Saturday, May 18, 2013

How to Pitch a Self-Published Book to a Publisher - Part Two

In the first installment on Wednesday we ended the post with the following question and comment:

What does a writer do who doesn’t want to hustle – just write?

It’s a growing worry for many authors, and it will get worse.

Now let’s fast forward to the year 2015. Let’s imagine self-publishing has matured. It’s accepted and respected in the publishing world. A lot of successful self-publishers have begun to ask themselves: what do I really want to do with the rest of my life? Become another J. A. Konrath and work 18/24 to boost my Kindle ratings? Or hype myself perpetually at Facebook, Google+ and Twitter? Or mount a thousand blog tours?

Again, do I write or hustle? What happened to my dream of being an author, a person who writes fiction, not advertisements?

 Maybe they thumb through that list of literary agents, long scorned. They decide that the traditional publishing route might have some merits after all. Goodbye to hard labour. Let the publisher do the hustling! And they prepare their submission to an agent…

But this submission breaks the rules.

Instead of comprising the usual cover letter, synopsis and first chapter, it’s an accountant’s prospectus.
‘Bids are invited for a going business with a $200,000 pre-tax income stream, $500,000 in back-list assets and a customer base of 10,000 loyal readers.’

It’s the sort of deal that agents routinely negotiate with publishers for novelists who have made their name with an established imprint, reached the end of their contract and are looking for a new home. Could it also be a model proposal for the self-publishing author of the future, when approaching an agent for the first time?

Maybe MFA programs in creative writing circa 2015 will offer authors a popular new module - how to write a persuasive business plan. Perhaps a new kind of literary agent will emerge, one with a background in business law not literature. Their task will be to represent an author’s sales record, not his or her books.

And self-publishing authors will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, quit the marketplace and return to what they really wanted to do - craft fiction.

Today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for newbie authors to secure an agent. Instead, could they self-publish, build a successful business as Oswald and Hocking did - and then pitch an agent with their fan club? Will this become the career path of choice for authors in the future? What do you think?

Dr John Yeoman passed away in 2016. He held a PhD in Creative Writing, judged the Writers’ Village story competition and was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. Prior to getting his doctorate degree, he spent 40 years as a commercial author and chairman of a major PR company. His Writers’ Village short story contest drew 1500 on-line entries each year from all over the world. Some of his blog posts are archived here, (however the writing class enrollment and downloads are no longer available).


  1. Many writers are floundering in the sea of change for publishing. I think the best advice for writers to follow is put their heads down and just forge on with their writing and marketing while a new model emerges. There are other opportunities. For example, how many self-published authors are targeting foreign rights and translation agents? There is indeed a lucrative market out there and it seems to be easier to break into than the English language market. Recently I showcased my MG adventure novel at the Bologna Children's Book Fair and (while expecting nothing) got, besides a slew of requests from foreign agents, a dedicated US agent who deals with a variety of agents worldwide, beyond the ones who asked about my book. There are other opportunities to expand one's reach.

  2. I agree, Fiona. You can't market something you haven't yet written.

  3. You've hit my existential crisis on the head. Do I want to be a writer or a circus barker? I hate sales. Always have. I owned a small business, but gained my clients through word of mouth, then my reputation.

    I think the indy platform will evolve. When companies find a way to make money off of it, they will support it. Publishing has always been about the best way to move units and increase profit.

  4. $200K in pre tax income? $500K in back-list assets (not sure what that is, but it sounds impressive)? A customer base of 10,000 loyal readers? I'd be doing the happy dance and smoking big cigars. Why, in heavens name, would I want to share that with a publisher?

  5. The publishing world seems to be changing at such a speed that you can't keep up with it. Agents seem to only want the big names or big sellers. So you have to get to that point in order to snag one. But by that point, do you really want or need one?

    You're spot on with your post.

  6. Christopher, you're absolutely right. If an author has those assets they don't need a publisher. They are a publisher. Maybe that's a very good time for them to set up shop and publish other people's work too :)

  7. I am not -- nor do I want to be -- a marketer. That's my stumbling block, not my genius. Having admitted that, I will let someone with the appropriate expertise handle this element of my writing.

    We do need to keep up with the evolution of publishing, and that in itself is a challenge. It's also our hope. Case in point: self-publishing is rising from the pit of vanity presses to compete head to head with traditional publishing. What next? I don't know, but I'm so excited to see where all this goes.

    Excellent post, John.

  8. There are so many of us in the same boat when it comes to the tension between writing and marketing. Which oar do we pick up?

  9. I love your post. It is a conundrum ... writing, marketing, writing to market, marketing to write ... it may be the newest circle of insanity.

    Years ago, my goal was to write enough pages of narrative (a diary? a journal? a chronicle?) to leave wrapped year by year in ribbons, for my one day to be granddaughter's grandddaughter to find. Perhaps, in the interest of sanity, I ought to return to that simple, achievable goal.

    I'll keep writing ... but also quilting. Something will last, it matters not to me which.

  10. Unfortunately, you are correct.
    Napoleon had a publisher shot.
    That proves Napoleon wasn't all bad.


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