What Is the Best Way to Submit My Self-Published Book?

Since it has become so easy to self-publish, many authors are creating their own books, both in ebook and print form. Later those authors are 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 do 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:

It depends.

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 proposals with sample chapters. Unfortunately, the artwork on the cover or the interior design or the printing quality of the book can be 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 weird font inside the finished book, which rendered it unreadable. Or the author was trying to save printing costs by reducing page count. Try to imagine a printed book with an 8-point font, single spaced. (Yes, that has happened–more than once.)

We’ve had people email a PDF of their entire self-published work. Often the file size is enormous. Or another author sent me their .mobi file (the file used for a Kindle, expecting me to download the file, then upload it to my Kindle. [Nope. Not going to happen.] More than once we’ve been sent a flash drive with files on it that we were instructed to download for review. [We don’t know where your flash drive has been.] Or receiving a link to a cloud-based folder to download the file. [Nope.] And believe it or not, I was once invited in an email pitch to go buy their book on Amazon if I was interested in representing it. [????]

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 full-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 your book only sold 75 copies, that isn’t quite as exciting.

The next question will be asked, “Of those 10,000 sold, at what price were they sold?” Plus, “Were those print sales or ebook sales?” If you say, “I sold 9,500 at 99 cents each,” that isn’t quite as exciting.

Why do we ask those questions? Because if we represent the project, a major publisher will ask the same questions.

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 nonfiction book plain and simple in a regular book proposal.

Of course, there are exceptions (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. I’ll admit to being “sold” by an indie author’s extraordinary packaging of their book. It suggests they are willing to invest in their work and their brand, and they know good work when they see it. (But then if they did so well on their own, why are they looking for an agent? That is a question for another day.)

As always, check the agent’s guidelines before sending anything to an agent or a publisher.


[An earlier version of this post ran in March 2014.]

15 Responses to What Is the Best Way to Submit My Self-Published Book?

  1. Kristen Joy Wilks May 18, 2020 at 6:38 am #

    Yes, it is hard to learn that clean and simple in a proposal is professional. I remember staring at fancy stationary and then at my writing book that said to use plain white paper. It was difficult to resist, but now I understand the value of a clean, classic look!

    • Steve Laube May 18, 2020 at 10:03 am #

      The book idea and its quality of writing are what sells at the end of the day.

      I’ve had proposals sent bound in leather notebooks. I’ve had them accompanied by large graphics, including a piece of framed artwork.

      I’m still one of the few agents that will take physical proposals in the mail. And thus I do see a lot of different presentations.

      The one advantage of email submissions is that this question is sort of self-explanatory. You can’t email the physical book!

      But some will send a PDF of their typeset manuscript as their pitch. Again, they are circumventing the guidelines. Better to start from scratch and with full disclosure, explain that the book had been previously self-published.

  2. Kathy Sheldon Davis May 18, 2020 at 6:41 am #

    Do you ever speak at conferences, Steve? I’d love to sit in on a question and answer session with you some time.

    My question for today, how many indie published books grab your attention out of, let’s say, 100 submissions?

    • Steve Laube May 18, 2020 at 9:58 am #


      Been going to conferences around the country, and the world, since 1992. All were cancelled this year.

      You must have missed our three online Q&A sessions we offered to the public in the past two months.

      Let me answer your question in a different way. Out of 2,000 unsolicited proposals I received in the last year, I am now representing two of them. Neither were self-published previously.

  3. Dr. Donna Kincheloe May 18, 2020 at 8:27 am #

    Thank you for providing excellent information. Many presenters of writing conferences discount self-published works and claim most editors have little or no interest. My book did sell over 3000 copies at a fine price, and now I give them away to my patients and friends.
    I lost my book distributor a few years back and felt my first book to be done. You have given me something creative to ponder and investigate.
    My next book, a memoir/self-help, I hope to complete soon. Thanks again for giving writers key concepts. Respect and following guidelines equals positive outcomes.

