The Publishing Life

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.

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