Home » Romance, Self-Publishing » Are Self-Published Books the New Query Letter?

Are Self-Published Books the New Query Letter?

14 October 2012

From author Erin Kern:

 I wrote my first full length novel when I was 24 years old. And like every other aspiring author, I typed “the end” and sent out a handful of queries, to which only a fraction of agents even bothered responding. Instead of letting that monumental disappointment get me down, I moved on to my next book.

I didn’t have any luck with that one either.

In the spring of 2008, I started writing Looking For Trouble, the first book in my Trouble series. After finishing it I thought, “Okay, someone in the industry has to at least give me the time of day with this one.”

They didn’t. Well, not exactly anyway.

. . . .

After receiving my final rejection (this one was more than just a standard form, blah blah), I thought of moving onto my next book.

Then I started hearing whispers on the internet of a strange phenomenon: Self-publishing. For some, the phrase alone triggers a full body dry heave, sort of like watching Elaine on Seinfeld dance.

. . . .

You mean we can upload our work directly to Amazon, to be sold on e-readers, and we don’t even have to type a query letter? We can just upload our stuff, watch it sell thousands of copies and pocket all the profits?

For some, the absence of the dreaded query was reason enough to give the option a try. And I’ll get to the selling thousands of copies in a bit. Some authors embraced this option with open arms. I wasn’t one of them. At least, not at first.

. . . .

My decision to self-publish wasn’t because I wanted to work independently. It wasn’t because I wanted to do all the work on my own. It was a lack of options.

. . . .

It took 2 weeks to sell my first copy after I uploaded it. And that was to my husband. It’s okay, you can laugh. It is kind of pathetic. It’s also typical.

The first month Looking for Trouble was published (October 2010) I sold about 10 copies. The next month I sold 12.

. . . .

But my sales did eventually take off. In April 2011 I started seeing a steady uphill climb in ranking. By then I’d all but quit marketing and was basically working on my next book. In fact, the only change I’d made was the price of the book.

I lowered it from $2.99 to $.99.

To make a long story short, Looking for Trouble was on the Amazon top 100 for 4 months. Sometime in June, the book peaked at #6 in the paid Kindle store, and #1 on three different lists. In that month alone, I sold 38,000 copies. What was I doing to sell all these books?


. . . .

One might even say the self-published book is the new query letter. Actually, I have heard some people say that. I know some authors might have a big problem with this statement. Some people look at it like, “Sure, the Big 6 wants to step in and take over after we’ve done all the hard work.”

Link to the rest at Laura Howard

Romance, Self-Publishing

25 Comments to “Are Self-Published Books the New Query Letter?”

  1. This is absolutely true. The key next is print distribution. I’m just amazed that so few people are talking about Bella Andre’s deal. More deals like that will be coming.

    • I just googled Bella Andre and saw details of her deal on her website. Didn’t Locke do a deal like this with Penguin? (He controls eBook rights, they take care of printing).

      What she doesn’t mention in her post is what the terms of the deal were – that would have made the most much more interesting.

    • You mean her deal with Harlequin? The Empire that screws over authors for breakfast?

      I know people will say everyone is in this for themselves, but I disagree. I do not think it’s okay to sign a deal with an organization that you know is treating other authors like dirt.

      Also, if you sign a deal with the devil, you’d better watch your back. You are dancing with an organization that has shown absolutely no qualms at stealing money from writers and taking advantage of them. If you think you can out-wit this devil, you may need to think again.

      • Yep – that’s the deal. I’d love to know more details of HER deal too.

        As for the ethics of dealing with Harlequin, I’d say those ‘ethics’ deal with signing a deal with pretty much any of the major publishers. Don’t they all screw writers over? (And have been doing for decades?) But it’s entirely possible that Harlequin made Bella Andre a deal she couldn’t refuse.

        • Do you mean “deal” or “offer”? [insert kitschy Italian music here]

        • Yes, all of the Big Six screw over writers, that’s very true. But Harlequin is especially bad. It’s so bad several writers just filed a class action suit against it for cheating them through illegal contracts.

          There is no deal that can’t be refused. And every deal with Harlequin should be refused.

  2. So she says her book took off despite fruitless promotion, then says that lack of time to “tap into every single prmotional opportunity” is a reason she signed with a publisher. #consistency

    • This.

      Her logic is highly flawed. In fact, had she really analyzed what happened, she would have realized she wrote a great book and then benefitted from…wait for it….word of mouth promotion. ie – the thing that everyone strives for but few achieve, even and especially big publishers with all their cash they supposedly devote to marketing.

      And I’m not even going to go into the sheer stupidity of signing with an agent when in a position such as hers. Seriously.

      And so I must….


      and then…


  3. I wish her and all the other authors in the comments well who also signed on with publishers and agents. If this is what they want that is fine. I don’t agree with them on some things like getting hung up on the promotion thing but that’s just me. I think right now I will just keep my plans to self publish in the new year.

  4. My books are books. I don’t query. If I were to someday receive an offer, I’d weigh it, but my books would still be books, not query letters. The world of publishing no longer revolves around what New York Publishing houses and agents want or don’t want, it revolves around writers and readers and what they want, it always should have.