    • Steve Laube May 18, 2020 at 10:07 am #


      You can always repackage your originally self-published book and re-release it as a second edition (as long as you update the contents a bit). You could use a packager like bookbaby.com or similar to do the production work for you. They would then get that book into the various sales channels and into ebook form.

      With all publishing, a book has a “lifespan” but it can also be resurrected.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 18, 2020 at 9:30 am #

    I’m giving opportunity
    that comes just once per life;
    my latest book’s a beauty,
    so say my mom and wife.
    Thirty copies sold as yet
    to discriminating folk,
    but to make an omlette,
    you’ve got to break the yolk,
    so I am giving you this chance
    to really make your name;
    to go forth, and sing and dance
    for my impending fame,
    and I’ll only charge a modest fee
    for your representing me.

    • Steve Laube May 18, 2020 at 9:55 am #


      Very clever! Love the last two lines…

  5. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. May 18, 2020 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks for the information, Steve. I found your numbers in an earlier reply very insightful.

    • Steve Laube May 18, 2020 at 10:09 am #

      But those numbers are just me. Bob and Tamela have different stats. And the stats change year over year.

      I had one year quite recently where I personally added a dozen new clients to my roster.

      When asked a question like the above I have to take a breath before answering as the real answer is, “It depends.” !!!

  6. Christine L Henderson May 18, 2020 at 8:35 pm #

    I particularly liked your closing line…”But then if they did so well on their own, why are they looking for an agent?” Indeed. If the book sales are in the thousands, and they’ve done their marketing, there sounds like there is no need to hire an agent your book to a publisher. You’ve already jumped the line and reached the reader.

  7. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 23, 2020 at 12:23 am #

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for the excellent response you gave Donna on the issue of self published books. Very, very handy and useful suggestion.
    God bless you.

  8. Kensi Blonde June 21, 2021 at 12:02 pm #

    With all due respect, 99 cents is – unfortunately – quite standard for a self-published book. To say that price wouldn’t “excite” you is very much beside the point. The vast majority of us selling our books for 99 cents up to possibly $4. So someone selling 1000 copies of a 99 cent book isn’t getting that sold because of its cheap price – not when ALL self-published books are at that price.

    Not to mention I’m seeing more and more trad books at similar cheap price points.

    With the advent of KU, you could have 5 million page reads, and less in sales. It’s hard to know how you would want to judge a previously self-published book, but the easiest way would probably be to treat it the same as you would one that isn’t.

    • Steve Laube June 21, 2021 at 12:37 pm #

      As I wrote earlier, “The book idea and its quality of writing are what sells at the end of the day.” At the same time, the issue of price point is not mine. It’s the question the major publishers ask. They want to know how to compare dollar revenue projections.

      If your book was priced for $7.99 for example would you sell the same number of copies? That is a fair question.

      The heavily discounted $1.99 ebook price points from the major houses is usually a backlist (older) book. And is a temporary sale price (often for a month at most, usually a day or two.

      Thus while the Indie price point is competing with other Indie price points, it is not always competing with the major publisher releases and their price points.

      For example here, from today’s Amazon bestseller list, are the ebook price points of three novels and three non-fiction bestsellers:

      PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER ($14.99 ebook) – James Patterson, Bill Clinton
      HAIL MARY ($14.99 ebook) – Andy Weir
      MIDNIGHT LIBRARY ($13.99 ebook) – Matt Haig

      KILLING THE MOB ($14.99 ebook) – Bill O’Reilly
      THE BOMBER MAFIA ($14.99 ebook) – Malcolm Gladwell
      CASTE ($14.99 ebook) – Isabell Wilkerson

  9. Jim August 7, 2021 at 1:01 pm #

    Touché. And this is the crux of the point of working with an agent who works with the publishers. The writer can move on to the next project while the publisher manages the marketing and distribution (at much higher price point), the agent keeps an eye on them and the writer writes more brilliant words for sale. Having worked in marketing/advertising, I’d much rather focus on my own writing and let the others do the selling. Everybody wins.

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