When Is Self Publishing a Good Idea?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

At the conference this past weekend, I was part of an agent panel made up of five other literary agents (including myself).  A moderator asked us various questions about the publishing industry: What kind of advances can debut fiction- and non-fiction authors expect, on average?  Which format do we think has the most importance nowadays, electronic or print?  Why do we draw the lines we draw about the genres we represent (i.e. fantasy but not science fiction, romance but not erotica)? 


The agent panel for the Write Stuff Conference.  

The question I was most interested in was the one that asked us when we felt self publishing was a good idea.  Self publishing has recently lost a lot of its stigma, but to be perfectly honest, I’m still undecided on whether I think it is worthwhile venture, so I was curious to hear what the other agents would have to say.  Rachel Stout, from Dystel & Goderich, said she recommended it for authors who had backlist titles or had the rights reverted for out-of-print books. 

I suggested that self publishing might be viable option for an author with a strong platform and readership, or for publicity purposes if a manuscript is having trouble catching an editor’s eye.  For instance, Writers House author Christopher Paolini (who wrote the ERAGON trilogy) came to the attention of his current agent after he self published the first of his novels. 



But Katie Shea of the Donald Maas Literary Agency said the thing that was secretly on the tip of my tongue.  She said that she would NEVER encourage a debut author to self publish, except as a last resort.  As Lauren Ruth of Bookends LLC said, you shouldn’t just nonchalantly decide to self publish.  The numbers and sales you generate from that book will be tied to your name and are things that agents and editors will take into consideration when deciding to take on your current manuscripts. 

The points they made pretty much encompass the reason that I am not 100% sold on self publishing.  Even though fantastic authors and novels can come out of its ranks, self publishing still does not have any set code of standards.  That is not to say that every book published by a publishing house is perfect, but there is a bar that needs to be passed.  Lazy writing can very easily find itself self published, and where is the non-stigma in that?  Unless you are incredibly confident in your novel and have a great sales strategy/platform already thought out, self publishing can be the easy way out that ends up hurting your overall career.

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