Self-Publishing & Online Publishing Will Not Ruin Your Chances at a Traditional Deal

I’m myth-busting today!

If you self-publish your work—online or in print—you are NOT killing your chances of a traditional deal later.

I don’t care if you uploaded it to Kindle DTP, Scribd, Smashwords, plus your own site. I don’t care if you made it a mobile app. I don’t care if you podcasted the whole thing. I don’t care if you made it free, or if you charged, or what you charged.

What I do care about is how well you did it, and what happened as a result.

  • Did you gain followers/fans/readers?
  • Did you get the attention of a major blogger or opinion maker?
  • Did you blow the doors off a regional bookstore?
  • Did you make a splash in a community?
  • Did you experiment, take a risk, see your efforts pay off?
  • Did you fail, improve, see your efforts pay off?

That is: Did you do it with meaning and intention? Or did you haphazardly throw things online?

It’s true (for now) that publishers don’t want to buy books where they can’t have the e-book rights. That’s why, after you get a traditional deal, you remove your work from online sites (assuming your agent agrees it’s OK to sell those rights to the print edition publisher).

But no agent, and no publisher, is going to turn away a project where they see potential to make money. Why else would David Carnoy get a deal after launching a free app and selling 30,000 e-books? Why would Hyla Molander get calls from editors about her Scribd success?

If you want to know how to self-publish or online publish with dignity, and with decent results, I encourage you to sign up for my class this week on the topic.

That aside, here are recent traditional publishing deals that were announced by PublishersMarketplace with self-published authors. (If you don’t subscribe to this service, it can be helpful for research, but it costs $20/month.)

Ellen Dolgen and Jack Dolgen’s Shmirshky
•  Bought by Hyperion Voice
•  Agented by Brick House

Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur’s Business Model Generation
•  Bought by Wiley
•  Agented by Jeffrey Krames

Cathie Beck‘s Cheap Cabernet

•  Bought by Hyperion Voice
•  Agented by William Morris Endeavor

Karen McQuestion‘s originally self-published Kindle novel A Scattered Life

•  Bought by Amazon Encore

Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman‘s In the Lion’s Den

•  Sold to Ballantine
•  Agented by Writers House

April Hamilton‘s The Indie Author Guide

•  Sold to Writer’s Digest
•  Agented by Rita Rosenkranz

Michael Sullivan‘s Necessary Heartbreak

•  Sold to Pocket
•  Agented by Irene Webb

Do you know of other stories of authors who self-published or e-published, then went onto a traditional deal (in 2010)? Share it in the comments, or contact me.

credit: Library Mistress

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44 thoughts on “Self-Publishing & Online Publishing Will Not Ruin Your Chances at a Traditional Deal

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  7. Jen


    I was wondering this exact question and came across your post on facebook. After reading about the new PubIt self-publishing opportunity from Barnes and Noble that is due to come out soon, I was contemplating self publishing as an option. This made me feel at ease!

    Thank you!


  8. Anna Lewis

    Great article – Self-publishing is a great opportunity for authors to take their writing career into their own hands and learn loads of useful skills along the way too. Great to hear this on such a well respected blog, and very much in line with my way of thinking. We’ve just heard that another one of our authors (who self-pubbed his work on CompletelyNovel) has been taken on by a fab award-winning indy publisher in the UK who were really impressed with the way he had gone about building up his audience.

    I hope there are lots of other writers out there who will get inspired!

  9. Matt Hanson


    Like the article about self publishing and appreciate your opinion. I was at Indy conference and enjoyed hearing about your stance on self-publishing even though others around you seemed to disagree and many are in denial about it. Change is hard.


  10. Jessica Swift

    Great, great news to receive from a reliable source. As an editor for many self-pub authors, I encourage my clients to think of self-pubbing as a great choice, not a last one. There’s something absolutely magical and inspiring about seeing one’s name in print, and self-pubbing is a great porthole to get closer to any publishing goals–traditional or otherwise. Everyone has a story to tell, why not make the format through which to tell it accessible, first?

  11. Tony Comstock

    No, won’t kill your chances. But as someone who has 6 successful self-published titles, and has been approached several times by "traditional distributors", traditional deals don’t look very good compared to a solid self-distibution strategy.

  12. Joanne Huspek

    I’m thinking Marta Acosta’s latest (The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove) to Tor. She had it on scribd before it got picked up. True, she’d already been published, but still… proves rules are meant to be broken!

  13. Ron Ruthfield

    Barbara, I think your blog is absolutely the best on the net. Not a column goes by that I don’t get something from. And you put your own impramatur on so much of what self-publishing authors like me are thinking. Keep it up and I might have to pay you more compliments. I really look forward to your posts.

  14. Hannah

    David Moody sold the movie rights to the Pan’s Labyrinth director for his free online published book, "Hater" and now he’s contracted. I don’t know how new "Hater" is…Sorry. Great post though. It’s true. It’s all about readership.

  15. Jamie D.

    Thanks for asking that Livia – I was just going to ask the same thing.

    I know people have gotten publishing deals from self-published works, but my goal is to keep my self-pub stuff indie, and then submit dedicated work to trad. publishers. The ISBN on my self-pubbed print books is what worries me, because I know sales won’t be high on those at all – I’m just doing print for the few people who want it. I’d hate to close doors for a traditional contract just because I wanted to offer print as an option for my indie stuff…

  16. Jane Friedman

    @Livia – Good question. If your book has an ISBN, then your book and its sales will be logged in the industry database, Bookscan.

    But the warning about "bad sales" tied to your book applies primarily to traditionally published authors. Publishers know that Barnes & Noble or Borders will not be very gung-ho on a 2nd title by an author whose first traditionally published (and distributed) book didn’t sell.

    For self-publishing and e-publishing, these rules don’t really apply. No reasonable bookseller (or publisher) would expect the same level of sales from a book that’s *not* nationally distributed as one that is.

    Therefore, looking at the sales of a self-published author through Bookscan is a silly exercise, and not a smart way to assess worth, especially if that author sold most of her books through non-traditional outlets, or direct to reader.


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