Before You Self-Publish…

Recently, a fellow writer sent me this question:

Even though Janet is your agent, you’re having to market this book on your own—the same as if you self pubbed a book. So, is the agent only to get a big name publisher to give you an advance for the next book?

What does the publishing house do except distribute the book. Several companies distribute books for self pubs to the same places the big houses do. Is it the name recognition that makes buyers stand up and pay attention?


Here’s my answer:

Yes. Even though Janet Reid is the best agent who ever graced the streets of Manhattan, most of the marketing falls to me, as it does to most new authors—even well-established authors make enormous use of the social media—it’s a necessity in today’s publishing world.

And several of the self-publishing companies may distribute books to the major book sellers.

Here’s the thing. Does the bookseller have to ask for that specific book? If so, how do they find out about it? Go by any bookstore and ask them how many self-published books they stock.

My book was sent to and stocked by the major bookstores because I was a Penguin Putnam author. I got calls from bookstores (including Murder by the Book) to do readings because they saw the book on the Penguin Putnam directory. Faithful Unto Death was a Library Journal Debut of the month—that put the book into libraries throughout approximately 500 libraries in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Unless I’m very mistaken, the Library Journal, the number one industry journal for librarians, does not review self-published books.

Penguin Putnam sent out 100 free copies of my book to Goodreads reviewers and many more to conventional reviewers so the book was reviewed (very favorably) by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Fresh Fiction (they made mention of the book on a Good Morning Texas show and my book was later chosen as a Fresh Pick—a reader award), Suspense Magazine (they also did an interview and put my name on the cover), and many others in the mystery/suspense field.

Because I was a Penguin Putnam author, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Susan Wittig Albert and M.C. Beaton, all queens of the mystery genre, agreed to read and blurb my book (a ton of readers tell me they bought the book because one of the three recommended it).

Because Murder By the Book saw the book on the Penguin Putnam list, hosted my first signing, sold books at my book launch AND read and liked the book, they recommended it to the Houston Chronicle. The Chronicle made the book one of its 2012 Ultimate Summer Book list reads. Also directly due to Murder By the Book’s unflagging support of the community of mystery readers and writers, I’ve been contacted by the Houston Chronicle for an interview for their Faces in the Crowd feature.

Partly because of the Library Journal Debut of the month award, I was brought to the attention of the Texas Library Association—I’ve been invited by them to sit on their Mystery and Thriller panel in April 2013—everyone else on the panel is a NYT bestselling author. This is such a coupe that my publisher is paying for my travel expenses (Yay!). Someone in the TLA told the Literacy Council of Fort Bend about the book and I’ve been invited to be a featured author at their Reading Between the Wines annual event in February.

Someone in my community saw the book at Barnes and Noble, asked me to attend their book club after they’d read the book, took a picture, put it in a local paper, and now I do a book club almost every week—some weeks I do two.


Here’s the thing. None of these things would have happened if I had self-published the book. Except for my friends and family, almost no one would have bought my book. Almost no one would ever have heard of it. How could they? Anyone can self-publish a book. People who can barely put a sentence together can, and do, self-publish. Your lovely gem of a book is lost in a tidal wave of flotsam. Can it become a success? Yes. It happens. Almost never, but it does happen.  Someone wins the lottery, too. But I’m not planning on winning the lottery for my retirement.

As faulty as it is, the book publishing industry IS a filter. Publishing is a money-making industry and, barring very singular circumstances, publishers will not publish books they don’t think they can make money on. So most published books have been well-edited; they are assumed to have an appeal for some segment of the book buying population.

This is why I urge every writer who has finished a book to take all the passion and patience and hard work they used to write the book, and use those same gifts in getting an agent and getting the book published. Query agents—not four or five, but dozens and dozens. Go to conferences. Meet people who know people. Polish your query and pitch. Enter contests. Blog and review books so your name becomes familiar to a group of readers. Make it happen. You owe it to yourself.  More, you owe it to the book.


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8 thoughts on “Before You Self-Publish…

  1. I confess that I’m very, very cautious about spending my hard-earned money on self-published books. In fact, I don’t think I have yet. There is so little time as it is to read, I want to be sure what I read is worth reading. That’s where the “industry filter” can be very helpful. Sure, there are lots of lousy books that get through the filter every year, but reviews can normally help weed them out. The fact that a manuscript has been through an agent, an editor, and many other pairs of hands and eyes before it hits the bookshelf (or the Amazon list) provides a first level of comfort that self-publishing doesn’t give. For self-published books, I’m relying totally on good reviews and name recognition. And with the dilemma of “so little time, so many books,” that’s often not enough to persuade me.

  2. Thank you. My brother has published 2 books so far, and his publisher sends free copies to several of the large stores – Barnes  and Noble, are 2 I remember. D

  3. Yes. And I’m known as Dick Scott in the West Islip coc family. Don does not energetically pursue the sales of his books ( The Grandfather Stories and A Basketball Coach n a Football State). Heart health does not permit it. His books are on and barnes & noble,com, I think.
    My 1st book is due to be released in September. I will be honored if you can make time to read it – I will send copy – and give me your soon-to-be thrice-published writer’s critique.


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