Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Self Publishing' meets 'Never Say Never'

I have self published 8 children's books. Three poetry anthologies and 5 chapter books. They have sold a total of 20,000 copies. The books are selling in and around my own city and in vacation areas that I frequent regularly. Now I would like to submit these books to a publisher. Should I divulge the sale's figures or just keep them to myself.
Yes. Let's see, 20,000 divided by 8 is 2,500. Those are certainly good numbers for self-publishing, so you may have a chance.

Don't send all 8 books in a big pile. Choose houses and editors that will be best for single titles, and send that title alone. Specify that title's sales figures. If there's serious interest, then you can mention the other ones.

Consider printing out the manuscripts on plain paper. An obviously self-published work is often a bit of a turn-off for editors, so make your submission look as normal as possible.

Get your manuscripts and cover letters proofread. (The term "sales figures" does not have an apostrophe in it. Putting an apostrophe in a plural is a pet peeve of many editors, and is a bad way to start.)

Good luck!


James Pray said...

Don't forget question marks at the end of questions. Good luck!

Jill said...

Interesting... Can self-publishing open doors to a "real" publishing contract? Does anyone have any stats around this?

I know that critics and retailers may look down their noses at sel-published works, but if you can bring some hard numbers to a publisher, might that land you a contract?

I usually think of self-publishing as an either/or, all-or-none thing but perhaps it can be a bridge or an attractive feature to potential publishers.

Hmmm. Pause for thought.

Cheers, Jill
"Blood and Groom" is now in stores!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I don't know specific stats, but I do know of books that were originally self published and then picked up by major publishers. The BONE series by Jeff Smith is one good example.

Anonymous said...

"Putting an apostrophe in a plural is a pet peeve of many editors, and is a bad way to start."

I hate to be grumpy towards someone with such energy and enthusiasm, speically when it's successfully translated into sales, but as well as rogue apostrophes and missing question marks, other bad ways to start include sentences which aren't sentences ("Three poetry anthologies and five chapter books.") and tautologies ("frequent regularly").

But best of luck for the (proof-read) submissions!

Haste yee back ;-) said...

EA... LOL, you gotta an iron ass. Here's someone tryin' to share with the industry and you're clubbin' 'em over an apostrophe?

In this time of publishing, if an apostrophe, or lack of thereof, yanks your jugular... I'm lost - I might as well bleed-out on the floor!

Speakin' of bleed... Poster, did you get good quality illustrations with your self pubbed books?

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations... 20,000 copies... Wow, that's terrific.

Great work!

Ebony McKenna. said...

Just my two cents. I would write something new so the publisher has something clean to look at. (After all, you've written so much already, so you've established you have more than one book in you).

Yes, you have sales averaging 2,500 per book. That is good for self-publishing.

Give them something new to get excited about and if that book goes well, they may bring out your back list at a later date.

And I am with EA, you have to have absolutely clean copy. Typos, rogue apostrophes and other crimes against grammar are like nails down a blackboard to editors. You have to demonstrate your utter devotion to the language.

Peni R. Griffin said...

Apostrophes are not trivial. Getting them wrong in a professional submission is shorthand for "I don't take time and trouble over my work," to which the obvious answer is: "Then why should I?"

However, since blog queries are not professional submissions, but dashed-off notes, trouble in one does not necessarily mean trouble in another. One of the problems with electronic communication is that we use them for casual contacts and develop casual habits, which are apt to trip us up when we suddenly use them for business communication. It's not like those times us geezers remember, when sitting at a keyboard made us come alert, not wanting to send out a query splotched with Liquid Paper.

Bone isn't a great role model, since it came out during the heyday of the independent comic, when comic readers were excited about the mere fact of self-publishing and willing to try anything that didn't look like "The Big Two." Picture books are not graphic novels; graphic novels are not novels; and success stories can be flukes of opportunity. Those numbers at least indicate a willingness to hustle, which is not to be despised.

Anonymous said...

Sure, we can all name books that started out as self-published and later did well, because the mainstream media has shoved such stories down our throats and presented them as the norm.

The person who wrote to EA, with her (his?) avg of 2,500 sales per book, is doing much, much better than the average self-publisher... but those sales wouldn't be considered great for a traditionally published book. Still, good for her-- and yes, she does need to proofread.

Paul Greci said...

I think Alan Sitomer self-published his first book, The Hoopster. He's now a well-known YA author.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5:54 -- I hate to correct someone on a blog comment but:

"speically" isn't a word. I think you're thinking of "especially." I know that is a completely dick observation to make, but it proves that (all) people proof their subs much more than they do a random question (or comment) on a blog. Otherwise God help us all, right?

