Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Self-publishing is not the way to go

by Rob - July 22nd, 2007.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

An email I received today:

I loved your website and was very impressed with your bio and all the awards that you have received. What a wonderful life you must be enjoying. Great!

I have written a mystery novel. The book is already in print, but I need an expert to tell me my next move. The book has been advertised on, but without an agent, I’m having a problem knowing what to do next.

If you could give me some tidbits of how to make this dream a reality, I would love to hear it.

My reply:

I wish I could give you some positive words of advice. If you’d asked me earlier, my advice would have been not to self-publish your book. In terms of interesting a traditional publisher, especially for fiction, that’s the worst possible move you can make: sure, if you’d self-published and been a success, selling (at a minimum) tens of thousands of copies, a commercial publisher might become interested. But you haven’t; your Amazon sales rank is 4,000,000+ — meaning a single copy of your book sells now and again.

Yes, you’ve got seven positive reviews on — but of those, six are by people who have only reviewed your book and no others, and of the five who say where they live, four are local to you. Again, I’m afraid that’s not much help.

Sadly, by self-publishing, you’ve established a track record for your book, and it’s a poor one. I’m trying not to be harsh here, but the sad truth is that you decided to take a shortcut, and, like many shortcuts, it’s ended up getting you lost. Self-publishing is the end of a book’s life, not it’s beginning.

Your only hope for a traditional publisher at this point is to do the standard procedure (well documented in any number of books on the writing game that you could have read prior to choosing the route you took) of submitting (by paper mail) sample chapters and outlines to appropriate publishing houses — and doing so without mentioning your self-published edition. If a publisher likes what you’re offering (and note that the bar is high in commercial publishing, and most people don’t manage to clear it simply because their manuscripts aren’t good enough), then come clean at that point about the self-published edition (which you’ll need to immediately pull from the marketplace).

As for getting an agent at this stage, it’s virtually impossible. Most authors who have an agent to sell their first book (including myself, way back when) landed their agents on the strength of professionally published (bought and paid for) short work in their chosen field. It’s easy to get an agent after you get an offer from a publisher, but without real publishing credential (that is, without having paid your dues as a writer), your chances of landing one beforehand is a virtually zero — and I can guarantee will be zero if you start your query with, “I have self-published my novel and now want to find a commercial publisher for it.”

I’m so sorry I can’t be more encouraging.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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