self-pub or agent: tough call or no-brainer?

If you missed Part 1–self-publishing: profitable or pointless? check it out here.

And on a completely unrelated (but super important) note: Happy 33rd Birthday to my husband Gabe (aka GodsMac)! I love you!

Okay, now that we’ve got the mush out of the way, how about we jump back in to the self-publishing debate? Watch it. Sure, I’m ready to jump. Whatcha got for me today?

First things first, did you know Michael Hyatt retweeted your blog post yesterday? Oh, did he? I hadn’t noticed. That’s nice.

Oh, brother. So, let’s talk about agents. Do wanna-be writers really need one? I mean, they take 15% of your hard-earned profits. If you self-publish, you can bypass them altogether. Sounds good to me. Okay, again, much has already been written on the topic. Agent Rachelle, Writer Jody, and Publishing CEO Michael (and tons of others) have all written really good posts about this, so I’m just going to share my personal experience.

Long story short, I got my first two book deals without an agent (read my unorthodox story here). Hooked up with an agent for my next two. And signed on with The Most Fabulous Agent in the History of the World a couple months ago (and lest you think this is flattery, I’ve already wooed her and won, so there). Here’s what TMFAITHOTW (aka Rachelle) does for me: She takes what I’ve written and reads it through her Super Agent Filter. She knows immediately if my project stands a chance. She suggests ideas for improving my writing. She says things like, “This is too boring” or “This won’t work” or “Maybe try this…” She knows publishers. She knows the market. She knows good writing. And she doesn’t hand out empty compliments.

When I think of what my project WAS and what it IS NOW (and is still becoming) because of Rachelle’s wisdom and advice, I could weep.

Okay, okay, okay. But you just said you got your first two book deals without an agent. So…? Let’s do this book by book. Book #1–honestly, I handed the completed manuscript in to my editor, and he said it was amazingly clean and he made very, very little changes. Book #2–same deal, except for one thing. My editor (a different one) suggested that I needed to “soften my approach.” I was trying to get women to (make) love (to) their husbands, but I was being a little bit of a bully about it in places. Book #3–again, as is. Book #4–My agent made a couple minor changes in my proposal. Then my editor suggested some amazing ideas (I hadn’t written the book yet when I submitted the proposal) and the book turned into something fabulous.

Still not seeing the point of an agent… That was then. This is now. I’m ready to step things up to the next level. Publishing houses are going under. The ones who are thriving (or at least surviving) are cutting the number of books they publish each year. It’s harder than ever to get a book deal. And so on and so forth (and such as and such as).

Which brings me to another point…

Hey, I’m the one making the points here. Whose blog is this anyway? Anyway, Rachelle encourages me to do my absolute best. Honestly, most of the time I’m tempted to just write “good enough.” Like this blog for example. I’ll go back and proofread, but I don’t spend a lot of time revising and rewriting (hardly any time actually) and it shows. But a blog post doesn’t necessarily have to be your absolute best writing. A book should be.

I think most writing can be improved and improved and improved some more. Sure, eventually you have to call it a night and send the thing to the printer, but I think many times, we’re just too lazy/impatient to keep polishing our stuff until it shines. We want immediate gratification–seeing our name on a book before we put in the months (and probably years) of hard work. And as one commenter said yesterday, if you publish mediocre work, you’ve damaged your reputation. People won’t want to read your work again, even if it’s good.

So, you’re saying that everyone who chooses to self-publish is a lazy gun-jumper? I love how you put words in my fingers. N-O. That is not what I’m saying. I already talked about how I self-published a book (and I may do another one someday). And I mentioned my friend Tammy. And there’s also my friend Cheryl. Some things I want to write may never be picked up by a traditional publisher, but that doesn’t mean I don’ t know a lot of people who would be interested in reading them.

I think you’ve got to examine your motives. Do you have something to share that may benefit people now instead of waiting 10 years until it’s perfect and you find an agent to represent you? Or are you just impatient? If you’re a believer, it’s something to pray about faithfully until you feel God leading you in one direction or another.

