by Steve Laube
Since it has become so easy to self-publish many authors are creating their own books, both in e-book and print form. Later that author is not quite sure what to do if/when they want to approach an agent. Or pitch to an editor at a conference.
Should they just send a copy of the book with a letter? or should they create a proposal? or both? Is there truly a right way and a wrong way? And if you are at a writers conference why not just bring a copy of the book? You may not like my answer:
In my opinion it is best to start over with a full proposal and sample chapters. In other words, act as if the self-published work doesn’t exist. YET, at the same time, within the proposal itself you must, absolutely must, disclose that the book was self-published and has sold xxxx number of copies.
Why not just send the book? Or a PDF of the ebook? or the Kindle file?
I didn’t say you couldn’t, what I said is that it is best to start over fresh. Why? Because of first impressions. Over the years I’ve received hundreds of finished self-published books instead of a proposal with sample chapters. Unfortunately the artwork on the cover or the interior design or the printing quality of the book are less than stellar. It is unfortunate, but I cannot avoid comparing your book to the covers I see from the industry’s finest designers. It is human nature to compare.
Beyond the book cover I’ve seen some used a weird font inside their finished book which rendered it unreadable. Or the author was trying to save printing costs and used a font so small the book was unreadable (to reduce page count).
I mentioned full disclosure of sales above. If your book has sold 5,000 or 10,000 self-published copies, say that in your cover letter. That is significant news. (And that means regular price sales, not free ebook downloads.) It means you are quite the entrepreneur and know how to sell books. That is a good thing.
If you book only sold 75 copies that isn’t quite as exciting.
Ultimately what you really want is to have your words be what is evaluated by the agent, the editor, and the publisher. Not whether or not you had a good graphic designer. The best way to make that happen is to present your story or non-fiction book plain and simple…in a regular book proposal.
Of course there are exceptions to this (and it is not a “rule” only a guideline). There are times where the packaging of someone’s book is so terrific that it actually helps sell the book! But in a case like that you are betting that the agent or editor has the same taste in design that you do.
As always, check the agent’s guidelines (ours are found here) before sending anything to an agent or to a publisher.