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Getting a literary agent after self-publishing is usually harder than getting a book agent for an unpublished book–but it’s not impossible. Some publishing agents specialize in getting book deals for authors of books that have been self-published. This step-by-step guide about is part of our free 15-Part Guide About How to Get a Book Agent.

Book agent in brown suit with invitation to read about getting a literary agent after self-publishing
Though some book agents won’t consider representing a previously self-published book–no matter what you say or do–most will, under the right circumstances. If you self-published your book, you simply need to understand the best way to navigate the situation.
Group of literary agents talking about getting a book agent after self-publishing

Should I Tell Literary Agents I Self-Published?

Should you tell literary agents you self-published? Yes. Book agents will feel deceived if you don’t tell them your book was previously self-published, before you sign a contract with them. The harder question is when and how to tell them, which is addressed here.

What do authors need to know about getting a literary agent after self-publishing? If you don’t tell a publishing agent your book has been self-published, and the book agent finds out later, they’ll likely terminate your author-agent contract. That’s because some major publishers won’t accept previously published books. They prefer publishing books no one has seen yet, allowing them to create more marketing buzz. And knowing your book isn’t previously self-published makes it clear to publishers you haven’t saturated the market.

For example, a new book agent who doesn’t realize the above might pitch a book to publishers that’s been self-published and sold 8,000 copies. Some publishers would be impressed, seeing that success as a sign the book is good and that the author will get exposure for the book. Other publishers will say they’re disappointed the book is already published because now they can’t make as big a splash with it when they launch it–and that there might not be enough additional book buyers out there to justify publishing a new version of the book.

That’s why book agents want to know, prior to signing an author-agent agreement, if a book has been self-published. It’s a risk to them if the book has been self-published, because the book will likely be harder to sell, and it’s a risk they want to evaluate before signing with you. The only exception is if your self-published book doesn’t appear on Amazon or anywhere else on the Internet. If you all did was print hard copies to give away or sell and you’ve distributed copies that way, that probably won’t be a problem.

When Should I Tell Literary Agents I Self-Published?

When should I tell literary agents I self-published the book I’m trying to get them to represent? There are four options, and here’s what you need to know about each of them to help you decide which option is right for you.

  1. In your query letter
  2. After a queried agents requests more material
  3. When a book agent offers representation
  4. Never

When thinking about getting a literary agent after self-publishing, consider the following:

The first option regarding when to tell literary agents you self-published is in your query. If you do that, you’re being fully transparent, but most publishing agents will immediately reject your submission.

The second option is to wait until a book agent you’ve queried asks to see more material. For example, your synopsis, book proposal, sample manuscript pages, and/or complete manuscript. If you say, at that point, the book has been self-published, you’ll get one of the following responses:

  • An immediate rejection due to the agent not having invested much time in your book yet, and not wanting to represent previously self-published books.
  • A little–or a lot–of displeasure that you didn’t reveal in your query that the book was previously self-published, but not a rejection.

The third option is to say you self-published the book when you’re offered representation. That would give you the best chance of your work getting the most consideration. Some literary agents won’t care when they find out about the self-publishing history. But this type of late reveal could anger an agent if they don’t represent self-published books, and they’ve spent considerable time reviewing your manuscript.

The fourth option is to never disclose the fact that your book has been self-published. If you do that–and your book agent finds out–they’ll likely be (understandably) irate and terminate your author-agent contract.

How Should I Tell Literary Agents I Self-Published?

How should you tell literary agents you self-published the book you want them to represent? Listed here you will find advice regarding what to say, what not to say, and–equally important–how to say it.

Authors with the goal of getting a literary agent after self-publishing are going to get some type of negative reaction from some book agents. So, make sure you tell publishing agents about your self-publishing history in the best way.

Writers with the goal of getting a literary agent after self-publishing should put the most positive spin possible on their self-publishing history. They should also be truthful. The following examples illustrate what you should–and shouldn’t–say.

