If you’ve self-published your book and are seeking a literary agent, you’re not alone. These days countless authors are taking the “publish first” approach to getting a book deal. Sometimes this method can lead to a traditional publishing deal. But other times, self-publishing before querying literary agents can make the query process a bit more complicated.
Here are our tips for writing a query letter if you have self-published your book (oh, and by the way, Writer’s Relief DOES help authors target self-published books to literary agents). We often help authors work through the tough decisions needed to make a strong pitch for a self-published book.
Scenario 1: You self-published your book and it took off! You’re on the Amazon Best Sellers list. You’re getting interview requests. You’re making waves.
What your query letter should say: If your book is that great, there’s a chance that literary agents will come to you! And you might just be able to have your pick from among your favorites. Your query letter should offer specifics about book sales (if you’re writing a query letter at all).
Scenario 2: You self-published your book, put in a ton of time marketing and promoting, and it’s doing kind of okay. You have some strong reviews from reputable reviewers (as opposed to random readers or distant cousins). Your author website is getting some interest. Your numbers are looking promising (you’ve sold well beyond your friends’ friends).
What your query letter should say: Be honest. Share your successes. Explain why you made the carefully thought-out choice to self-publish before seeking a traditional publisher. Explain why you think now is the right time to get a literary agent (maybe signs are pointing toward success, and you want a major publisher to step in).
Scenario 3: You self-published your book with expectations of great wealth and notoriety. You did a little bit of marketing, a few books signings, a little hand-selling, but the story’s popularity never grew beyond a few friendly reviews on Amazon. Now you want to ask a literary agent to try to do for the book what you could not: Get people to appreciate and buy it.
What your query letter should say: Perhaps this subsection should be called “What your query letter should NOT say.” Above all, you want to be positive about your experience. Don’t whine. If you’re not excited about your book, an agent won’t be either. You might want to hold off mentioning that you self-published, and then quietly slip that information in at the end of the letter, no big deal style.
Scenario 4: You self-published your book but did no marketing. Perhaps you wanted to get something in print quickly because a loved one was getting on in years. Perhaps you self-published because you wanted to give your book as a gift. Self-publishing was really just a way to share your book with friends and family.
What your query letter should say: If you didn’t intend your self-publishing endeavors to reach beyond friends and family, then an agent probably won’t hold you accountable for low book sales. Go ahead and mention your “very limited, self-published print run for friends and family.”
Here at Writer’s Relief we generally advocate querying literary agents before self-publishing; it’s a cleaner, neater pitch that way. Agents are looking—first and foremost—for what’s fresh and new.
But if you’ve self-published first, you’re not out of the running by any means! Just be sure to craft your query letter with an emphasis on the positive elements of your experience—and agents may pick up on your vibe! Learn more: After Self-Publishing: How To Find An Agent And A Publisher For Your Self-Published Book.