Indie Publishing – Attracting an Agent

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Some writers choose to self publish or indie publish as part of a strategy to attract an agent. This isn’t my personal goal at this time, though it is definitely a valid goal. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding behind this purpose of going indie. Doing some indie publishing or self publishing type activities does not mean you are going to forsake your normal methods of agent hunting if you’re wanting a NY publisher.

If you put out some of your work in a podcast form, or online, or in a free ebook, or if you do a print edition, yes, you may not be able to sell the rights to “that” work. But that’s okay. Unless it’s the only book you’re writing for the rest of your life, it probably serves you better seeking readers, than it does collecting dust under your bed or in a drawer somewhere.

And with podcasts it may not be a problem at all. Podcasts are “serial audio rights.” Nobody wants serial audio rights. And audio is so far removed from the experience of reading a print copy of a book, that it’s not really a competing category. Many publishers have bought work that has been previously podcasted.

In addition, Cory Doctorow is published by Tor, and he routinely gives out a free ebook, while his publisher sells the print edition. That was worked into his contract. Tor seems to be one of the more forward-thinking publishers, and Doctorow sells a lot of print versions by having free ebooks available. Doctorow refers to books as “fetish objects” and says that readers will always want print copies. Yes, some readers will take a free ebook and not buy a print copy, but many of them wouldn’t have bought a print copy anyway. But the free ebooks give him greater exposure than he would have had otherwise.

While it’s true that less expensive ebook editions can plug into the impulse buy mentality, it’s also true that nothing says impulse like free. Elsewhere on this site I’ve mentioned my belief in the importance of platform. This is definitely a requirement for nonfiction authors wanting to be picked up by major houses, but with new media and ways for fiction authors to build a platform, and many of them doing it, it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure out that people with a built-in reader base are automatically more attractive to a large publisher, than those without one.

Indie Publishing   Attracting an Agent

The Misunderstanding comes in . . .

I think, when people (usually the same people who think self publishers all think they’re going to get rich and famous from publishing at iUniverse) assume that those who self publish or otherwise distribute some of their work outside the gatekeeping system, somehow think this will cause them to get magically “discovered” so they can then get a giant advance and pass everybody else in line.

This is a misunderstanding I think, because while it’s probably true that some writers do think like this (we aren’t known to the outside world as the most savvy group of people, considering how easy it seems for writers to get scammed), not all writers who independently put out work have this mentality.

If you want to “go indie” while still trying to attract an agent or publisher, you’re still going to send out query letters. You’re still going to write a synopsis. You’re still going to do all the same things that your non-indie writing counterparts are doing. The only difference is, in addition to that, you are going to start sharing some of your work. You may choose to share it all for free, with ebooks and podcasts, or serially publishing on your website (not the best option, in my opinion, and I’ll get to why on the online publishing page.)

Or you may choose to put out a print version and charge for your work. I don’t think there is a crime in expecting people to pay money for your work. Whether you give them donation options, or actually sell a physical (or even electronic) product. It’s my opinion that you can build a bigger platform with at least 1 free format. Podcasts and ebooks seem to work the best.

So what is the point?

The point is that if you start getting some of your work out there, understanding that for whatever work you put out, you may or may not be able to get an agent or publisher for “that” specific work . . . you are starting to build an audience. This will help you in your marketing efforts when you doget published. If by that time, you’ve built a sizable platform, you may be able to negotiate a better contract. (Which also makes you more appealing to an agent, because they make more money too.)

It also shows that you can market. And that skill is becoming more and more important to mainstream publishers. And secondly, while I wouldn’t bank on it, if your work is out there and you are building some buzz for it, you don’t know who might read it and love it. Jeremy Robinson found his agent because his book was available (self published) through Amazon.com. This might be “luck” and something you can’t control one way or the other, but his book being out there, made it possible for the right person to stumble upon it.

If you go further to start your own micro-press with the intent or option to sell out later, building a platform will be important to sales success so that you can sell out later.

One Caveat:

Be careful what you put out there. Whatever you share with the world, it has to be good. If you’ve gotten some “nice” rejection notes (the kind where they love it but for some reason don’t know how to market it), that’s forward momentum. You’ll need a strong crit group and beta readers in your genre. You’ll need to make sure that your work is as clean and polished and edited as it can possibly be. If you put out an ebook, you’ll need to find a way to get a non-grotesque cover.

There is a lot of amateur talent out there, people in fandoms making a lot of fanart and banners. (Just make sure the images they use for your artwork are all royalty free from a reputable stock photo site like istockphoto.com.) So make friends and get the help you need, if you don’t have the skill-set yourself. If you choose to do a podcast, there’s a learning curve. You want crisp and clean sound quality, something people will listen to and think positively in regards to.

You can’t skimp on production quality, but this doesn’t mean you mortgage your house to buy a lot of really expensive things.

If you put out work less than your best, then it makes you look bad. It might turn off an agent or editor if they stumble upon it. You might not be able to build much of an audience. The work has to come first.

While you can try to make money,

Making money is not the primary raison d’etre of this particular indie path. If you want to try to make money, you’re better off starting your own small publishing company. Not that there is a ton of money to be made here. Publishing isn’t the company you start to get rich. It’s the company you start when you’re so passionate about it you can think of nothing else. If that’s not you, you’re better off setting up a donation button on your site, working on building your platform, and submitting work to the gatekeeping system of agents and editors.