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Agents and Publishers After Self-Publishing

October 13, 2013

The following is a December 9, 2009 post reprinted with permission of Writer’s Relief:

After Self-Publishing:  How To Find An Agent And A Publisher For Your Self-Published Book

Often, writers e-mail us with variations on the same question: How can I get a literary agent for a self-published book?

Dear Writer’s Relief,

I self-published my book [enter number of months ago] and now I’m [A) Not happy with my publishing company or distribution B) Disappointed because I’m not getting any sales of my self-published book and/or C) Thinking of expanding my already successful efforts by getting a literary agent and a traditional publisher for my self-published book]. Can you please tell me whether or not I can send my self-published book to literary agents and editors?

While each author who has self-published is in a unique situation and there is no single answer for every writer, it is possible to submit your self-published book to literary agents.

If you do want to transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing, here are some tips for getting a literary agent:

Courtesy of Morguefile.

Courtesy of Morguefile.



1. Be as positive as you can be about your self-publishing experience. If you chose that route, be sure to demonstrate that your choice was deliberate, educated, and professional (hopefully it was!). You don’t want to come off as the kind of person who forgets to look before she or he leaps.

2. Emphasize the success of your book by citing sales, quotes, and media coverage, if possible.

3. Be sure you hold all rights to your book. You can’t offer publishing rights if you don’t own them.

4. Don’t expect to use your own cover art, title, layout, etc. When you transition to a traditional publisher, you need to be prepared to give up much of your autonomy.

5. Be honest. If you find yourself in serious talks with an agent, don’t hide your self-publishing history. Agents will look you up online.

6. Be prepared to remove your book from Amazon and other online retailers. If you sell your book to a traditional publisher, you don’t want to undercut their sales. You’ll need to think about whether or not you want to “freeze” your book sales before you attempt to get an agent or editor. A freeze will cut into your sales, but it may also demonstrate a firmer commitment to traditional publishing. Weigh the pros and cons before making your decision.

7. Don’t mess with the system. Some writers have asked us if it’s possible to sell SOME rights to a publisher, but keep others for themselves. This is probably not going to happen. Publishers develop rigorous ideas about how they want to market, and for that reason they generally want control over nearly all rights. If you hold some rights and the publisher holds some rights, you will set yourself up as a competitor against your publisher.



Courtesy of Morguefile.

8. Don’t query with your bound, finished book; query with plain-old, 8.5 x 11 manuscript pages when necessary—as if the book had not been typeset and bound. Always follow agents’ submission guidelines.

9. If you’re querying literary agents for the first time with your project, it may be helpful to mention that. Some literary agents will suspect that self-published books are projects that failed to find homes at traditional publishing houses. If you’ve never queried before, your book may yet have a “freshness” factor worth mentioning.

If you’ve self-published a book, Writer’s Relief may be able to help with the submission process if you’d like to begin sending your book to literary agents. Visit to learn more.


Writer’s Relief, Inc. is a highly recommended author’s submission service. Established in 1994, Writer’s Relief will help you target the best markets for your creative writing. Visit their website at to receive their FREE Submit Write Now! newsletter (today, via e-mail), which contains valuable leads, guidelines, and deadlines for writing in all genres.

  1. A useful post. I am a self-published author and have never thought of using an agent so your piece provides me with food for thought.

    • Thank you! Writers Relief gives out a lot of good info, and they were kind enough to allow me to re-post this particular article. A good agent can be very helpful, even if you are self-pubbed. I am in the process of looking for one myself, for film and foreign rights issues. Thanks again and best luck with your work!

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