How Do Self-Published Authors Get an Agent?

By Amy Collins for New Shelves on July 22, 2021
By Amy Collins for New Shelves on July 22, 2021

If you are thinking about getting an agent and you already have a book published by a self-publishing company, what are your options?

STORY ONE – An Agent’s perspective

“Sara” has been querying agents for her self-published book. She decided a year ago to hire a cover designer and a team to get her interior ready and the book is now distributed on Amazon through KDP and to bookstores and libraries through IngramSpark.

The book sold a few hundred copies the first few weeks it was released and is now selling 2-3 copies a week as an ebook on Amazon. There is no audio.

Sara believes that a traditional publisher will give her book much better visibility and because it has already been edited, she believes that it will be very appealing to agents and publishers.

But she is not getting any nibbles. None. Nada.

Why not?

The agents know that publishers WILL consider a self-published book, but only in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, Sara’s book does not fall into the “sweet spot.”

When an agent looks the book up on BOOKSCAN (which they will), they will see that the book has sold fewer than 1000 copies. That will indicate that the author’s friends and family have already BOUGHT the book and the ability to tap into launch excitement with the author’s fan base has been exhausted already.

If the book had sold 10,000 copies, it would also be a problem for the agent because the book may have already have sold to all the readers it is going to.

There are foreign and audio rights still available, but agents have the same 10 hours a day that we all do and agents do not get paid for those hours. They get a percentage of sales. If a project does not have the potential for a larger deal/sales then they will have to weigh the potential benefits to their bottom line.

Agents gamble and “bet” that the hours they invest in a project will eventually give a return that compensates them for that time and work. If a project does not have ALL the rights available, then the potential for a fair recompense becomes riskier.

So Sara is not getting the offers she wants.

STORY TWO – What to do?

But Sara is not out of luck. She has options.

Option #1

The first option is to write a new book. A well-written manuscript presented to agents for consideration will have a MUCH better chance of getting requested for a read by agents.

Agents want to know that potential clients have a LOT of books in them and that they are not just a “one trick pony.” Authors that only have one book in them or who only have one book after 9 years of writing are not as appealing to agents as writers who have multiple and many book ideas bubbling and many manuscripts in development. Successful authors (most of the time) publish books on a regular schedule to satisfy their readers (and publishers).

Option #2

The next option is for fiction or memoir authors. Pitch the original book to a media company to be turned into a streaming series or a movie. (This is a HUGE undertaking and rarely happens successfully.) BUT, if it happens, agents and traditional publishers will be CLAMORING to sign the author and the book for a deal.

Option #3

Third option would be to write the next several books in the series, and NOT publish them. I know many agents who are interested in professionally written series and would take on a client if there were several books in the series already written but NOT published. That will give them the ammunition that they need to invest the time in the author’s career. This option is a risk for BOTH the author and the agent. They both decide to trust in each other to invest the time in a series of projects. The author holds off instead of experiencing the satisfaction of publishing books as they are written. The agent knows that the first book’s low sales will be a hurdle, but the other manuscripts make the gamble a better risk.

Don't Give Up!

If you are a self-published author who is looking for an agent, do not give up! But knowing the realities of what agents face when they take on a client will dramatically increase your chances of getting that elusive and sought-after deal.

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