Is the self-publishing stigma gone?

Q: Are agents reluctant to represent someone who has already self-pubbed one book? – Mary K Plenzler

In my open call for questions to answer on my blog, Mary asked about agent perceptions of self-publishing.

There are two sides to this coin:

Agents cannot shop a self-pubbed book if it does not have massive sales. There is no way to prove to editors that they can do better with it if when it was available to the mass market it didn’t make a splash. And even if it does have massive sales sometimes traditional publishers don’t know if they even can get more sales so they bow out.

BUT, agents are open to representing authors who have self published before and are now seeking to be traditionally published with future books. In this case, we are looking for the same criteria as always: superb writing that we connect with and think we can represent well.

In my opinion, the self-publishing stigma is gone, however, if you want to find representation and have your representation shop your book to publishers then you need to commit to traditional publishing and your agent.

It’s hard for agents to invest our time in authors who then pull out when the editor rejections get too tough to handle and then head off to self-publish. No one said finding a publisher was going to be easy so you better be ready for tough roads ahead. You should think that it’s worth it to pursue the traditional route or you’ll prevent yourself from fully committing by having one foot in and one foot out.

I represent authors who have self published, but that’s something they do with projects that aren’t right for me to shop (i.e. not in my wheelhouse). I’m open to authors who have self published in the past. It shows me that they are committed to the business side of the game; however, I would then want them to be committed to letting me guide their career–that’s what I’m here for and I want them to trust me.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

6 thoughts on “Is the self-publishing stigma gone?

  1. I would say yes- almost certainly. And I am happy for one. With the big publishers down-sizing, and accepting fewer and fewer manuscripts this is the way to bypass them and go straight to the public. I suppose every author would prefer the traditional route (maybe just a romanticized wish based on the “good old days”) but just like landline telephones and over the air TV we have to adapt….


  2. I’d like to clarify my comments somewhat. My thinking was more of e-publishing rather than the actually hardback- type book…


  3. The majority of the self-published books I’ve read during the past year suffer from lack of editing. The majority of Kindle editions also have formatting problems. Some of these authors are my friends and it’s been difficult to be diplomatic, especially with buddies who understand what it is to “damn with faint praise.” In one case my respected mentor’s work (a collection of columns and essays) was published posthumously by his family. The compilation is riddled with typos. Since Carl was a meticulous newspaper copy editor, I assume he is rolling over in his grave. I’d planned to write a tribute to him for a regional magazine but my hook – this terribly rendered book – makes it impossible.
    It’s wonderful and amazing to have the freedom to put anything “out there,” but I’m choosing the harder route and foregoing instant gratification because I want my novel to be properly edited and formatted before it’s presented to readers. They deserve nothing less than my best.


    1. No doubt true. Authors should take their time writing and editing (or hire someone to do the formatting & editing). No one wants to pay even .99 cents for a sloppy, poorly written book. I have been working on mine for over a year, doing rewrites, editing, double checking grammar, etc. It’s b/c of my own pride but also b/c I want to put the best product forward that I can.


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