I get a lot of queries from self-published authors. I want to discuss what I personally look for in hybrid authors as an agent as well as some querying advice for hybrid authors. I have made offers to hybrid authors in the past and likely will again. I also expect the number of hybrid authors to grow since I think that is the direction the industry is headed in and for the better. Authors need more options outside of traditional houses because frankly as an agent I see too many great books go unpublished.
Let’s start with the biggest and most common mistake I see. I get a lot of queries from authors who decided to self-publish but did zero marketing and in many cases didn’t hire an editor or have a professional cover made. They made very few sales and disappointed, decided to try for an agent next. Most agents won’t be interested in these books and if my slush is any indication we get a lot of them. Putting your book on Amazon isn’t enough to sell copies. You need to be willing to market no matter which route you choose.
As an agent I can tell you it’s hard to sell already published books to editors unless they are selling very well, by which I mean thousands of copies and not hundreds. Any other book I’d rather see before it’s published. I’d rather try to sell an editor on a clean slate than a book already published to poor sales. Sure the lack of marketing may be the culprit, but how can editors know for sure? In the end they care about numbers, not excuses. If you want to self-publish commit yourself to putting out a quality product and that means you need to think beyond the writing. Studying marketing is just as important as studying writing.
If you aren’t sure whether you want to be traditional or indie first or you just want to go with the flow depending on what happens, I suggest querying first. Even if you don’t get an agent it gives you more time to consider your options and prepare to self-publish, but really you should do your research to know what you want. I’d rather see an author query first and then self-publish rather than self-publish poorly and then search for an agent. Querying is hard enough without stacking the odds against yourself even higher.
If I get a book from a previously self-published author that I like, I double check to make sure it hasn’t already been published. From there I want to make sure that author presented their indie works in a professional manner. Poor covers and a lack of editing will reflect poorly, but when I see a nice cover, a good blurb, and a good product within the pages, I know I’ve found a professional writer. It also proves to me you’ve done your research and are serious about writing. Good sales are always a plus of course.
So what to do if you’ve self-published a book and decide you’d rather go traditional next? Write a new book and query that one. If you are working on a series, once you self-pub the first book keep the whole series that route because most agents won’t be interested in picking up a sequel or something else mid-series. I see authors worrying that self-publishing at all will lock them out of the traditional route but that isn’t true. Give us a fresh new project and if the writing is great an agent can help editors see the potential in it. If you are worried about baggage from old books you can always use a pen name.
Indie publishing continues to take a bigger chunk of the publishing pie and as it does stigma against it is fading. Don’t be afraid to query a new project because you self-published in the past. And remember writing is an art, but publishing is a business.