The self-published author—what does an agent look for?

Last week, Laura Howard, an Indie author, asked whether I would write about what an agent looks for when offering representation to someone who is in the self-published community.  Since we represent a significant number of authors who originally were/are self-published, I was delighted to accept her request.

The first thing I look for in any author, self-published or not, is the quality of the writing.  If the work is poorly written, then we cannot represent it no matter how strong the sales are initially (substandard writing will not sustain high sales in my opinion).

An author’s sales numbers and how they build over time are also very important.  Unit sales are critical but so is the author’s position on the lists of the various e-tailers—Amazon.com; BN.com, etc.  A prolific author will often see each subsequent book in a series build up the sales of the previous books.

The author must be very active on social media—having an effective, accessible website and/or blog is important, as is a solid presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other networking sites.  Positive reviews of the author’s self-published books by the target readership are critical as is a willingness to interact with and be supportive of other writers in his/her category.

Finally, I always like to talk with prospective self-published clients to make sure that what we think we can offer them matches their expectations; we try never to over-promise although we do assure all of our clients that we will do our very best to help them build their careers and have a positive experience doing so.

The goal is to sign up writers who have a solid future in Indie and traditional publishing, or a mixture of both.  So far, it’s working out very well for us and we’ve learned a tremendous amount.  I am happy to answer any questions regarding this subject which is becoming an important one in our business.  Let me hear from you.

19 Responses to The self-published author—what does an agent look for?

  1. Check…Check…Check… OK, I’m good!

    To the best agent ever! Cheers!

  2. It is a relief to know that you will still consider writers who have self published (some agents give you the feeling they wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole if you did). It would be good practice to write and self publish some short stories or novellas while you wait for replies to queries. And great to see something you wrote actually published.

  3. I’ve had four books published by both traditional publishers and via self-publishing — all without an agent. My latest novel was released in July by Roundfire Books. Do you take on already published writers such as this?

    • DGLM says:

      Hi Phillip,

      Thanks so much for getting in touch! We would happily take a look at any material you might have. Please send along and we’re looking forward.



  4. So the writer/book must already have achieved some strong sales? And have a strong online presence? That seems like a lot of the work would already have been done by the author then? I recently self published my third book – The Justice. I am truly proud of this book. I think in terms of quality, it’s there. I may be biased but I do have objective positive reviews from readers on the Amazon product page. The thing is my sales have been stronger through my local bookstores in Ghana, where I live. My Amazon sales are low – so would that be unappealing to agents like DGLM? My book has a lot of potential, but I work full time, so I need help to market and promote it, but it appears that agents want some level of success already. That’s tough.

  5. Kate Conway says:

    Great post! I am a self-pubbed author and I have actually submitted to Mr. McCarthy (waiting to find out what he says). My debut sits on Amazon’s bestseller lists and Barnes and Noble has had me in to sign twice now, along with many other bookstores. Barnes and Noble actually stocked me beside their national bestsellers for Christmas and they sold out quickly. The book is everywhere on Google search, including images. I also submitted the pitch for the second book in the series (currently an unpublished manuscript) to Mr. McCarthy today. Details on the first book has been requested by someone from Alloy Entertainment (still waiting on that one), but they do not have access yet to the second manuscript – only Mr. McCarthy does. I know Dystel has an excellent reputation among both authors and the industry as whole, which is why I have only submitted to your agency.

    Many thanks for recognizing the changing face of the industry and those authors who are dedicated to the craft of great storytelling and devious marketing.

    • Jane says:

      Thank you Kate,

      I am committed to helping self published authors and I am eager to see what happens here.

      Much good luck to you.

  6. Andrew Fine says:

    I had decided to self-publish because since I had contended with discrimination against my autism my entire life, I didn’t believe I would receive a fair hearing by any agent or any publisher.

    The book, Alouette’s Song, only had negligable sales, but it seems I receive mostly 4 star interviews by any who happen to take the time to read it. I believe the factor responsible is that I cannot afford (I’m on SSDI) someone who knows about marketing and can market my book properly.

    That is why I feel I need an agent. Could you kindly examine the sample pages on Amazon Kindle and tell me whether it would be something you’d be interested in adopting?

