How many publishers is enough?

So one of the questions that we have been getting a lot with regard to Monday’s announcement is this:  “How do you define the point at which you stop shopping a MS to publishers and go for this option?”

For us this is an easy question to answer.

First of all we take on projects that we truly believe we can sell traditionally and sell well.  As many of you know, we work hard with our clients to get their material to where it should be for submission and then we send it out to publishers.  There are times when we sell books quickly and then there are those times when we go many, many rounds.  This year alone, I went to well over forty publishers with each of two different novels before I found them a home.

There are those times, though, when we cannot find a buyer no matter how many houses we go to.  Sometimes, after a number of rejections, I might see what the publishers are saying—if there is a common theme in their comments—at other times we simply run out of viable publishers.

When we get to that point, I would now be able to give the author a choice.  Up until now, actually, there has been no choice. We would simply tell the author we can’t go any farther, give him/her the complete list of where we have been with his/her work and send him/her all the comments we have received and hope we’ll be able to work together on the next project.  Now, though, we would tell them we’ve struck out with traditional publishers and then ask if they would like us to help them publish their manuscripts online or simply put the project aside and move on to something else.

This decision is obviously one we will discuss in-depth when/if the time comes. Our clients will have the option not to do this at all or even not to do it with us.  And, in some cases we might even advise against digital publishing.

The point here, though, is that our intention is to exhaust all traditional publishing possibilities before we suggest the self-publishing route.  I hope this clarifies the issue.

32 Responses to How many publishers is enough?

  1. Lisa Marie says:


    “First of all we take on projects that we truly believe we can sell traditionally and sell well.”

    Hence why I’ve decided not to go the agent route. I’m a romance novelist; I couldn’t write a high-concept work of fiction for love or money. I’m aware that my goals seem modest to people in the industry. Of course the rub is that even small publishers still give deference to agented writers, even when this makes poor financial sense for everyone.

    • Just curious, since your comment makes it sound as if you don’t think your work, being romance, can sell traditionally or well: you do know there are many agents who handle romance, right? If you’ve decided to not go with an agent because there are still publishers who will take unagented submissions, you feel your work is too out there to sell traditionally, or some other reason, than that’s fine. Your career, your choice. But there are agents out there who represent your genre and not every book in it is really high concept.

      • Lisa Marie says:

        It’s not that I don’t think it will sell well, Kristin. Believe me when I say that I give a lot of attention to target markets and know exactly what niche in which I hope to make the most sales (Gen-X women with four year degrees or more). But I think that a select group of publishers is more likely to see that marketing potential than an agent is, as agents typically don’t have marketing backgrounds, so I hear.

        There are other reasons I’m not into working with an agent, too. I’ve been freelancing for almost twenty years, have had bylines in major publications and dailies, and I’ve never had to work “through” anyone. The thought of having an intermediary to essentially act on my behalf feels unnatural. I suspect that if I did not have this particular career and were brand new to the process, I’d be more amenable.

  2. I’m sure you all know about this recent Barry Eisler post on Joe Konrath’s blog – I simply wanted to note it in your comments for the sake of posterity (and/or readers trying to get an overall sense of some of the issues).

    Guest post by Barry Eisler, “Attack of the Self-Publishing Memes”

    • Lisa Marie says:

      I posted a comment under this blog. Depending on the type of arrangement, paying an agent 15 percent *in a certain contractual capacity* can greatly defray quarterly taxes. Who would you rather pay — an agent or Uncle Sam? I’m paying a professional editor to edit my m.s. because I need more write-offs (so my accountant tells me). Either way, I’m going to have to part company with that money, so may as well get something out of it that benefits me.

      Now to be clear about this: people who self-pub but who do not generate a certain level of income as a self-employed writer cannot deduct the cost of editing, cover art, etc., as a business expense. This is like trying to write off the cost of attending an informal sushi rolling class — you’re a “hobbyist.” You will get dinged by the IRS so quickly, it’ll make your head spin. Independent contractors have enough problems as is with our deductions raising red flags.

  3. Catherine Whitney says:

    I welcome these new options. I think those of us who have experienced the long, arduous process that Jane describes understand what is being offered here and have no fear about it. Also, the agency has made it clear that this is not about self publishing but about e-publishing. The two can overlap, but don’t always. I think it’s an important distinction for the purposes of this discussion.

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  5. This post is reassuring, although I’m sure some people will want to wait and see how you fare and how your clients feel before really feeling confident about this new venture. Based on your last two paragraphs, I wonder if everyone’s been making a bigger deal out of this than necessary. I suppose time will let us see how this plays out.

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