GUEST POST #4: “Query or Self-Publish” by Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan

 

Michael J Sullivan

 

Michael J. Sullivan is the author of the epic six-book fantasy series, The Riyria Revelations. Originally published with a small press, the series was picked up this year by Orbit books and is being released in three volumes. The first, Theft of Swords, released in November, contains the first two volumes. The second, Rise of Empire, features the third and fourth volumes and came out this month. The final volume, Heir of Novron, collecting the final two volumes of the series, is due out in January 2012.

This is the fourth of five posts that Michael J. Sullivan will be doing this week on BookBanter. Check back tomorrow for the next post, or you can subscribe to the BookBanter Blog by entering your email at the top right of the BookBanter Blog page.

Listen to an interview between BookBanter and Michael J. Sullivan.

Query or Self-Publish

Hello once again…I’m back to discuss another topic that Alex asked me to write on. This time it involves different ways of going about getting your books to market.  I’m a bit unique in that my Riyria Revelations  have been published just about every way possible: small-press (Aspirations Media, Inc), self-published (through a company created by my wife, Ridan Publishing), and big-six traditionally published (Orbit, fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). The publishing world is going through major changes…perhaps the largest since the introduction of the Guttenberg press…and the old rules may no longer apply.

If you are an aspiring author, you are probably familiar with the standard path to publishing.

  1. You write a book
  2. Create a query letter to attract an agent
  3. The agent uses their contacts in the industry to contact editors
  4. If a match is found, and there is availability in the publishing calendar, an offer is made.

With the recent popularity of ebooks many authors, myself included, have found an audience and made a good income by self-publishing their works. The ability to successfully self-publish is a relatively new phenomenon.  It was in November 2010 that “the freshman class” of self-published authors really saw their books take off.  I was joined by authors such as Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke, David Dalglish, H.P. Mallory and dozens of others who sold tens of thousands of books (and in some cases hundreds of thousands) in a single month.

The difference is that ebook distribution networks now provide self-published authors access to readers that had been previously unavailable when books were predominantly sold through bookstores. Publishers and agents started to take notice of independent authors whose books climbed up the Amazon charts and reached bestseller status. The dynamics were set on their head and many agents started signing self-published authors and used their sales figures in proposals to the publishers, which landed contracts.

For those that have been in the industry for a long time, you may have heard that once the first publication rights of a work have been exercised, no publisher would be interested in re-publishing the work. This was true at one time, but it is no longer the case. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that in the not too distant future, some of the slush pile moves from submitted queries, to reading books that have been self-published.

So, what’s a new author to do if your goal is a contract with a big-six publisher? The answer is…it depends. Self-publishing requires you to wear many hats not the least of which is becoming savvy at marketing so that your books get noticed. Some people may not be suited to this very entrepreneur path, and so they should continue to query.  But I also suggest that they simultaneously work on building a platform with social media, as this is an increasingly important part of the total author package.

If you do feel you have what it takes to “be your own boss” and take responsibility for all aspects of producing your book, then self-publishing will probably be a great way to prove the work is worthy of consideration. In general the numbers I’ve heard is that if you can sell 5,000 books over the course of a year both agent and publishers will take notice.

Going this route can also significantly decrease the long review time that usually accompanies the standard query process. When my foreign rights agent approached several New York publishers about taking over my series, I thought it would take years before we got any nibbles.

As it turned out there were seven or eight companies who expressed an immediate interest and I decided on a publisher and agreed to contract terms in about three-weeks from the date of first contact. I also received a higher than average advance than most debut authors. After all, I was already making six-figures from the series on my own, so the publisher needed to take that into consideration when trying to attract me into signing.

So, which route is best?  The truth is that both paths are generally difficult. I have a theory that the number of self-published success stories is essentially equal to the number of manuscripts selected from slush piles and successfully brought to market, and in both cases there are thousands of failures for each success. However there is reason for optimism, as now there are choices, one of which puts the control more firmly in the hands of the author themselves. No one can accurately predict which books will take off and which will fail to find an audience. But for those who successfully self-publish, and desire a contract with a traditional publisher, then bypassing the query process just might be the fastest path to your goal.

Read Michael J. Sullivan’s previous post on “Traditional or Self-Publish, Which do I Prefer?”

You might also like . . .

Theft of Swords Rise of Empire

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5 thoughts on “GUEST POST #4: “Query or Self-Publish” by Michael J. Sullivan

  1. The trouble with queries and unsolicited manuscripts has always been the turnaround time. If a self-published author is not making six figures, then the publishers have much less to go on in making a decision. But, if an author wants to produce some world-class literature, how they would get to that point without professional story development is a very good question. I personally haven’t ruled out further pro market novel submissions.

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