No Hope for the Self-Pubbed

Yesterday I was told that, since I have already self-published my work, I will never be picked up by an agent or have a traditional publishing deal. Not just for the books that I’ve self-published, but ever. Because the only self-published authors that get agents are ones who sell a zillion copies of their stuff, thus proving it’s market worthy. In other words, only the self-published authors who don’t need agents ever get them.

My books are of solid quality. I know this thanks to (a) good reviews from professional sources, and (b) feedback from agents. The “problem” with my books is that I write stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre* and/or stuff in unpopular genres. Basically, what I’ve been told by agents is that, while my work is good, it’s not marketable.

Which is why, I suppose, I don’t sell a zillion copies.

And therefore I will never get an agent or a big publishing deal for anything I write, no matter how good it is or how marketable it may actually be.

This is what I’ve been told. By traditionally published authors, mind. Maybe I should ask an actual agent? Pretty much every one that I’ve submitted to has told me to try them again with other works. I used to think they were just being polite, but I later heard at a conference panel that, no, that’s a line they only add to their rejection letters when they mean it. Which should mean, just maybe, that even if I self-published that book, they might still be interested in something new by me?

Publishing seems to be contracting and expanding in strange ways. There are more authors than ever, more books out there than ever, and yet fewer and fewer authors seem to be able to get agents and traditional publishing deals. Or maybe it just seems that way when one stacks traditional authors next to all the indies. But it does feel like agents and publishers are actually narrowing their focuses rather than widening. They seem to be less comfortable taking a chance on someone new. (Just like movie studios these days, leaning heavily on known IP rather than being willing to try anything original.)

It seems like certain genres do well in the indie market (romance, thrillers). Well, that’s also like indie films, isn’t it? Indie drama is pretty common, but how many indie action movies are there? Not many (if any) because indie filmmakers can’t usually afford to make a big budget film. At least with books the cost is more or less the same regardless of genre. It’s the ability to reach the various markets that causes some indie genres to stall, I think. Romance and thriller readers are typically voracious and will pick up a wide variety of titles in their preferred genres. More literary reader, though… are harder to reach via indie outlets. Underserved markets are more willing to go indie, assuming they can find your books in the piles of content out there. (Hey, if you like historical fantasy gay romance, try Faebourne! Yeah, again, my oddly specific books keep agents from picking them or me up…)

I guess the question eventually becomes: Do I want an agent and traditional publishing deal? And the answer is: I’d like the option. Maybe it’s that old need for validation, but… Yeah. I’d like an offer someday. At the same time, I won’t waste too much time chasing agents. Because I might like to have an agent, but I’ve learned I don’t have to have one to be happy or satisfied with my work.

3 thoughts on “No Hope for the Self-Pubbed”

  1. I don’t believe that stuff about self-publishing meaning that you can never be traditionally published. That’s not what I’ve heard other authors say. When your manuscript connects up with the right agent, they won’t care about the self-publishing part.

  2. I’ve been told the same thing. Like you, I don’t want an agent or publisher at the moment, but I want the option. It’s tough with so many authors and the number of agents not growing as fast. There’s all sorts of indie publishers, but I’ve had books with a few and it isn’t the same feeling as something with a big publisher. I’m trying to tell myself not to worry about any of it anymore, but the writer in me wants all of it.

    1. We can’t help wanting what we want! If life were that easy, we’d all be happy. And I agree about indie publishing experiences. It still feels great to be “chosen,” so to speak, but the smaller houses aren’t generally able to do as much for an author. Like you, I keep telling myself to just do my thing and not focus on agents and big deals—the industry is shifting so much anyway—but the old-school writer in me can’t help looking over my shoulder at it.

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