This book publishing thing is not for the faint of heart.

Well, I could stay here all day, but this post is twice as long as a Thanksgiving Eve post should be. And it is your husband’s birthday, and you’ve barely mentioned him. He’s the one who suggested I write this post. He’s a little more networked and savvy than I’ll ever be.

Happy Thanksgiving from both of us! Me and Gabe? Or me and you?

I am you, you moron. Just ignore that man behind the curtain.

20 thoughts on “self-pub or agent: tough call or no-brainer?

  1. Pingback: so, you wanna get a book published? | Marla Taviano

  2. Jennifer Ekwere

    Didn’t your second agent, which you dismiss, give you the title and idea for “Changing Your World One Diaper at a Time?” That book is outselling all your others on Amazon I noticed. It’s unfair that you don’t give credit where credit is due.

  3. Craig Rairdin

    Cheryl, all good questions from publishers. They speak from experience. If you have a following it makes a huge difference in sales. And being available to promote the book is very important, especially for lesser-known authors.

    Even a self-published author should ask the same questions. That is, “Do I have a built-in market who are sure to buy my book with little effort?” Answering “Yes” to that question means you might be able to cover your costs with the first round of sales. And being willing to do some self-promotion is vital to your success *especially* as a self-published author.

    I’m sure Stephen King and Danielle Steel can “hunker down to write the next one” but for the majority of authors there’s work to do once the book goes off to the printer.

    If an author just wants the ego boost of “being published” then there are lots of options. If, on the other hand, “selling books” is your goal, then it sounds like publishers are asking all the right questions.

  4. Cheryl Pickett

    Let’s not forget that the other option to using a “self-publishing company” is to go the independent route as I did (which to some is truly self publishing).

    What’s the difference? You own your own ISBN and make profits not royalties. Also, you need to be even more of a business person and a strong marketer no doubt. For some, this is a good fit.

    Also, with regard to Craig’s note about publishers promoting, yes publishers do some stuff (realize more effort goes to big names) but that’s not the whole story any more.

    Currently, many publishers want to know you have an established following who will buy once the book is out. If you don’t, it may not eliminate you from being picked up, but if someone else has this and all the rest being equal, they’ll probably be higher on the list.

    They also want to know what you’re willing to do to help market from speaking to blogging etc. I’ve also read on an agent’s blog very recently that it is not unreasonable now for a publisher to figure the author will be responsible for half of the sales of a title. If they’re planning on a minimum of 10K+ books, that’s more than a little bit of author participation. The days of sending a book to a publisher and then hunkering down to write the next one are pretty much close to or completely gone.

    There are pros and cons to each option. As I mentioned in yesterday’s comment, the biggest key is to educate yourself, look at your circumstances and then make the best decision you can.

  5. O mom

    Thank you for this honest look at publishing. It makes me really look at my motives for wanting to get published. I have written a couple of childrens books and they are just sitting on my bookshelf, and that’s ok right now. If they only ever are just read by my family then that’s enough, that’s what God has intended for now. They were inspired by each of my daughters and writing them for them has been my greatest joy!

  6. Ruth Ann Nordin

    I enjoyed this post. 🙂 Self-publishing does have it’s disadvantages on a lot of levels, which is why it’s important that people really make sure they want to go that route. My biggest fear is that people self-publish without understanding all the things that go into it.

    I self-publish because I can write exactly what I want (romance with Christian principles that won’t make the Christian market or the secular market). Mine is a niche brand that really doesn’t fit with the industry. Now, I am writing some stories that do fit the industry, so I do have plans to traditionally publish as well. I do get inspired when I hear people can do both traditional and self-publishing. 🙂 It’s nice to know it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.

    As for expenses, I publish through Lulu and CreateSpace, so I don’t pay anything except the $39 fee to be able to lower my book price through CreateSpace. Self-publishing doesn’t have to be expensive. I used to go with vanity publishers and pay them up to $1200 a book. That got way too expensive. Then someone told me about Lulu and CreateSpace and it saved my wallet a lot of grief. So I’m just letting others who may be wondering if there is a cheaper way to self-publish know that there is. 🙂

    Again, this was a great post!

