Will self-publishing adversely affect my chances of finding a publisher?
January 21, 2013 12:08 PM   Subscribe

So, the book is done. Woo hoo! I intend to seek an agent and a publisher, but I would also like to self-publish a small quantity for friends and family. I'm also considering self-publishing a somewhat larger quantity for local distribution. Would doing either of these things adversely affect my chance of being picked up by a traditional publisher? Other considerations I could use help with: get an ISBN or not? E-publish? Any other guidance would be most appreciated!
posted by ecorrocio to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you intend to seek an agent and a publisher, do that first. Spend at least a month sending out query letters. It costs you nothing but time.

(And not very much time, in the scheme of things.)

The risk of self-publishing is that you might have poor (or even unknown) sales, which would make that project dead in the water for agents and editors. I just saw an agent on twitter saying exactly that. That's not to say that there's not a chance you might do well and be able to translate that into a significant mainstream bookdeal, but it's a slim chance. If you are super confidant that you want to pursue mainstream publication, you should do just that. Only self-publish if you're comfortable with this project only ever being self-published.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:19 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: How's about if I held off on publishing for sales, but published/printed a few just for personal distribution? I'm guessing that would be ok...? Does an ISBN signal that a book has been "published?"
posted by ecorrocio at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2013

>Does an ISBN signal that a book has been "published?"

No. It's great for tracking sales, orders from distributors, or uniquely (sort of) identifying your book.
posted by hmo at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2013

I don't think you need an ISBN to print a few copies for friends. If you decide to do a personal print run, I'd leave that fact out of any queries.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:41 PM on January 21, 2013

You might be interested in this story (although I'm sure she's an exception!).
posted by trillian at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2013

Very much the exception, trillian. Stories like this are far more common, but far less publicized.

That's not to say you shouldn't pursue self-publication if you really believe in it philosophically, but the fact remains that querying is a zero-cost, low-risk way to try to get published. And you can always self-publish after you've queried if that process proves fruitless for you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why do you have to print/publish for your friends? Isn't the file small enough for you to attach to an e-mail to those people, or stick it up on a website?
posted by DMelanogaster at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2013

Don't get an ISBN for copies you run for friends. That's a useless expense on your part which creates a potential hassle for a future publisher.

So. Either you self-publish or you seek commercial publishing. Self-publishing isn't ordinarily a path to a commercial publishing deal, though it does happen that high-selling self-published titles get picked up by commercial publishing. Still, the fastest and lowest-effort way to get a commercial publishing deal is by querying agents or publishers.

If you're going to self-publish, you have to see the key components of self publishing---being responsible for your own editing (or hiring an editor), being responsible for your own book and cover design (or hiring a designer or designers), being responsible for your own sales, marketing, and publicity (three different tasks in the world of publishing, and you can subcontract them)---as opportunities rather than obstacles.

If you're going to seek commercial publishing, you relinquish per-book potential profit for the greater resources commercial publishers bring to the table on your behalf.

And different publishing approaches suit different projects.

Ask in more detail in the forums at AbsoluteWrite.com. There are people there who have lots of experience in both commercial publishing and self publishing.

Good luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Based on your own words, you intend to go the traditional route but just want to give a copy of your stuff to some family/friends.

If I was in your shoes, I would add a dedication "To my family and friends, enjoy the first draft of what I've been working on, let me know what you think, etc." and go to Kinkos. They have some great options to affordably print up MSWord files in impressive looking ways.

Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 2:00 PM on January 21, 2013

I'm not sure how often it is done anymore, but historically books were often printed by hand (letterpress) in a small limited edition with a special binding and sometimes added features (samples, artwork, photos, etc). Once this edition sold through or proved popular, a regular print edition (in much larger numbers) would be made. You could perhaps consider something along these lines.
(On my way out the door, sorry for not self-editing)
posted by segatakai at 3:33 PM on January 21, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks folks. To answer dmelanogaster: this is a young reader historical fiction. I want to give hard copies to kids we know.

I'll probably go with 99percentfake's suggestion. Though I'll print with a short run printer. Then I'll query some agents and publishers as many suggested.

The letterpress suggestion is intriguing... I'll check into it.

Thanks MeFites!J
posted by ecorrocio at 6:41 PM on January 21, 2013

As a self-published author and someone who's been rather pessimistic on traditional publishers, this one is an easy answer.

CreateSpace is your friend here (note that Lulu and a few other business make print-on-demand books). You can order copies without ever having to put your book on sale, if that's your goal.

There's no reason *not* to self-publish, unless you're willing to wait the requisite amount of time and jump through the hoops necessary to sign with a traditional publisher. Even then, you're making 7-10% of a book's sale price (typically around 20% for an e-book), and it's arriving several months after it's been received.

Your book can be successful without a traditional publisher - today, their main role is of a legacy nature, complete with the connections to the physical bookstores. Beyond that single function, you can do 98% of the stuff yourself. MeMail me if you'd like some pointers :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 12:52 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't get an ISBN if you hope to traditionally publish this later. If you have an ISBN, you can be tracked by Bookscan. If you can be tracked by Bookscan, your sales will count against you.

You don't want your publisher going, "Huh, this person's first book only sold 12 copies. Not a good risk for us. Next!"

Shitty Bookscan can also keep you out of Barnes & Noble and other brick & mortar establishments.
posted by headspace at 5:50 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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