Book Proposals

At What Point Would an Agent Be Interested in an Indie Author?

I am an indie author. I’ve written several novels, some of which have sold well and all of which have *at least* 4.7 stars. Is there a point at which an agent would want to talk to someone like me? When/why might I consider getting an agent?

Thanks to Heather for the question!

A number of factors play a role in answering this question. (Are you getting tired of my “it depends” answer to all your questions?)


Indie publish (also known as self-publish) your novel and sell one million copies on your own and I guarantee agents and publishers will come knocking. This is what happened with The Shack. There are many examples in the general market where an Indie author had great sales success and the industry took notice.

I can anticipate the question. “Is there a number less than one million sold that makes things interesting?”

Ahem. “It depends.”

If you sold 100,000 copies of your novel for 99¢ each that won’t mean nearly as much as selling 30,000 copies for $7.99 each. The publisher is interested in making a profit on all their books. Cheap ebooks is a tough model to sustain consistent profit after deducting marketing, editorial, and overhead costs.

I know of an author who self-published his book in hardcover and sold 10,000 of them in his home state. That was significant and got the attention of a major publisher who sold more than 80 times that many worldwide, in hardcover.

The secret? The content must deliver.


If your book is so good that it creates a buzz simply because it is an amazing story, and the sales follow, you won’t have any trouble finding success in many places.

Hugh Howey is a very successful indie author. Back in 2011 he wrote a short story called Wool and eventually published it using the Amazon Kindle digital platform. It was so successful he added new “chapters” to the story. Word-of-mouth spread. According to an interview in Wired magazine he was soon earning around $100,000 a month from the sales of this story. Within a year Simon & Schuster signed him to a monster deal just for the hardcover and paperback rights, which were published in 2013.

Once I read it I understood why there was such a buzz about it. It is a great science fiction novel. The entire story takes place inside an abandoned missile silo after the apocalypse.

The story sold itself.

The Combination is Key

The combination of a great story, well written, with significant sales is what makes any author “attractive” to an agent or a publisher.

Of course many would ask, “If you are that successful as an independent author, why in the world would you want to sign with a major publisher. You are already successful?”

That, my friends, is a question better left for another day. Please don’t use the last question as a platform for debating indie versus traditional publishing in the comments section. It deflects from the original question our good author asked.

Leave a Comment

Where Do You Find New Clients?

“As an agent, what percentage of your new clients come from meetings at conferences vs. general email or postal proposals? Can you address the importance of conferences?” Thanks to Scott for the question. It is a good one. Another way to frame it is “Where do you find new clients? …

Read More

When Proposing a Series of Novels

“Are today’s publishers more interested in an individual novel or a trilogy? Also, when submitting a proposal for the completed first novel in a planned trilogy, is it better to focus on the first novel or give an overview of the complete trilogy? Is there an upper limit to how …

Read More

The Ambitious Author

Recently my office received an unsolicited submission from an author unfamiliar to us. Of course, this is not unusual. But here is a list of what is unusual: The submission was openly cc’ed to 185 agents. The author sent writing samples for 28 books. The author said she wants to …

Read More

Why Write a Synopsis?

Attention all novelists! I get it. I understand how difficult it is to write a synopsis. And yet, every fiction book proposal must have a synopsis. Everyone who teaches on the book proposal says you need one. But why? Those two to three single-spaced pages of agony will never be …

Read More

WHAT Were They Thinking??

You know, one of the things I’ve learned since becoming an agent is that people have an odd sense of what’s appropriate. Happily, quite a lot of what I receive is well prepared and enjoyable to read. But I’d have to say that anywhere from a fourth to even, on …

Read More

Is Your Writing Controlled by Fate?

I was going to title this blog post something along the lines of “Calvinist vs. Arminian Authors,” or “Predestination vs. Free Will in Publishing,” but these titles inferred an entirely different angle than I intended. Every author believes their book, if published and promoted enough has the potential to sell …

Read More

How Self-Publishing Has Changed Authors

As a literary agent, not a day goes by when I don’t encounter the changes in thinking from authors caused by the expansion and availability of self-publishing. It’s understandable, because there are over twice as many books self-published every year in the United States than are published by traditional publishers. …

Read More