  7. Eva Ulian

    Like I said Marla, the only other alternative I have is to die unpublished. But my question above was not where the actual rip off is but why do people ferociously insist that I must not self publish because I get ripped off… Because in effect those who tell me not to self-publish are in effect telling me to die unpublished- including the gentleman above who talks about agents as if I have a choice of getting one!

  8. Marla Taviano

    Eva–if you pay $6000+ to get your book published PLUS time and $ marketing it, it’s going to be very, very, very difficult to make $ on your book. You will have to sell a ton of copies, and that’s not easy to do. That’s where the rip-off comes in.

  9. Craig Rairdin

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 50 years it’s that even really smart people like you and me are not masters of everything. When you let specialists do their job, they’ll do it better than you, 100% of the time.

    A good agent knows what publishers are looking for and can help you shape the book to give it its best shot at finding a publisher. When an agent tells you your book isn’t going to sell, 99% of the time they’re right. If two or three agents tell you the same thing, chances they’re right go up to 100%. An agent earns his or her cut by letting you benefit from their experience.

    A publisher doesn’t just print your book, they advertise it and sell it. This is what self-published authors miss. They think their book will sell itself. It won’t. You have to spend money and time to promote it. Publishers employ people to do just that, and in return for their share of “your” sales, they will let you benefit from having those people working for you. In addition to creating demand, publishers also have the sales connections to get your book into the retail sales channels so it can get sold. The people who do that are also experts at what they do, and in return for a commission on sales (another piece of “your” pie) they will share that expertise with you.

    Publishers buy their printing in bulk and can print cheaper than you can. Again, for a share of “your” profits they’ll let you benefit from those relationships.

    Agents and publishers (and bookstores) serve a purpose and there’s a reason things work like they do. Sure, these days you can self-publish if you’re willing to pay for everything, but like people who try to sell their own house to cut out the cost of a realtor, the reason one might think self-publishing is a good idea is that they’re too dumb to realize they’re too dumb to do it all on their own. And I mean “dumb” in a nice way. There are many things I’m too dumb to do. Some of them I do anyway.

    IMHO self-publishing companies take advantage of narcissists and dimwits to make money. But that gives them a pretty large, almost inexhaustible supply of customers. 🙂

  10. Eva Ulian

    Indeed, apart from dying without ever being published, I can self-publish with whomsoever I choose- and you are, so far, the second one, who has managed to see the sense in that… All others are viciously against me doing this because they say I am being naive in letting such publishing firms rip me off. Now, I wonder why that is?

  11. Marla Taviano

    Eva–that depends on WHY you can’t get an agent. If it’s because your writing just isn’t good enough, then keep working until it is. If it’s because what you’re writing “won’t sell in today’s market,” but you know you have a message people need to hear, then try it on your own.

  12. Jim Gray

    Good schtuff M…my wife Sharon self-published her first cookbook and is working on a second…but most of our friends bought the book and a few bought it whom we did not know. i will probably do more promotion on the second. tell Gabe hi for me.

  13. Gabe Taviano

    Glad you blogged about this. With writing books, it’s not just about getting your content and name into / onto something that people can purchase. Just writing a book is a huge task alone, but to become published (for Marla – in my opinion) has been a gift after more work than most people realize.

    If you’re going the self-pub route, just remember that it’s you that is taking all of the risk. And the publisher really is in this for the money more than the material you are providing. When a publisher gives you any money at all in advance (believing your book will sell at least that much), they are saying something to you (your words).

  14. Peter P

    I bet Michael Hyatt will tweet this too… and he still won’t tweet mine 🙁

    I want an agent!!!!!

    I also need to improve my books a thousand fold before I stand any chance of getting one!

    Great post, Marla… and Marla, your alter-ego.

    Oh, and happy birthday, Gabe!

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