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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

Stories To Tell Books BLOG

Self-Publishing to Find a Traditional Book Deal

Biff Barnes

The conventional route to a book deal is being challenged by a new path into print with a traditional publisher.

I haven't read the book, but I love the cover. (Courtesy of Luc Van Braekel under Creative Commons)

It’s easy to dismiss Amanda Hocking’s $2 million contract with St. Martin’s Press and E.L. James’ seven-figure deal with Vintage Books as outliers. A closer look will indicate that they are simply the largest and best-known examples of important changes in world of publishing.

I recently read a guest post on Jane Friedman’s Blog titled Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing by Judy Mandel, author of the memoir Replacement Child. Mandel describes how after a year of seeking an agent to represent her, she found 25 who expressed interest in her book, but none ready to market it to traditional publishers. She decided to self-publish. She invested her time and money to publicize the book including hiring someone to handle online marketing. Fortunately, the book was a good one which “…garnered several awards for self-published books, including a National Indie Excellence Award and a Writer’s Digest award.”

After almost two years Mandel had sold 2000 print books and a few hundred ebooks. As a final strategy she put the book up on Barnes and Noble’s Pub IT! website. Within a few months she was selling 4,000 ebooks a month.

“That’s when I contacted [literary agent] Rita Rosenkranz and we talked about whether it made sense to approach a publisher,” said Mandel. Rosenkrantz did. “She sold it very quickly to Seal Press.”

Although the figures are smaller for Mandel than for Hocking and James, the path is the same. Self-publish, establish a track record of sales, then sign a deal with a traditional publisher.

There’s a new reality. While finding an agent who can successfully place your book with a traditional house is growing increasingly difficult, publishing houses are looking to successful self-published books as a new source of titles.

Amazon, always leading the industry in new directions, was the first with its Amazon Encore imprint which acquires high performing self-published titles on Amazon and re-publishes them adding all of Amazon’s marketing might to the distribution of the books.

The major houses are following. The recent deals signed by Penguin and Simon and Schuster with Author Solutions are the first step.

When the Penguin deal was announced, Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss said “That means more opportunity for authors …Within our imprints, there will be several authors that Penguin will want to take a look at,” he said. “There’s no commitment that they will [publish them], but when we see something that has promise, we’ll share that with them.”

Simon and Schuster CEO and President Carolyn Reidy said, "We're excited that we'll be able to help more authors find their own path to publication and at the same time create a more direct connection to those self-published authors ready to make the leap to traditional publishing."

Of course, by partnering with Author Solutions the traditional publishers are clearly hoping that they will be able to convince self-publishing authors to pay substantial fees to be in their new slush pile. That won’t happen with savvy self-publishers.

The reality is that whatever happens with these initial explorations of how to acquire books by self-published authors, the traditional publishers will pursue this new source of titles. Simon and Schuster’s Reidy made that clear when she said, “Self-publishing has become a viable and popular route to publication for many authors, and increasingly a source of content for traditional publishers.”

Authors need to consider this new reality when deciding the best way to bring their books to market.