What You Shouldn’t Say to Book Agents

If your goal is to get a literary agent after self-publishing, you should not say anything like the following:

I read somewhere a while ago that book agents want to know if a book has been self-published, and that for some agents it’s a positive while with others it’s a negative. I’m not sure what you think about representing books that have been self-published, so I thought I should ask, since my book has been self-published.

I can’t stand marketing and I’m really bad at it. I did everything I could think of to try and sell lots of copies of my book, over a very long period of time, but nothing worked. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to pay a literary agent commission or share the lion’s share of my book profits with a book publisher since I’m the one doing most of the work as the writer.

I still don’t want to pay a book agent or publisher, but now I’m desperate so I’ll consider doing it if you tell me why you deserve to get a commission and why you believe I should give a publisher the privilege of printing my book. Just keep in mind that I need to know quickly because I don’t have time to fool around.

What You Should Say to Book Agents

If your goal is getting a literary agent after self-publishing–and you want to know how you should you tell literary agents you self-published the book your pitching–start by saying something like the first paragraph of the previous section. Then add something similar to the following:

I wasn’t fully aware of the pros and cons of self-publishing vs working with a traditional publisher when I decided to self-publish. Now I know that I was selling my book short by not having the many benefits of working with an experienced book agent and a major publisher. There is a lot I can do to promote my book, and I’m looking forward to that as well. Once I realized I should be focused on getting a book agent after self-publishing, I decided to save the majority of my planned promotional efforts for if and when I get a traditional publisher.

After reading the above suggested starting points regarding how to tell book agents about your self-publishing history, it should be clear or somewhat clear why the latter is better than the former. Yes, the most important thing when an author’s goal when getting a book agent or getting a literary agent after self-publishing should be the author’s book. However, book agents prefer working with authors who are good at marketing, or who at least seem somewhat willing and capable.

The Best Delivery Method

Should authors with the goal of getting a literary agent after self-publishing use phone, email, or postal mail to reveal their book has been self-published? You should tell the book agent via whichever method the book agent used to ask you for more material.

  • If a book agent requests your full manuscript be sent to them via email or postal mail, and you want to disclose, at that time, your book has been self-published, simply include that information in the note or cover letter you send with the manuscript.
  • If a book agent calls you on the phone to offer representation, and you haven’t yet disclosed your book’s self-publishing history, do it during that phone call.

How Can I Get Out of a Vanity Press or Self-Publishing Contract?

If you’re focused on getting a literary agent after self-publishing, most vanity publishers will release you from their contract. Vanity publishers make most of their money from authors paying to publish, not as a result of promoting and selling their authors’ books.

 

Some vanity presses require a fee of a couple or few hundred dollars to get a release. If you don’t see a termination clause in your publishing contract, look on the publisher website to see if you can find the information you need. If that fails, email or call them to ask about it. Follow up with them, repeatedly, if needed. Vanity publishers are very accessible when they’re trying to convince you to work with them, not so much after you’ve paid them.

Lastly, though you should figure out what will be required to get out of your vanity publisher contract, you might not want to terminate the contract immediately. Instead, consider waiting to see if you can get any book agents interested in your book first. That way, if you are unable to get a publishing agent, you can continue with the vanity press if you want to, without having to start that process over and pay them a second time.

This article about getting a literary agent after self-publishing was written by former book agent turned author coach Mark Malatesta, creator of The Directory of Literary Agents, host of Ask a Publishing Agent, and founder of Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author.

Mark has helped hundreds of authors get offers from literary agents and/or traditional publishers. Writers of all Book Genres have used our Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get Top Literary Agents at the Best Literary Agencies on our List of Book Agents.

Getting a Literary Agent After Self-Publishing – Next Steps

Now that you’ve read this article about getting a book agent after self-publishing, click here to:

  1. See the next part of this guide about getting an Offer of Representation from a Publishing Agent.
  2. Visit our Ask a Publishing Agent page, where you’ll find a complete list of questions and answers about getting a book agent.

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