  5. Interesting article. 🙂

    A good reminder that authors are different people with different goals and different outlooks. Getting burned out and frustrated with marketing is exactly why I’m not going to do much marketing (beyond the odd contest/Goodreads giveaway or so) until I have a decent backlist up. (I’m shooting for at least 15 books up before I embark on a serious marketing campaign. And even then, my writing will still come first.)

    But it’s a mistake to believe that authors don’t have to promote and market their books if they’re commercially published. The amount of work they have to do will vary by house and by the author’s own willingness to promote. My trade published friends work just as hard (sometimes harder than) as my self-published friends.

    The thing is, no matter how you’re published, it’s not enough to be a writer if you want to be read. Publishing is a business. Getting the word out to readers (aka marketing) is part of that.

  6. I guess this is a phase authors will have to go through.

    In the article she says this:

    “I can leave the little details to my publisher and my agent to negotiate the best deals for me that she can…..I know nothing about contracts or legal terms. If you’re going to take on a top publisher, you really need an agent who knows the industry, knows book contracts and has the contacts that you don’t have”.

    Right. You mean the agents that have writers sign non-compete clauses? The agents that have negotiated an amazing 17.5% e-book royalty rate? Or the agents who keep writers completely in the dark as to their contract clauses and negotiations?

    Some writers want to be taken care of. I understand that yearning, but, frankly, what they want does not exist. They will awaken to the hard reality that no business wants to take care of you, unless it is about to take advantage of you.

    I would predict it will be a year or so before the stories start to come out where people realize they regret signing with any of the Big Six.

    • More like 2-3 years, Mira. But some people really will just have to learn from experience. All the ‘telling’ in the world won’t dash the stars from their eyes… I feel for them when the majority of those who went from indie to trad start to realize what the industry is truly like from the inside. Granted, there will be a few who thrive, but the majority are in for a rude awakening — or a slow disillusionment.

  7. God, this bothers me–this author reminds me of Darcie Chan. She sets herself up to make as little money as possible from her book without actually giving it away, and then decides she “needs” an agent and a publisher because otherwise things will never work from business perspective. It’s amazing self-sabotage.

  8. “I never would have gained the interest of Grand Central Publishing (a house within The Hachette Group), and another top New York publisher without her. And I certainly wouldn’t have had those two publishers going back and forth with each other, competing for the rights to my books without her negotiating skills. I know nothing about contracts or legal terms. If you’re going to take on a top publisher, you really need an agent who knows the industry, knows book contracts and has the contacts that you don’t have.”

    Uhhh, okay.

    I think it’s great that she found the big deal she always dreamed about. I wouldn’t mind going hybrid myself, if the terms are good. It’s a great way to expand readership and market penetration.

    But all this because of an agent? Uh, no. I know of at least one of the lawyers on Laura Resnick’s list (http://sff.net/people/laresnick/About%20Writing/Writers%20Resource.htm#Lawyers) will not only negotiate for you, but set up and host auctions. Oh, and they are legally able to give legal advice. An agent, unless they have a law degree, cannot legally do so. Is her agent breaking the law?

    Which makes me wonder just what this author signed. I don’t see mention of a representative who can legally give LEGAL advice on her side in this conversation. What did she sign on the agent side? What did she end up signing on the publisher side? I’m hoping it was good, but I have my doubts it’s as good as if she’d had an IP lawyer on her side on top of an agent.

    That last line is so wrong. You need an IP lawyer who knows the industry, knows book contracts and has the contacts that you don’t have. Anymore I cringe when I hear the word “agent” in the same sentence as the words “you must have.” That myth really needs to die a quick death.

    • Thanks for this information about the lawyers!

      Just a note, I believe Passive Guy is also practices law in these areas from what I gather from his professional website.

  9. You mean we can upload our work directly to Amazon, to be sold on e-readers, and we don’t even have to type a query letter?

    Well, technically — but the skills of writing a query letter can be put to good use when writing the “back-matter” to draw in readers… Fuzzy thinking.

    If someone eventually comes and asks about publishing the book part, I’ll take a look. If someone wants to do a translation, I’ll definitely be intrigued. And then I’ll have to dig up an IP lawyer. 🙂

  10. From all I hear, signing a contract with a traditional publisher is like playing with fire.

    Sure, you get an advance (check arrives eventually) and you get a print book which may spend four weeks in whatever retail bookstores are left a year or two later, when your book is actually printed and distributed.

    Will you ever get your rights back, even after the print edition is history, but it’s technically still in print because a Kindle edition is available?

    How much of your current and future career do they now own?

    Versus the right to receive all royalties yourself from now until 70 years after you die.

  11. I’m so thrilled that my blog post featuring Erin was shared here! I love this type of conversation, there is so much to be learned from all of your stories! In fact, I have just invited Anthea to do a guest post that is the opposite side of this coin– how signing with an agent/publisher isn’t always the “happily ever after” so many new authors anticipate. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate it!

    • That’s cool that you’re going to feature Anthea and the other side of the coin, Laura. Thanks for presenting diffferent perspectives, and opening up the opportunity for people to explore this and learn from each other’s experience! 🙂

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