which is immensely helpful in editing–if you find the traditional publisher has good editors, which many do; one is marketing–the covers of both books coming out this month (Kashi, the one launched in India, and Sympathy, being launched by the Belgian publisher) are far beyond anything I could ever come up with on my own, and that even to have done would cost me a great deal of investment, and both have greater distribution networks and experience than I do (Kashi is set for a 5,000 print run; Sympathy is being marketed first as an ebook, then as a paperback); and one is a certain "cache" for various groups, such as PEN America, which doesn't consider you "published" if you publish yourself.

    Silly as it ultimately is, a sympathetic and sympatico writer friend of mine noted: it DOES feel good, and different, and better, when someone ELSE considers your writing good enough to publish.

    I still argue for friends, therefore, to get together and publish each other. It is still how Ernest Hemingway started, with Robert McAlmon's Contact Press. And had he not, he'd have never had a copy of 'in our time' to send to America, and catch the eye of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    And James Joyce would never have found a publisher (his friend, Sylvia Beach) for "Ulysses."

    And Pat Conroy, and Mark Twain, and…you get my point?

    Rudyard Kipling was first published in India as well. Technology has not only made it possible to self-publish far more easily than ever before, quality, "professional"-looking books; it has also made it possible for, as an example, my new publisher Author's Empire India to not only be an "Indian" publisher, but to be an international publisher, BASED in India. In other words, if you're having no luck with 'traditional' publishers in the U.S., there are others, elsewhere, who might be interested in your work. But how would you know, and how would they see it, if you didn't self-publish it first?

  45. Anonymous

    I'm interested in going through the traditional publication process to learn about how it works. It's more my curiosity than a belief that it's the best thing to do.

    The problem with writing is that it's a lonely activity.

    But I like the entrepreneurial spirit in self publishing. What I don't know is how much cash to spend on a novel before I would self-publish it? I can probably squeak by with a cover done in photoshop. But paying for editing services also makes sense. It's just the risk of too much expense for too little return.

    Publishers are lucky to have a pool of books to publish, so that the winners can offset the cost spent on the losers. As a writer, I don't have a pool of offset my expenses.

  46. Anonymous

    I think any author that doesn't try everything these days might be missing opportunities. This includes indie publishing, querying, and even e-presses. It always amazes me no one really ever mentions small e-presses. A lot of authors are making money there and building readerships. They work like trad publishers, with editors and all that good stuff.

  47. Sophia

    Not only am I self-publishing, but I wouldn't choose to go trad unless it was some sort of dream come true with a massive advance and an aggressive marketing team devoted to selling my books and the publishers guaranteed I'd make all the decisions about everything like I do now. 🙂 I've been working on a sequel to a serial novel I'm currently releasing in episodes. I love doing my own covers, I love deciding when I'm releasing a book… and considering that from what I've read I'd have to do all my own marketing anyway (the part I'm least fond of) even if a trad publisher picked me up… independent is the way to go for me all the way.

  48. Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli

    I've never tried traditional publishing, I'm not interested at all. I'm a self-publisher an proud to be so, I've published 4 books so far and they are quite a success in my country. I'm happy as an indie 🙂

  49. Lyn Fairchild Hawks

    After two years of querying and one year of working with a literary agent (you were the first I queried, Nathan), I decided to go self-pub. It's been a really fun ride so far. I've learned a ton and as someone who's made minimal royalties with my prior, traditionally-published books (education), it's really gratifying to make over 35% and up to 70% on sales. But of course, the marketing, the marketing…when what I really want to do is get back to writing. Trade-offs. In the meantime, all the advice you hear is true: don't skimp on edits (both developmental and copyedits) or on design. I got great help in all areas and also with my website. Let me say, Streetlight Graphics (designer), Anita B. on eLance (designer), Diane Bailey (editor), and Shaila Abdullah (web designer) are fantastic team members. I found these people via my self-pub colleagues and also my own sleuthing. I've also formed a writers' co-operative with two other self-pub authors, and by banding together, we've garnered book signings in our state. Very excited about the next steps.

    Lyn Fairchild Hawks

  50. Michael Pickett

    My thoughts on this are rapidly changing. I used to be a traditional or bust guy, but self-publishing is becoming more and more appealing to me. I've recently read articles like this one that argue that traditional publishers want you to come to them with a platform, but if you have a platform you can self-publish and sell directly to that audience.

    I am about to launch a platform generation project (which I will tell you about, Nathan, because I think you will think it is cool) and I will do an experiment in self-publishing. If it goes well, I might be self-pub all the way.

  51. Cody

    For my first novel, which is nearly complete, I plan on running a kickstarter campaign to raise a couple grand so I can self publish the right way. This way I can still get an editor and a designer.

    If a publisher makes an offer, I don't know exactly what I'll do. It depends on how far along I am and the success of the novel. If ebooks are doing well and print isn't, then I might actively pursue a print only deal. But we'll have to see.

  52. Emily Wenstrom

    What about the hybrid approach? I'm hoping my current manuscript will be traditionally published, but while I query it around I plan to write short stories that I can use to 1) beef up my credentials with journal publications and contest and 2) grow a readership following online via monthly releases. My long-term plan is more of a hybrid approach–some traditional, some online self-pub.

  53. Anonymous

    There should be more discussion about the how the different genres fare with self-publishing, because this should be taken into account when a writer is figuring out what to do and which path to choose. Seems to me that, although you can find break away hits in all the genres including "book club" literary, far and away self-publishing is best suited for genre and or non-fiction. If you have written a literary novel (for all values of "literary") does self-publishing make sense?

