Self-Publishing as a Plan B (Don’t)

While scrolling on Twitter, I saw a post by in which an author had sent out 250 queries with no success. She was going to self-publish because she couldn’t get an agent’s attention, and she was tired of being ignored by them. In the comments, agents were referred to as “gatekeepers,” and how other authors had had similar experiences with querying and had also turned to self-publishing when traditional publishing didn’t pan out for them.

Now, I have queried several books to literary agents. It is a lengthy process to get a query letter written, to write a synopsis, to find lists of agents, to stalk those agents pages’ and social media to see if they would be a good fit for you, and then waiting and waiting and waiting only to receive a form rejection letter or nothing at all, while books you think aren’t as good as yours get published left and right.

This author’s attitude is why self-publishing has a bad reputation. This attitude is why other authors and readers assume that self-published books are books that couldn’t get into traditional publishing.

I haven’t read this book, I did not reach out to the author for more information (there was a lot of hostility and negativity in the comments) BUT if you send out 250 queries without garnering any interest, then maybe you should take a second look at your query, at your sample pages, at the book itself. Because something clearly isn’t working. Something is turning people off the book.

This author also complained that one agent rejected the MS within minutes of submitting, which tells me that something in the query letter wasn’t working for the agent, like the genre was wrong, or the agent didn’t have room in their schedule for whatever project, or the writing wasn’t to their liking, or they weren’t feeling the premise, or a hundred other reasons.

Thinking that it is the agents who are keeping you out of the publishing pool because they don’t see your brilliance as an author is why some readers turn up their nose at self-published books. Because of authors who turn to self-publishing as a plan B, who are unwilling or see that maybe their manuscript needs work, or isn’t as good as it could be.

Now, I am not dissing self-published authors. I am one. I’ve read self-published books. It is a viable form of publishing. It doesn’t not make make someone less of an author to self-publish versus traditional publish.

But this author’s attitude is the same attitude I keep seeing with new and aspiring authors. They think of self-publishing as a plan B when they don’t hook an agent and snag a traditional publishing contract. It should not be your plan B. Self-publishing can be rewarding, but there is a lot of work involved. You have to get your book in front of readers and convince them to overlook whatever prejudices they might have against self-published authors. 

To self-publish is to accept full responsibility to make sure your book is as good as it can be before you send it out into the world, which means rounds and rounds of editing, both developmental and line, it means cover designs, it means marketing, it means you are doing everything. It means paying for everything out of your own pocket, which can be thousands and thousands of dollars.

One of the pieces of writing advice that has always stuck with me is that if you want commercial success, you need to write a commercial book. When you self-publish, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on cover design. You can do it yourself. You can use free software on the internet. You can find a shady cover dealer on Fiverr. You can skip editing. You can do your own line edits. You can do all of the work yourself without hiring outside help.

But your work will suffer. Poorly editing books are another reason self-published books have a bad reputation among readers. Not to mention the covers that look like they were done in Microsoft Paint.

I’ve seen time and time again that the number one reason why an agent passes on a book is because the writing itself, the “voice,” doesn’t connect with them.

The writing.

Have you ever heard someone say, “If [insert author] wrote a grocery list, I would read it.”? That is because the writing itself is engaging, compelling, and well done. I could write an essay on writing, and many authors have, but I don’t have the space here. The point is agents are looking for books that are as closed to being finished as possible. They don’t have time to teach you how to write engaging, compelling books. That is not their job, just like a talent scout doesn’t teach you how to sing or act. You learn those things on your own, then approach the agent.

There’s also a dozen other reasons they pass on a project, like a lack of comp titles or a lack of marketability. Agents are people too, who are trying to make a living. Don’t hark on them because you aren’t an overnight success.


And agents can creep on a potential client’s social media, and if you’re dumping on the agents and the traditional publishing methods and being an overall ass, that’s not working in your favor. It makes you look hard to work with. Readers can also see you being an ass, and they might turn away from your books because of it.

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