My amazing agent, Adam Chromy of Artists and Artisans, responded to my call for a post about self-publishing and e-publishing. He’s on the front lines selling books, so I’m interested in responses to what he has to say.

In my experience, most people self-publish because they do not have an adequate book and/or an adequate marketing plan to obtain an agent or publisher. Then the self-publishing company takes their money, puts the book out and nothing happens, because there is no muscle behind it.

If all they wanted was their family and friends to buy the book and “have it out there” then they might be happy with that. There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of ambition.

But if they think they are going to make money, they are mistaken. CBS, Disney, Warner Bros, Nintendo, the NBA (Lakers), and Random House are all spending billions of dollars to compete for the audience’s entertainment dollar and most self-published authors cannot hope to compete in that world without the help of a big publisher. Even then it’s difficult.

There is an exception, of course. I think the only self-publishing plan that works is one where the author basically gives away the book for free or a very nominal amount on Kindle. The low (or no) price keeps the supply/demand curve in the author’s favor – and they shouldn’t do it for money at first anyway. If your book really is good and just hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, you may sell a lot of copies. Once you sell as many copies as possible, you can then use those results to prove there is an audience—and you have leverage to then get a big book deal.

Here is an example of that kind of success.

However, thrillers are an exception overall. They have a built in audience: there are about 5,000 rabid thriller readers that will read every single available thriller as long as they know it’s out there. So if you’ve written a decent thriller and you make it available—especially for a low price—they will take a chance on it and buy it.  Hence in the example above, the author was able to sell 5,000 copies. Those early adopters liked it enough for a major publisher to bet that it would go mainstream.

But this model is unlikely to work for all genres. Women’s fiction, for instance, is much more difficult, because there is too much competition for it and there isn’t the rabid readership you have in thrillers.

Another way to make this publishing model work is if you have the only book written in a subculture that is very distinct—a book set in the world of cheerleading, for instance. Then you use the sense of community to spread the word around the subculture online and if the book is good enough it will spread out of the niche to the mainstream.

But I think it’s unrealistic to put out a book of general fiction this way and hope it will sell. As an agent, I am very dubious of all the queries that I get from authors stating “I self-published the book, now I am looking for an agent to help me market my work.”

That’s an automatic pass for me.

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