  7. H.E. Ellis says:

    I made the mistake of asking the leader of my writers’ group what she thought about male protagonists in YA novels, and was told that boys don’t read YA so I might as well scrap my idea. I was heartbroken.

    Because I believed there was no place in the world for the story I wanted to tell, I decided to self-publish my novel and hope for the best. Since then I’ve received positive reviews, leaving me to wonder what might have been had I attempted to publish traditionally.

  8. Jeffrey Seay says:

    I’m still not clear why a self-pub author, with the type of platform, sales strength and readership you’ve described, would bother with an agent. What benefit can a lit agent (at 15%) provide an author who’s already making a living writing?

    • jane dystel says:

      What we do is sell the authors translation and British rights as well as audio and if we are very lucky — movie. If asked, we also supply editorial support. It has worked for a number of clients and some of them have gone on to become bestselling authors with traditional publishing contracts.

  9. Alan Kohls says:

    Who can I talk to, to discuss my book? Self published in late July 2016; needs representation to reach a wider audience and I question the publishers ability and motivation to be of much help. Can I send someone a copy? The limited feedback I\’ve had so far love the concept and the writing. Can I send along a copy?Alan Kohls\”Answers\”

  10. Darville Knowles M.D. says:

    I am a Physician of Internal Medicine and have resided in Las Vegas for over forty years. I have written a Novel “Deadly Dance” which has received excellent critical reviews and sales.

    I would like to send a copy of my self-published book to you for your perusal.

    Deadly Dance, also has a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon.

    Thank you,

    Darville Knowles M.D.

    3120 S. Rainbow Blvd. #201

    Las Vegas NV 89146


  11. ULF LIDBECK says:

    I have selfpublished 2 books in English and the same two in Swedish.You find them on Amazon, Kindl and Amazon.uk (Amazon.Ulf Lidbeck)I want an agent or a publisher to take care of the marketing, sale and distribution of my books.I want my books to be presented and sold to bookstores, libraries and by mailorder. Barnes & Noble are interested, but they could not accept my printer (CreateSpace)I want this agen or publisher to work on the US market, not on EU or Sweden.\\\”SnakeDance\\\” is a thriller with more than 20 very dramatic episodes.It was read by Mark Deeley, the Brittish filmproducer who made 8 world successes. The last one was Deer huntere. He wanted to make films of my unique story. (430 pages)\\\”Gerda with the golden hair\\\” is a collection of short stories (206 pages)

  12. Amber says:

    I have a question for you regarding this post. I\\’m a self published author. I\\’ve worked hard over the past few years to build and maintain a large young adult audience. Recently I wrote an adult thriller. I thought of querying agents and publishers as I felt that my current audience may not embrace it. My teen romances are sweet with HEAs. This is dark, edgy and twisted. But my early reviews were so good that I decided to go for it and release it. However, a few days after releasing it I regretted my decision. Sales are not bad, but they\\’re not as good as my young adult sales. I want to query agents with this book but worry that it\\’s too late. I\\’ve thought of pulling it since its only been out 2 weeks and start pitching it. What is your recommendation? Does it need to be pulled? Is it even possible to query at this point?

    • jane dystel says:

      Hi Amber, the fact is that few if any traditional publishers today will consider material that is previously self published. I would take your work down immediately and then, if you are unable to sell it to a traditional publisher you can always put it up again.

  13. Amber says:

    Thank you so much for your quick response. Once the work is down I will still need to disclose right up front in the query letter that it had been self published prior, correct?

  14. Michael Mckinney says:

    This comment may be unwelcome but I have to ask; Is there ever a time when the intrinsic quality of a written work is the sole measure, the only measure by which it is judged? I don\\’t have a website. I don\\’t want one. I have two books published through Lulu. It seems to me that simply putting them in the mail and sending them to a \\”traditional\\” publisher should be enough. Surely, if they have eyes and a few minutes to read one or two pages they should know if the work has merit. I understand that most self-published books are of very low quality, but a small percentage are not, and an even smaller number are exceptional. I write exceptional literature, works that transport the reader to other worlds. I refuse to jump through hoops and send endless solicitations to those of inferior intellect. I don\\’t care if I sell a single copy. The quality of what I\\’ve written must and will eventually speak for itself. I am Neo Homo.

  15. Pingback: Writing a novel during NaNoWriMo: What next? - Simple Writing

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