Self-Publishing with an Agent: A Viable Option?

As many of you know, I’m not skilled at keeping my mouth shut. (This is the point at which my loved ones cringe. Don’t worry, guys. This isn’t going to be a saucy tell-all. Sorry, everyone else. ;)) While I’ve learned to temper my blurt-y nature with reason, this case calls for outage. Or so says my gut.

I’m about to make a decision many authors face: to self-publish or not to self-publish. No, I’m not firing my agent, and he hasn’t kicked me to the curb. In fact, he brought the notion up—not as a last resort, but as a viable strategy.

“The times, they are a changin.” — Bob Dylan

After 14 passes from publishers, most offering positive feedback—some very—I’m wondering if I and my book seem too risky for the current thriller market. (My words, not my agent’s.) I suspect that unique and risky are synonymous for new authors, in some publishers’ views. Or maybe they dislike my novel, writing or heck, me, for other reasons. Regardless, my novel’s not yet found a home. And I’m far from alone.

Newbie thriller authors are seldom seen in Publisher’s Marketplace nowadays, I’m told, a significant shift from mere months ago. Meanwhile, many self-published authors are having significant success. Numerous have self-published their way to publisher recognition and sizable contracts—some have been taken, others turned down because the author makes more money independently. When it works, I’ve been told, it works well. Really well.

And yet, there are risks.

  • Self-publishing still carries some amount of “amateur” stigma. (Blech, I know.)
  • Getting self-published books into bookstores can be difficult.
  • Some upfront costs are involved, and there’s no advance unless a traditional contract formulates.
  • If sales are low, authors don’t make much money, publishers aren’t interested and bridges could be burned.

I have a hard time seeing any of these risks as insurmountable. Self-published authors and books are gaining continually more respect. E-books have surpassed bookstore sales. Sales risks affect traditionally published authors, too. And I have more than a few friends who’ve been grossly disappointed by their experiences with unenthusiastic presses.

If I go the indie route for now, I’ll be expected to do more marketing and promotional work than a traditionally published author. But honestly, I function as an indie anyway. I worked my butt of with modeling and acting, even with the best of representation, and feel all parties benefited as a result. Most successful authors I know operate similarly, regardless of their publishing style.

We’ve got to work our butts off if we want to make the most of our careers, no matter what, in my opinion.

Aside from the obvious benefits of self-publishing (greater control, quick turn around, etc.) some of you may be wondering about the benefits of self-publishing with an agent, versus on your own. I’m still learning, and am sure situations vary, but here’s what I’ve gathered so far.

Agents seem to offer self-published authors:

  • Teamwork. I’ve always preferred having a qualified advisor looking out for me legally and professionally.
  • Future contracts. Agents seek and secure traditional publishing contracts if or when it makes sense.
  • Rights shopping. Agents shop additional and subsidiary rights, such as audio, film, and foreign.
  • Help with grunt work. Agents often handle copy editing, book formatting, cover design, jacket copy and proofreading. They may also guide or facilitate marketing strategies.
  • Learning. I personally believe that ideal agents help us become stronger writers, and our work more marketable.

I’ve been asking trusted authors what they’d advise, given my situation. The consensus seems to be “Go indie!” with a couple of exceptions. I’ll learn more regarding my options this week, including whether another round of submissions is wise, and plan to make a decision soon. One thing is for certain: I’m going to keep writing regardless.

In the meantime, I’ll open the floor up to you. How do you feel about self versus traditional publishing? Or going indie in collaboration with an agent? Have your views changed with the changes in the industry?