  54. Regina Richards

    Recently I sat next to an agent at a writers' conference. She asked what I was writing. I told her. She asked for the full. I was flattered, but I'm torn about sending it to her. I'm making money self-publishing and I love the artistic and financial freedom it gives me. So I'm still thinking about it.

  55. MOV

    New reader here. I self-published (that's right, past-tense) three books. I started out trying to go the traditional route of finding an agent, but after the first few rejections (or being outright ignored), I began to get discouraged.

    Fast forward to now (3 years later). My blog has over 600 followers, my books are on Amazon and at my local indie bookstore, and I had 100% creative control– this means cover design, content, everything.

    The only area I struggle with is marketing. I wish I had Jen Lancaster's marketing team. My books are not making me a gazillion dollars, but I can officially say I am now an author (*holds book in air to prove it*).

    If you happen to be curious, the name of my newest book is "Epic Mom" and you can find it on Amazon. It is not mommy lit, it is humor.

    Great post.

  56. LG O'Connor

    When I first finished my book, I was 100% set on Traditional publishing – until I started to learn more. As wonderful as it would be to have a mjor publisher select me, I'm not under any false illusions that I'd make more than my current career affords me. I write because I love it, and wanted to tell a story I wanted to read. The pressure of meeting publisher deadlines scare me, since writing won't be paying my mortgage. Therefore, I've become more and more enamoured with either partner publishing or pure self-publishing. I also don't want to wait years to make my work public. So… I'm now leaning away from Traditional publishing.

  57. G. B. Miller

    I tried self-pubbing, but w/o the proper knowledge, failed miserably.

    My first one came out with a traditional mid-sized publisher, and it looks my 2nd will eventually do the same.

    I'll probably do self-publishing somewhere in the future, but this time I'll be armed with the knowledge on how to do it properly and successfully.

  58. Heather Sunseri

    Funny: I self-published my novel this past Janaury. I have one book out there currently. I've never been a literary agent. I self-published which kind of means I don't have a lot of literary contacts one would think, yet I receive query letters. Hmmm.

  59. k m mittan

    Nathan, you felt my first novel wasn't a good fit for you. Disappointing, yes, but I felt honored because you wanted to see more than the first five pages and, to me, that said I had the writing part down at least fairly well. (I still feel that way – honored that you asked for more.)

    After your rejection and some serious consideration about my book's content, however, I ultimately decided to self-publish. Has it been a huge success? No. But I've sold more books without advertising than most titles sell, period, so I'm not upset about that, either. I know my book is carried by one specific bookstore that plans to continue carrying it. Why should I complain?

    Would the book do better if I pushed it? I'm sure it would. It's a tongue-in-cheek biographical novel with a definite regional draw. But I don't like public appearances. I don't like the idea of standing before a group of people and saying, in essence, "I'm a wonderful author and I've written this fabulous book that you're absolutely going to love and your life won't be complete unless you buy it." So I don't push.

    The jury is still out on whether I want to self-publish my current WIP – which is nearly ready to send out. This one is pure fantasy so I might choose to try an agent. But, I might not, too. For me, the ultimate triumph isn't in producing a NY Times bestseller, it's in producing a book that's cohesive, fun, interesting, and without a bazillion grammatical errors and typos. It's in having my friends loan their copies to relatives and having the relatives say, "Your FRIEND wrote this? Wow!" It's in having my teenaged grandchildren say, "I loved your book, Grandma." It's in having complete strangers message me, "When will you come out with another book? I want to read the next one." It's in having my cousin, who has her Masters in English, tell her husband I know how to write.

    So whether I do traditional or whether I self-publish, I'll ultimately have already experienced my thrill. I'm just in this for the fun of writing something no one else has written. …And to prove to myself that old ladies can still be capable. 😀

  60. MelissaClare

    Hi Nathan,

    Your comment about still getting query letters was interesting to me, as I only recently discovered your blog via a 2008 post "How to find a Literary Agent" (I just started my own search for an agent). I should say, it took all of 4 seconds to find out you weren't still working as an agent (great post though, and your blog is very informative). I think that the problem comes from people who want to write a book and get it out there, but don't want to do ANY of the other stuff (research and marketing) that goes along with it. It's overwhelming, and being in it, I sympathize.

    Still, not doing any research just wastes 1. our time 2. prospective agents (and ex-agents) time 3. gives us even more writer anxiety about radio silence and rejection letters we didn't need to have and 4. doesn't move us toward publication.

    So to my fellow newbie writers I say: Google. It's your friend. Imagine the pre-internet era and feel grateful.

    The misbegotten agent search sort of fits in with the dark side of the self-pubbing industry, in that (potentially offensive personal opinion coming) some writers don't uh, stop and think? It seems like some writers lack the ability to look at what they're doing from an objective or sensible standpoint, and subject inappropriate agents to their unfinished work, then throw it out into the world when the gatekeepers of the lit industry rejected it…

    That said, I know that now, with self-pubbing so easy, there will probably be good books that go straight to ePub. As a reader I just want to know whether I'll ever find them. We used to have agents going through the slush pile for us.

    For the record, I voted "Trad pub then ePub", like 40somthing percent of your readers, so I'm not above subjecting the world to my rejected literature. 🙂


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

My blog has everything you need to know to write, edit, and publish a book. Can’t find what you need or want personalized help? Reach out.


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