Is Your Goal to Create a Traditional Literary Career?

This is a question I think many self-published authors wrestle with. For some, the answer is a definite yes. For others, particularly those that denounce traditional publishing, the answer is a resounding no. But for most of us, including myself, I don’t really know. Publishing as an industry is changing not just for authors but also for agents, editors, designers, publishers, and booksellers. I cannot say what the industry will look like in 5 years or 10 years. So, like me, most authors are left with deciding what they want for today.

Jane Dystel, the president of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management posted yesterday about self-published authors seeking representation. What I gather from this post, as well as others I’ve read in recent weeks, are two distinct things. Not all agents are interested in snubbing self-published authors. In fact, many are interested in them as they are perhaps quicker to recognize the changing landscape of publishing than the publishing companies themselves. And as agents make their living off commissions from writers’ sales, no matter how they publish, many are creating a model to do just that.

Back in 2011, MediaShift published an article where agents talked about their roles. While many agents are helping established authors self-publish backlists and experimental titles, others are managing some of the do-it-yourself tasks associated with self-publishing. For many writers, the idea that their job is writing alone and not editing, cover designing, and formatting, sounds fantastic. But like everything in life, having that work done by someone else comes with a price. Of course, there are the upfront costs of outsourcing these jobs as well as a commission for the agent. This is often 15% but varies depending on the agency. For many authors who may already have a significant platform, this could be just the right option – a hybrid of sorts.

I’m also sensing that agents will take on self-published authors if they can demonstrate significant (actual dollar) sales – 10,000 or more as an example. Since I’ve read that approximately 80% of traditionally published books never sell 5,000 copies, this type of number makes some sense to me. If, as a self-published author, you can generate sales of 10,000 or more (not free e-books), then you might be capable of selling more with even wider distribution. That makes you worth the gamble.

I will admit that there are aspects of self-publishing that are hard. There is no question that I prefer writing to marketing. Ugh! But I did not have to self-publish A Guilty Mind. I could have queried with my revised manuscript but decided against it. Still, next year, when the second in the series is complete, who knows? As fast as the industry is changing, I have no idea what it will look like.

So, what does it all mean to the self-published author today? Well, I think it means the future will hold even more options for writers. Even traditional publishing houses are paying attention (i.e. Penguin buying a self-pub company earlier this year). However, I also think it means there will be fewer “breakout” indie authors like Amanda Hocking. Indie writers used to be something of a minority. No more.

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