Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Self Published to Traditional? Do I Need An Agent?: A Question From A Writer

In 2014, I wrote and self-published my childhood memoir. I've sold almost 800 copies using only social media and a website for promotion. I wrote it as a gift for my dad, who has since died. I am working on a sequel to the book about my elementary school days. Should I try to get an agent interested in the self-published book, opening a door for the sequel *or* should I just start anew with the sequel? I guess I want an agent to build a relationship with me rather than with a book and then me. Does that make sense? ... I am not trying to launch a writing career, necessarily, but the response to my first book (27 Amazon reviews) has been pretty overwhelming and humbling for me.

This is a great question and one that a lot of writers have asked. You actually have several questions here so let's take this step by step and in smaller pieces. 

The first thing that stands out to me is your statement, I am not trying to launch a writing career, necessarily. This tells me a lot. If you are not really interested in doing anything with a larger writing career, then the approach you are taking with self-publishing sounds like a pretty good approach. You make the comment that the first book you wrote as a gift for your dad. This is a great reason for using the self-publishing model. You get a great looking book and something that your immediate family can really appreciate and enjoy. If we just work with this comment alone, I would say getting an agent is not the approach you want to take. 

Remember also that agents are looking for people who are in this for the long haul. In reality, agents (and writers) are not really making any money off of the first book. It is when the later books come in and the author starts to get a following that the profits come in. Obviously, if you are not interested in this as a full time career, or plan on doing a lot more, then stick to the model you are using. 

You also asked, "Should I try to get an agent interested in the self-published book". There are many agents who are more than happy to look at self-published books. It really does depend on each agent and what they see. Obviously, you need to find someone who says self-published books are fine.

I would have to say, that numbers are deciding factors for agents picking up books that have been self-published. Numbers need to be huge for many agents. For some, it really doesn't matter so much. I know I am being vague here, but I think it is something to consider. 800 copies might not be significant enough to convince someone. 

Now the next thing to consider is the topic. Memoirs are tough to sell to both editors and agents and the reason is simple. We have to ask "What is it that makes this a unique and important story to tell?" This is where personal bias comes into play. To you, this memoir is important to you and to your family. It is YOUR story. You learned things from both those experiences as well as while you wrote the memoir. This is also a way to remember family history beyond simply the oral tradition we often try to rely on. But when it comes to publishing, we have to take it a step further. Why is this story important to other people?

If you intend to make this story a big seller, it has to be something that provides a unique new perspective into a world many might not have seen before, or maybe we have misunderstood. 

Finally, you comment that you "want an agent to build a relationship with me rather than with a book and then me." The thing to remember here is that the agent is there to sell a product and that product IS your book. With that said, understand that agents are in this for the long haul so they do want someone they can build a professional relationship with to build that writing career. However, as you noted, you are "to trying to launch a writing career." 

When an agent looks at an author and his or her work, we always start with the book. We want to know if the book is going to be something that, in the present condition, will be marketable, or, with some shaping, will be something bigger. We also take the time to look at where the author is now and where the author wants to be in the future. We take the time to listen to the author and see if this person really has what it takes to make it in the world of professional publishing.

There are a lot of times when we see a great book, but then find an author who really doesn't have what it takes to go the distance. Sometimes it is the reverse. At this point, the author has to ask if this person (or book) is going to be worth the time it is going to take to make a marketable project. 

You also noted that you had 27 Amazon reviews. While this sounds great, editors and agents have really come to not pay that much attention to those reviews. We know (not that you did this) that reviews such as those on Amazon (or Barnes and Noble) can be controlled heavily by the authors and the publishers. I know of some writers who have openly said they tell all of their friends to get out there and give them 5 Star reviews. Again, I am not saying you are doing this, but this doesn't really tell us much to work with. 

What I honestly see here is a great memoir that has had a great impact on your life. It has also reached out to a fair (please note I use the word fair) number of people who also felt it had an impact. I also see that you might want to just tell your story. Again, this can be something very worthwhile to your family and a group of people around you.  

So this is just ONE agent's perspective. Others may disagree. Other authors may chime in on this. From what I see, an agent is not the best approach for you and I would continue with the route you are taking. In the end, however, it has to be you who decides this. Yes, getting into "the bigger" publishing houses will probably take having an agent, but then it is a question, is this story one that would fit with the bigger houses. 

This was a great question and certainly one a lot of other authors are probably asking. 

I want to wish you all the best with this and certainly let me know if you have any other questions. 

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