:) Good luck to the questioner!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 8:29,

Considering that every one of my more than a dozen books by traditional publishers was expected to sell 10,000 books each, and all of them did. Considering that of those, two titles have sold over 100,000 copies each and another title, 23,000 -- I don't think 8 books selling a total of 20,000 copies is that great.

If one or two of them had sold over 20,000 copies, that would be impressive.
(By the Way -- Bone became crazy popular among teens, young and old. You can't consider it a 'normal/ average' self-published book.)

Kate said...

Dear Anon 10:19,

From now on, I will think of you each time my four-year-old daughter feels it necessary to point out how much more accomplished she is than her eighteen-month-old sister.

Leslie said...


A writer considers his or her audience. In the case of submissions, that audience is an editor, to whom punctuation matters. The editor can't help it because s/he looks at words, text, punctuation, etc *all day long,* and after, oh, six months or so of doing the job, the errors shout from the page.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 10:19:
Your post reads as if you believe blowing out someone else's candle will make yours shine brighter.

Leslie said...

And this might be a comma splice:

"that audience is an editor, to whom punctuation matters."

*blush!* It's hard to punctuate!

I think Anonymous 10:19 is pointing out that it takes a LOT of book sales to to be considered successful. 20,000 copies of 8 books is indeed remarkable for self-publishing. But don't agents and publishers want to see self-published sales in the 5K category before they'll consider picking up the book as a property?

Kate said...

Dear Anon 10:19,

I hope you will tell us if you are actually the author of the original question, comparing your own eight self-published books to your own twelve traditionally published books. If so, this additional publishing history might make a difference in the advice you receive here.

emay said...

A comma splice comes between two independent clauses (essentially, complete sentences). "To whom punctuation matters" is not an independent clause. There is nothing wrong with your sentence.

Why is it always people who know the least about grammar who are most concerned about correcting it? I wish everyone would lighten up.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you, EA (and, for obvious reasons also want to remain anonymous, even though I swear I am asking on behalf of a friend):

What does one do after making a terminally stupid mistake with a well-known editor, which has most likely resulted in blackballing by the entire industry? Is there any way for the repentant author (and also very talented, I offer, as one of said author's readers) to redeem his- or herself? Does he or she have a chance to be read and loved by an editor, or would it be better to find some other trade...say, fishmongering?

Anonymous said...

10:19 is right. I'm tired of the double standard among writers. Editors and agents are allowed to be tough and even snarky. But when writers talk reality, they're full of themselves? No, they're telling you the truth. Which is what this blog is supposed to be about.

I'm as befuddled as 10:19. I understand that 2,500 is good for self-publishing, but it's otherwise not a great number (and I have had traditonally published books sell only this much, so good for 10:19). Also, from what I've observed, self-published sales are a lot more about the marketing prowess of the author than the quality of the book. So I wouldn't think the 2,500 number would carry any serious weight -- 100,000, maybe, but 2,500, not so much.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Between the post and this comment thread, there is a lot of good information here.

Leslie said...

I just found this "improve your writing spot," and I am enjoying it very much!

JS said...

Bone was a self-published comic book, with issues coming out over the course of more than a decade. Self-publishing has a very different history in comics than it does in the rest of publishing, and the serial nature of comics make for a completely different distribution method and metric for success.

As for Jill Edmondson's question, there are a very few self-published books that get parlayed into successful commercial publication every year. For each self-publishing success story, there are hundreds of new authors who come into the field in the ordinary way.

Self-publishing isn't a shortcut to commercial publishing success--it's a much harder process than querying, and much less likely to achieve the desired results.

That said, if any given person has the money (lots) and time (lots) and marketing and distribution skills (vitally necessary) to invest in self-publishing, I wish them nothing but the very best luck. The mythology that it's an easy way in, which is usually perpetuated by vanity publishers for reasons of their own, can be detrimental.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was educational. I had no idea a publisher might be interested in books that have only sold 2,500 copies per title. I've self-published one book with sales of 16,500 to 23,000 copies (I've lost track now) and I never imagined that my sales figures would interest anyone. And at $60 retail, it's not an inexpensive book.

Lili said...

Anon 1.06, I think the idea is that if you have sales of 2,500 even with no distribution, there's clearly an audience for your work beyond your own family and friends, and with professional distribution the book would have a decent chance of racking up some solid sales figures. (The other possibility is that you write really specialised niche stuff, and you've now exhausted your target audience.)

Anonymous said...

anon 7:04, specially is a word. Look it up. One of those silly little adverb things.

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