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?)

Sales

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.

Content

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.

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

  1. Terrance Leon Austin April 10, 2017 at 4:37 am #

    Amazing post Steve. After all the “traditional vs Indie” back and forth, this article help put things in a clearer perspective. Now I understand more today about this business than I did yesterday….
    Bless you, and thanks again Sir.

  2. Judith Robl April 10, 2017 at 6:47 am #

    It is, indeed, a complicated business. Thank you, Steve, for bringing some light to the subject. With so many variables, it’s easy to overlook one or two when setting up the equation.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 10, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    Interesting. Can you see a day when this kind of writer makes up a significant part of an agent’s stable?

    I ask because the requirement for significant social media following and a savvy marketing plan seem to be highly desired in querying writers, and it does not seem like a huge step to put “successful indie track record” on the list of de facto “required” qualities.

  4. rochellino April 10, 2017 at 8:17 am #

    Voila! Without explicitly saying so I think you may have solidly answered another question regarding the author who DOES NOT posess ANY social media presence.

    Unless I am reading it wrong It looks like a 100,000 provable purchasers of your indie book will “trump” any requirement of a social media presence.

    a. Yes
    b. No
    c. Depends

    Great post. Thanks!

  5. Carol Ashby April 10, 2017 at 8:22 am #

    IIs subgenre a key factor in considering content for an agent? I was told by an editor who actually requested and read my full manuscript that I was in a subgenre that wasn’t selling very well at the moment so they weren’t adding new titles in it. I believe it; you wouldn’t believe how few of my eBook have to sell in one day for me to get into the bottom 25 of the “Amazon best sellers” in my subcategory.

    How would authors get a measure of the market potential of their subgenre so they could decide whether they had to shift to another to snag an agent’s interest?

  6. Rachel Muller April 10, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    Great article! This was a subject I researched last year and came to the same conclusion.
    So glad to hear it confirmed from a literary agent’s point of view.

    I’ve noticed the immediate best sellers (whether indie or trad published) are the stories that have a unique plot or characteristic about them. It really showcases that author’s talent and artistic ability, making them stand out above the rest.

  7. Liz April 10, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Very helpful information. Not very encouraging though. We all have a story which we think is compelling, but getting others to buy our story is another thing all together.

  8. Sheri Dean Parmelee April 10, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    Steve, this reminds me of the “Queen of Clean” you told me about when we talked at the ACFW conference in Nashville last year.

  9. Kristen Joy Wilks April 11, 2017 at 5:54 am #

    Oh yes, Wool was awesome. That reminds me, I need to pick up the other installments. I only have the first one but loved it! I actually heard about him by reading his agents blog. Great story.

  10. Michele Israel Harper April 13, 2017 at 8:39 am #

    Thank you for another wonderful article!

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