See Update at end of post.
From agent Sara Megibow via Romance University:
“Dear Sara Megibow, I am the author of a self-published novel receiving great reviews and enjoying very strong sales. I’m interested in working with a literary agent to move on to the next step and sell this book to a major NY publishing house. Would you be interested?”
. . . .
No. As of today, I am not interesting in representing self-published novels. (Ok, go ahead and throw rotten tomatoes, I’m ready).
#1 – “Very strong sales” typically aren’t. Most queries don’t mention a number, but when they do it’s typically something like 500 units in a year. I don’t call that “very strong.” To me, if a self-published title has sold 10,000 units or more in a year, then those are big enough numbers to catch my attention (and that’s 10,000 units sold for money, not 10,000 freebies).
#2 – Platform. Another problem I have with many queries I see for self-published novels is the author’s platform. Often, if I check out who the author is, I find blog posts talking about how awful traditional publishing is and how great self-publishing has been instead.
. . . .
#3 – The contract. Sadly, I can’t copy and paste my clients’ contracts here. HOW I wish I could! But, I will paraphrase. If you’ve previously published your novel and want a major publishing house to acquire you, then you would have to sign a major publishing house contract. Most contracts have a warranty clause that reads something like this (I can’t post directly, so I am paraphrasing here):
Author promises to the Publisher that: (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Work has not previously been published in whole or in part; (iii) the Author has not granted other rights to this Work that would encumber (iv) etc.
The tricky part is that many self-publishing contracts don’t require the Author to sign away the rights. So, an Author shops this self-published book to an Agent assuming that they own their rights (which they do). Unfortunately, they don’t know or don’t understand that major publishers still won’t want to acquire their book because those rights are encumbered. I know it’s confusing and frustrating, but in essence – even if you’ve retained your rights, that doesn’t mean someone else will want them.
There ARE ways around the warranty clause (primarily by being upfront about where a project exists for sale or online). But, this is a business and it’s important to understand the legal ramifications of self-publishing before doing it. Even if some company says “we’ll make you a book and won’t acquire your print rights”, those rights have been exercised in a way that may prevent re-sale.
Link to the rest at Romance University
Passive Guy will comment briefly on Sara’s item #3.
The tricky part is that many self-publishing contracts don’t require the Author to sign away the rights. So, an Author shops this self-published book to an Agent assuming that they own their rights (which they do). Unfortunately, they don’t know or don’t understand that major publishers still won’t want to acquire their book because those rights are encumbered.
Well, Sara, if the Author terminates a self-publishing agreement, the author’s rights are not encumbered.
“Encumbered” has a legal definition, usually something like, “To burden property by way of a charge that must be removed before ownership is free and clear.” The only people who tend to ”encumber” a self-publishing author’s rights are agents who have set up their own self-publishing service and vanity publishers.
Amazon retains the right to provide replacement copies of an ebook to a customer who has already purchased the book in the event of the loss or damage to the Kindle ereader, etc., but otherwise retains no rights after a self-published author terminates Amazon’s right to publish a book. (See paragraph 3 of the Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions) In PG’s dependably humble opinion, this does not constitute an encumbrance on the author’s ownership of the book or the author’s right to make any use or disposition of the book.
The “ways around the warranty clause” are obvious to a first-year law student – the author discloses the self-publishing to the publisher and the publisher acknowledges the self-published work in the contract.
The “legal ramifications of self-publishing” exist only if the author or the author’s representative is clueless and/or unwilling to tell the publisher the warranty clause will need to be modified if the publisher wants the book.
Sara acknowledges that this is “confusing and frustrating.”
OK, for Sara and self-published authors everywhere, here is a free PG rewrite of the standard warranty clause Sara (badly) paraphrases:
Author promises to the Publisher that: (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Work has not previously been published in whole or in part, other than by self-publication by Author, which self-publication has ceased; (iii) the Author has not granted other rights to this Work that would encumber (iv) etc.
PG is certain all the visitors to The Passive Voice are now free from confusion and frustration and hopes this freedom contributes to a good weekend for them.
Pete Morin has a couple of interesting comments to this post:
The first name on the list of “leading clients” in Sara Megibow’s Publishers Marketplace profile is Allison Rushby, whose YA novel, Die Yummy Mummy Die is self-published on Amazon at $2.99 and ranked 495,429. That ain’t 10,000 units.
And that’s the HIGHEST ranked of her 6+ works